Escape

by Kyle Kepulis

And I run.

But this time I’m not imagining.

The sun is blinding me and I can‘t see where I’m going but I don’t want to see where I’m going anyway, and I run. I run. I keep on running.

I feel the breath in my lungs slicing like a chilled, cool knife, because I’ve run too far and I’m winded, but I have to keep going, I have to keep going, because I’m running and I have to keep on running.

Sstthhchh. Sstthhchh.

The leaves crunch under my feet, and the little dog barks at me as I pass and I bark back and the sun burns down and doesn’t stop, it’s watching me, it’s making sure I run and run and bark and keep going. I keep going.

And I hear the water surging underneath the wooden planks underneath my feet underneath my body underneath my head underneath the trees underneath the sky underneath the sun, and I must keep running.

Wwtthhww. Wwtthhww.

The planks creak as I cross the bridge, running, running, running. Almost there, almost there, almost there.

My side is aching, my forehead is wet with perspiration, my legs feel weak and strong at the same time. I can do this, I can keep running, I must keep running.

And I run.

The sun burns down on my back, and I see my house in sight. A few more blocks, and I’ll be there, I’ll be there, I’m almost there, I keep running, running . . .

And I am there.

I stop. The breaths beat out of my chest one after the other. I suck in air, more air, even more air, filling my lungs before they collapse.

I feel blood coursing through my veins. I feel breathe in my chest. I feel pain in my legs and feet. I am alive. I need to be reminded. Like that line in that play we read for class, what’s that line? “Attention must be paid.” Yeah, yeah. But I don’t think it was meant in quite that way. I don’t think running came into it at all.

I go inside and kick off my shoes, and go upstairs and into the bathroom and rip off my shirt and shorts and step into the shower, and feel the hot, warm pellets of liquid surge down my skin.

I put my head directly under the showerhead, and I feel like I’m drowning in some horrific storm at sea.

And I swim.

But this time I’m imagining.

I’m Robinson Crusoe, or Gulliver, or Odysseus, and the ship I was sailing on suddenly collided with some rocks and I’ve been thrown overboard, and I try to scream, but only water fills my mouth, and there is no sound, only the sound of my heart pulsing against my eyelids, and now I’m at the surface, sucking in more air, and then I’m down again, below the water, where everything is dark and cold and nothingness, nothingness all around. Only me, me and nothing but me, no world, no sky, no air, no ship, no nothing, just me and water, and then there is no me.

And I drown.

But this time I’m imagining.

I pull my head out from under the showerhead, and my hair flings droplets of H2O splattering against the tiles all around. I clear my eyes, and at first everything is hazy and undiscernible, globby forms of color all distorted and out of place like a puzzle put together incorrectly, if such a thing is possible, which I think it is, but I’m not sure. Well I suppose it is if you cut the pieces into different shapes than what they originally were, and then put them in a different order, and then the picture would definitely be all screwed up, but I guess that’s not really the same thing after all. (I guess that wasn’t a very good metaphor, I’ll try for a better one next time.)

I turn the water off and pull back the curtain, and step onto the cold, unwelcoming tiles of the cold, unwelcoming floor, and embrace my towel, my face burrowing into its warmth, the smell of washer and dryer creeping into my nostrils, and I feel home, and I start to dry off my body, and the material feels good against my newly-soft skin, and I look at myself in the mirror, and see my own two eyes staring straight back at me, and then I wonder, and the I tie the towel around my waist, and walk to my room, and get some new, clean clothes, and put them on.

And then I hear mom calling from downstairs, and I go downstairs, and I see her, and I nod to acknowledge her existence, and then she asks if I can’t even say hello to my own mother, and so I say hello, but of course it doesn’t make her any happier, and I sit down to eat supper, and I’m enjoying it, well as much as anyone can enjoy my mom’s cooking, and then I hear her ask why I run all the time.

I tell her the same thing I’ve told her every other single time she’s asked, and that is because I like to run. But she doesn’t understand, and it doesn’t really answer her question so I try a different approach, “It’s because I have to.”

“Well, why do you have to, then?” she asks.

I tell her it’s so I can get away.

“Get away? Get away from what?” she says mockingly. “You shouldn’t be trying to get away. You’re not here enough as it is. Your head is always somewhere else.”

But by this time I’m not listening, which reinforces everything she’s just said, I suppose, but I don’t care, and by this time I’m already deciphering clues at the scene of the crime, and I am almost on the tail of the culprit.

I’m a detective like in this one book I just recently read, and I’m this guy who solves mysteries in London, except it’s not like Sherlock Holmes or anything: it’s contemporary London, but I guess he’s kind of like a modern Sherlock Holmes, because he always says stuff like “The game’s afoot,” and stuff like that, which is like what Sherlock Holmes said, although I don’t ever remember hearing him say, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” in the book, because there isn’t a character like Watson in it. I guess the author thought he couldn’t copy Doyle ideas too much or it might be considered plagiarism or something. Which I think is kind of goofy, because in essence every story is the same one, just written over and over again in different ways. So maybe that means there’s only ever one story in the whole entire world, which is kind of creepy when you think about it, but it kind of makes sense, too.

Anyways, so I’m this detective guy, and I’m trying to solve a mystery about this guy who was found dead in his garage. I look all over the place for clues, but there don’t appear to be any. Except in the dead man’s dining room.

And I investigate.

But this time I’m imagining.

I’m examining the food on the dead man’s plate in his dining room. His last meal. I decide that there must be something very important about it, so I send it off to Scotland Yard, or someplace like that, to be examined.

The tests come back positive for poison. I arrest the dead man’s cook, who obviously did him in, and stashed his body in the garage to take attention away from the dining room, but forgot to dispose of the evidence after the dirty deed was done, and I’, awarded some grand prize from Scotland Yard for my ingenious detective skills, when all I really did was snoop around some half-eaten food, but I guess people get awards for that too, and I become the most famous detective in all of England.

And my mother is yelling at me.

But this time I’m not imagining.

She has said something important, but I haven’t heard it, and I never hear the important things, but she is gone, and I am alone, and I don’t feel hungry anymore. Somehow I’ve flung all the food on my plate on to the table and floor, and I’m not sure how that happened. I pick up the food, and take my plate to the kitchen and rinse it in the sink, and head back upstairs to my bedroom, the sanctity of my bedroom, the holy place, my bedroom the sanctuary, and I fall upon my bed, and the stars outside my window fly into the room, and lead me to the world of dreams, and I am lost in the sky and floating among the clouds, and anything is possible again.

And I ride.

But this time I’m dreaming.

I’m riding a train, and I see the countryside whizzing by outside the windows across from me, and all of a sudden these other people pass by me down the aisle, and they’re blocking my view of the countryside and I can’t see, and I get really frustrated, and I just wish the people would be gone so I could be left in peace with the beauty of the countryside, but they’re always there and I can never get rid of them. At first I’m really angry, and I try punching and kicking a few of the people to get out of my way, but it does nothing, and they just stare at me blank-faced and unmoving. Then I start to grow afraid. I begin to think they want something of me, they’re expecting something of me, but what? What? I can’t figure it out, and I start to grow afraid that I’ll never figure it out, and then I start panicking and flinging myself against the walls of the train compartment, bashing the bulk of my weight into the windows, crashing my head against the glass until my head starts bleeding, anything so I can get away from the stares of those people, those people who won’t leave me alone.

And I wake up.

But this time I’m not imagining.

The sun glares outside my window, and it is telling me that it is morning, and it is telling me ‘It’s time to wake up, you lazy bum,” and I wrench myself free of the ensnarement of my sheets, and I stumble across the room and to my closet.

I get some clothes, and shower, and dress, and eat, and ignore my mother, and walk down the street, and bark at the dog in that one yard who always barks at me, and then I’m at school.

Chemistry class is always very boring, except for Blonde Girl who is my lab partner. She smells like cherry blossoms. I honestly wouldn’t know what cherry blossoms smelled like if my grandparents didn’t have cherry trees on their farm that blossomed every spring, and always exuded the freshest smell I’ve ever smelt. Blonde Girl always reminds me of cherry trees.

In Chemistry I’m sitting beside her at the lab table, and I can smell the cherries hovering around the room, and we’re going over the steps of some experiment, the teacher is writing something on the board, but I’m not listening. I’m not concentrating, I’m silently rebelling, I’m always silently rebelling, rebelling in the least obvious way that is possible, and I’m not here.

I’m already romancing that one woman in the movie I just saw that was set back in the really old historical time period when women wore these gargantuan, poofy dresses that stuck out like eight feet to each side of them, and the men wore these short pants and what looked like white tights, and everyone wore big powdery wigs. You know the time period I’m talking about. Yeah, those movies are always a hoot to watch.

They always try to talk in this refined way, but really what they’re saying isn’t all that refined at all, but I figure they know that as long as they make it sound that way, it sounds a whole lot better than just coming right out with what they want to say.

And I kiss.

But this time I’m imagining.

I’m imagining I’m this one debonair guy in the movie who was trying to woo that one woman I mentioned earlier, whose name was Rosamund or Antoinette or some other bad cheap-romance-novel type name. She looks kind of like Blonde Girl who’s my lab partner in Chemistry class, which she didn’t in the movie, but I’ve improved it in my mind, and I’m touching her face, the skin soft under my fingers, her eyes glistening and wet, and I feel her lips press against mine, and I’m lost in five dimensions that all meet into one, and the world seems to stop, and I can feel, hear, smell, see, and taste all at once, and it is perfection.

And I kiss.

But this time I’m not imagining.

I hear some words, and a slap, and then I feel the slap, and then I hear the teacher yelling at me to go to the principal’s office.

I go to the principal’s office and wait in the waiting room and wonder what just happened, when the principal opens the door to his office and tells me to come in and I go in.

He asks me if I know why I’m there, and I tell him no, because I really don’t, the last thing I remember is imagining, and after that I really don’t know.

He says some stuff that I don’t understand and I don’t listen to anyway, and then I’m given a slip and sent home. I walk down the lonely street, and look around at the houses in the midday light. Houses always look different at midday during the school week, because I never see them at midday during the school week, and it is a fresh new experience and one that aches of freedom.

And I run.

But this time I’m not imagining.

I run down the street, the pavement pounding underneath my tennis shoes, my backpack beating against my back rhythmically in some kind of tribal war dance, simulating my heartbeat.

Pbpbpbpbumbawdaw. Pbpbpbppumpabab. Pundotwah.

The cold breeze cuts through me and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and I feel complete, and the world is whizzing past me.

And I have to keep on running. I must keep on running. My heart beats steadfastly. Mu-st ke-ep ru-nn-ing. M-u-st k-e-ep r-u-nning. M-ust k-eep r-unn-ing.

Today there is no sun out, only clouds, gray clouds, endless gray clouds littering the skyline. I close my eyes and feel the air, the moistness of it, the unending fulfillment of it. My body absorbs it and uses it and dispenses it. I can smell rain on the horizon, and I can taste its coming, and I swallow the prediction down my throat with a satisfying gulp.

I open my eyes again, and I feel the steady rhythm of the ground, the unbreakable solidness of it.

Bbbbrrrrrmmmmnnnn. Bbbrrrooonnnmmm. Bbrruunndd.

I keep running, because I have to keep running, and the dog barks at me, and I roar at him like a lion or a bear, and I hear a whimper and whine and then silence, and I keep running, and I did it because I have to keep running, and nothing in the world can stop me from running, and I keep running because I have to keep running.

And then I see it, and everything stops.

Home. Doorstep. Front door. Open. Walk. Inside. Foyer. Hallway. Stairs. Bedroom. Silence. Good. Light. Streaming. Window. Birds. Solitude. Good. Pause.

Time.

Time.

Time.

Sunset. Bed. Awake. Undisturbed.

Phone. Ringing. Answer. Mother. What? No. Sorry. Serious? Yes. Apologize. Click.

Chaise?

A call goes up the stairs, I lie in my bed and try to ignore it, ignore the nonexistent sounds of another human being trying to communicate with me, and I lie staring at the ceiling, and counting all the cracks in the ceiling, and trying not to think of anything, nothing, no words, no dreams no movies, no books, no people, no anything. No anything but me. Nothing but me. And it doesn’t work, but I like to try anyway, and if I have to think about someone, why can’t I think about Blonde Girl of Rosamund or Antoinette, or whatever her name is: but that’s useless too because it just reminds me of everything that I can’t remember about today in school, and why I’m here in the first place trying to think of nothing but myself and then my mother enters the room.

She asks me questions I can’t answer, and gets angry when I can’t answer them because she thinks I’m withholding something from here, but I’m not, I’m really not, and then she threatens me with sending me away to the place I don’t want to go, the place where she threatened to send me before if anything else happened like I guess it did today but I can’t remember, only this time it’s not a threat it’s for real, and it sounds like she’s really going to do it this time.

And then I’m alone again, and there is nothing but me, nothing but Chaise and the dark and the shadows and the shadows of the tree branches outside my window, and the light of the moon, and the stars, and sleep, and it descends upon me, and I don’t want to dream, so I don’t, and I wake up the next morning, except the sun hasn’t risen because I know I will be leaving, and the sun can never rise when someone knows that they’ll be leaving, and nothing is good.

I feel my mother’s kiss on my cheek at the train station, and she tries to say goodbye, but never really does, because I don’t think she could ever really say goodbye to me, and leaves before my train even arrives, because she doesn’t want to have to see my face retreating in the dark on some train she’s not on, and that would terrorize her sleep at night and she’d feel guilt, and guilt isn’t good for a person, so she just leaves.

I think of Casablanca, and all those movies where they have a big dramatic farewell scene at the end, and the two lovers part forever, knowing they’ll never see each other again, but then I think it’s stupid that I’m thinking that because I’m obviously not saying goodbye to a lover, and saying goodbye to a mother is a very different thing.

My train isn’t here yet. I walk around the platform wondering what to do, wondering what is going to happen to me, but I know what is going to happen to me because I’ve already decided it long ago if it should ever come to this, and it has come to this, and I know it is the right thing to do.

I hear the rumbling of a train, the low grumbling, rumbling, stumbling of the train, the train that’s going to take me away forever.

Ccccrrrrrwwwwlllllmmmmmnnnnn. Kkkkccccrrrrreeeeeeennnnncccchhhhh.

Away forever, with all the people who block my view of the countryside and make it so I can’t see anything and I get frustrated and mad and I run.

I run across the wooden platform, and then I imagine all those daring train scenes in movies where the robbers jump from one section of the train to the next, on the roofs of course, attempting to get away from the policemen.

And I run.

But this time I’m imagining.

I’m a train robber, I’m a highwayman, I’m Indiana Jones. I jump over bottomless chasms, confident that I’ll find my footing on the other side, the rocky ledge, sure of safety, sure of freedom. I jump carriage to carriage, carriage to horse, car to car, train to horse, rooftop to rooftop. I’ve run too far, but I know I have to keep going. I have to keep going. I have to keep on running.

And I run.

And I jump.

Onto the track.

The headlight of the train spotlights my face.

And I bark.

But this time I’m not imagining.

Benu

by Kyle Kepulis

“Come to me in my dreams, and then

By day I shall be well again!

For then the night will more than pay

The hopeless longing of the day.”

-“Longing” by Matthew Arnold

There’s a certain dream I’ve had since childhood. I don’t dream it every night, but whenever I do I feel home again in an odd sort of way. It’s a friend, a companion I’ve had ever since I can remember. It reminds me of who I am, where I come from. It’s almost like a piece of me. But after I dream it I always wake up in a chilled sweat.

In the dream I’m young again, riding through the black forests of Denmark on my old horse Sleipnir. He races us through the underbrush, kicking up clods of earth and grass and flinging them in our wake. I feel like I’m flying.

A piercing light blinds my senses. I stretch my hand out in front of my eyes to protect my vision from the bright glow. The luminescence finally dims, and I lower my arm, fearful of what it will reveal.

I look upon a wing. The most radiant wing I have ever set eyes upon. It is a brilliant and breath-taking amber gold. Then the color swirls and changes. It morphs into a deep purple-blue.

Then the wing unfurls itself, revealing a solitary eye hiding behind it. The eye mists over, damp and wet. The iris flickers, and stares petulantly.

My hands shake. I feel my bow and arrow at my side. Sleipnir neighs nervously and lightly stamps the earth with his foot.

I draw my weapon. My hand shakes even more. I can barely hold on to the bow and arrow. But finally the arrow slips through my hands and races towards the heart of the creature. There is an earth-shattering shriek. Feathers flood the air, and a red mist permeates the glade.

I find myself on the forest floor. Sleipnir is beside me, sniffing my face anxiously. I look up at where the creature once was.

It is gone.

And that’s when I wake up.

London, 1864

The powerful steps rose up before me, cold and unwelcoming as they always were. It didn’t seem possible that they could eventually lead up to such a great building. My polished boots clicked on the warm marble, and I adjusted my hat as I came before the looming expanse of the museum. The sun seemed to be burning down that day. The first droplets of sweat appeared on my brow as I took hold of the entryway door handle and entered the sanctity of the cool, richly ornate lobby.

The first sound I heard was the cloyingly jovial tinkling of that blasted fountain. Why they put the damn thing in a museum of natural history I’d never know. It’s always seemed like an extravagance to me, something to keep the rich visitors happy, a kind of aesthetic addition that seemed unsuited to the surroundings.

Settees and armchairs littered the room as they always did, and the check-in desk sat uncomfortably opposite the front door I had just entered.

I took off my hat, stifled my breath, and started to cross the lobby towards my office in the east wing until I was stopped by Mr. Percel, the desk clerk. The man always came across as a stuffed penguin to me, who had clasped the top button of his suit too tightly, so he constantly had the expression of strangulation on his face. He appeared now just as red and puffy as ever.

“Excuse me, Mr. Aren,” he said in his anguished little voice. “Mr. Blackwell wishes to see you immediately.”

“Ah yes, I almost expected as much. I can just imagine what he has to say to me.”

“That’s none of my business, sir. I’m just meant to bring you to his office.”

“Yes, alright then, let’s get it done with.”

With this I motioned for him to lead the way, and we quickly started off down an adjacent corridor. I followed after, trying to calm my slight nerves and regain a calmer composure.

Percel showed me into Mr. Blackwell’s rather large but offensively nondescript office. It contained a leviathan-sized desk and a mismatched petite armchair which always cowered behind it.

“Please be seated, Mr. Aren,” were Percel’s only words before exiting hastily from the room.

I looked around at the place I had just been shuffled into, the place I remembered so clearly from my first interview for my position at the museum. It seemed unchanged from that time. The walls were bleak and bare. A lone window seemed to scale the wall behind the desk, stretching its arms out as high as possible in effort to escape from this imprisoning atmosphere. There was no excessiveness apparent in the room at all. This had always puzzled me. I though surely the curate of a museum would have more imagination than what lay before me.

My thoughts were interrupted by another person entering the room – the eminent Mr. Blackwell.

I rose from my seat and extended my hand.

“Mr. Blackwell.”

“Mr. Aren. It’s good to see you. How are you? Please, sit down.”

I did.

“I’m doing fine, Mr. Blackwell. As well as can be expected, I suppose, considering . . . “   My voice trailed off, unsure of what to say next.

“Yes, yes, of course.” Mr. Blackwell looked down at his desk, obviously searching for something to say that might be hidden within its depths. “That’s actually what I’ve brought you here to talk about.”

I studied for a moment the face of the man who was my employer.

He had a square, chiseled face, seemingly cold and resilient, but there was a softness about the eyes that belied his stern countenance. A stylish, though not excessive amount of facial hair masked his cheeks, following popular fashion. He wore a stiff black jacket and waistcoat, and a carefully tied cravat. His dress pants were neatly starched and orderly. Everything about Mr. Blackwell always exuded formality. I winced at the fact.

“I knew as much,” I said carefully. “I can imagine what you have to say.”

“I’m sure you can,” Blackwell went on. “You’re a very intelligent man, Fritz. And we’ve benefitted from your knowledge greatly. But you’ve changed. Ever since . . . the unfortunate circumstances that have set upon you recently, I’m afraid you’ve become less and less a positive force in this institution. In fact, I might even go so far as to say you’ve become a hindrance to the development of your department.”

I looked him in the eyes, unflinchingly. If I was to go down, I would at least go down on the same level as Mr. Blackwell.

“It pains me to say this, Fritz, but the board of governors and I feel it is time for you to leave the museum.”

I stared at Blackwell’s bald head, the shine emanating from the lighting of the room.

“For twelve years you’ve been a guiding light to the museum’s ancient mythology and religions department. We’ve appreciated your hard work, and will definitely see that you are compensated for your industrious labor in the field.”

I rose, not wanting to make this moment longer than it had to be.

“Thank you, Mr. Blackwell.” I firmly grasped his hand in my own. “I’ll make sure all my things are gone by this afternoon.”

“No hurry, Fritz. Please, we mean all the best for you.”

With that, I made my way out of the office, and silently trekked to my own office to start clearing out my things.

That afternoon, my hands grasping a full box of odds and ends from my desk, I crossed the lobby, refusing to acknowledge the existence of Mr. Percel or the fountain, and pushed open the front doors of the museum. I stepped out once more into the sweltering sunlight.

The house was quiet that day as it always was. I hated the thought of being alone there. It felt imprisoning, the silence. Like invisible bars crossing the windows, and indiscernible locks bolting the doors. Inescapable, inexorable, like fear itself. The stillness made me think, and I didn’t want to think. I’d do anything to keep myself from thinking. But it never seemed to be enough.

I hadn’t taken down her pictures yet, or disposed of her things. They still filled the house, as she did when she was alive. Her gloves and fan lay on the bureau. A book she had been reading lay on the window seat. Her nightgown lay across the vanity chair where she had left it. Untouched, as they would never be touched by her again. Something in me couldn’t let them go yet. They were the one thing I could still hold on to.

I crossed in front of her dressing table, and the brooch caught my eye. A bird wreathed in flames was delicately etched upon its surface. I looked away.

I sat down on the bed, and stared at the shadows that played on the furniture, running in and out of the stray beams of sunlight. Crisp, clear lines that swerved and doubled over into graceful arabesques. I felt like the shadows were dancing with the furniture, and the furniture in turn set her things glowing, like the flicker of a candle in the darkness.

She never came to me in my dreams. Lord, I wanted her to. It would be a sign, some kind of signal that she was really alright, that she was safe and warm someplace, someplace where hopefully I would meet her again., It would be like Orpheus or Aeneas descending to the underworld, that place where all life meets its conclusion, and finding the beautiful eternal Eurydice waiting patiently there. But there was never anything. Only dreams of darkness and shadows. I never remembered them. My conscious mind never seemed to want to.

I was born in Denmark. My father died when I was still a baby. I don’t remember him. I lived with my mother in a small house on the plains. I was a shepherd and a flock-herder for most of my childhood. I remember running in the fields. There was a certain tree I loved the best in the countryside – an oak. I remember often laying out below its branches.

Something inside me felt different back then. I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it was the wind pushing at my back. Perhaps it was freedom.

I don’t remember having any real friends during my youth. I suppose the sheep were my companions back then. I had to watch them and take care of them – make sure they were not harmed or injured. In the spring I’d see new life being born. Two eyes opening up to the light from the darkness.

My favorite phrase as a child was always “Once upon a time . . .”

On moonlit nights my mother would tell me stories. Tales of faraway places and mythical beings. Dragons and unicorns and centaurs would populate my mind. They seemed just as real as the sheep in the filed or the birds in the trees outside.

There was one creature that terrified me the most.

“He encompasses everything,” my mother would say, “within the confines of his scaly body. He has us all wrapped within his grasp. The horrible, terrible Jormungandr. They call him the Midgaard serpent. He bites down eternally upon his own tail, threatening to devour himself and loosen the world from his steadfast hold.”

The thought that this creature was suffocating me in an eternal death grip chilled my blood. I often looked to the horizon to see if I could see even one small bit of his scaly, long tentacle-like body holding firmly to the edge of the world. I never saw anything.

But I felt a presence. I felt like someone was staring down at me. Someone who never made themselves known. Only silence served as their presence.

Now the silence had returned to me forty years later.

Back then I wanted to be like the wind. Now I only wanted the wind to carry me on to wherever I was meant to be next.

Shepherding was not always an easy job. Sheep would sometimes stray from the flock, and I’d have to find them alone, silently terrified that they might be dead or hurt somewhere and it would all be my fault. They’d usually be hidden away somewhere in the hillside, under an overhang or in a small rocky nook. I always let out a breath of relief when I found them.

But there were days of peace and comfort as well, not at all like the pastoral poetry that’s popular now, but perfect in a different kind of way. The earth seemed still and waiting. The sun made everything warm. The sheep would bleat to each other, and occasionally run into one another. It would make me laugh. The laughter is what made the fields beautiful.

One day in my youth I was particularly content. I was spread out underneath the oak tree. My eyes flickered with drowsiness, and the last thing I saw before sleep overcame me was the image of a mother sheep letting her child drink of her nourishment.

I dreamt of the Jormungandr. He was wrapped entirely around my body, squeezing the breath out of me. I could feel his pulsating heartbeat echo inside me, and I could sense the blood that ran throughout his veins. I was horrified.

His head is what terrified me the most. His teeth were clenched tightly upon his own tail, drawing blood that oozed onto the ground below us. I could only imagine that the pain must be excruciating.

My fear slowly disappeared. This creature that seemed so terrifying was in constant anguish. I felt something stir within me. A kind of feeling, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Pity, maybe, or understanding. Compassion.

A single tear appeared in the creature’s yellow, jewel-like eye. It slowly loosened itself from its encasement, and rolled like a perfect sparkling diamond down his scaled snout, and fell upon my arm. The tear hissed where it landed, and filled my body with a warm, tingling sensation.

And then I woke up.

The mother was dead. I came upon her in the field after waking up. She was lying on her side. She seemed calm and at peace. No breath stirred her lips, no movement etched her body. Her children gathered around her, unaware of what had happened. The youngest one, who had been nursing at her tit just a few hours ago, seemed the most startled.

I carried the body home from the fields, not knowing what else to do. Placing it before the feet of my own mother I gazed into her eyes, seeking some kind of answer or explanation for what just happened.

She merely asked, “Is it dead?”

“Yes,” was my reply. “The mother.”

“Then we shall eat it tonight. Wastefulness is a callous thing.”

As we sat eating our dinner of mutton that night I looked again at my mother.

“It doesn’t seem right. She was ours. She had children.”

“These things happen,” my mother replied. “Everything goes back to the earth. This is her rite of passage.”

We ate the rest of our meal in silence.

My mother did not want me to care for the orphans.

“They must be able to survive on their own,” she said. “Otherwise they are useless.”

I understood what she meant, but I couldn’t leave them to their own defenses. They were weak and powerless. They had no hope of surviving on their own.

I secretly brought them milk. I fed the youngest the most of all. He was my favorite. I named him Gregos – the watchful one. The babies started to grow healthy. I was happy, content that they were safe.

My mother saw their development, and knew why they had grown strong. She killed them. She served them for dinner.

But the meat got stuck in my throat. I felt I was eating my own flesh. I fell to the floor and wretched out the orphaned sheep.

My mother didn’t say a word. She just knelt down on the floor and cleaned up the mess I had made.

A fly inched its way up the sunlit wall. Small and buzzing. Its wings smooth and transparent; gossamer like silk. It paused for a moment, probably finding something to nourish its hunger. Its shadow waited patiently. Then the fly slowly started crawling again, occasionally opening its wings, and buzzing up a few more inches, always crawling upwards and upwards.

My eyes reverted back to the room before me. I realized there was no point in sitting here on the bed all day. I had done enough of that already. So I rose to my feet.

Sunlight spilled onto the Spanish-tiled kitchen floor in one long golden pool. I stood at the window, staring out at the cobble-stoned street, listening to the gentle clip-clopping of horses’ hooves, and the sounds of children playing. I looked down at the windowsill.

A small caterpillar was inching its way across the wood. Small and green. I placed one of my fingers on the sill, and it leisurely strolled on to it. Furry legs gently brushed against my skin as the caterpillar made its way across my finger and on to my hand.

The bell. Taking the caterpillar with me I crossed to the front door, and opened it hastily.

Mr. Hastings, the postman, was standing on the step.

“Good Morning, Mr. Aren.” He looked at me and smiled. Then he looked down at my raised hand that still cradled the caterpillar. His smile disappeared.

He handed me my letters and bills. I took them with my free hand. There was a moment of pause, then with one more look down at the caterpillar on my hand, he walked off towards his next destination.

I only realized then that I hadn’t said a word to him.

I stepped out of the entryway, and put my hand down near the leaf of a blooming rhododendron beside the door. The caterpillar calmly inched its way across the curve of my hand, and found its footing on the leaf. It blended with the green. I went back inside.

After the sheep incident I became distanced from my mother. She noticed the change in me. She never voiced her observations, but I felt her withdraw from me as well. I was almost thankful for it. So much so that eventually, when I was sixteen years old, I ran away from Denmark, and made my way to England. I started a new life, one that I hoped I could be proud of, and one in which I hoped I could be happy.

I found work in a factory, but made time for schooling in the evenings, knowing that was the only avenue open to me for advancement. I studied long and hard and finally made it to university. When I was in my mid-twenties I found a position at the museum and worked up to becoming head of the ancient mythology and religions department.

I became discerning and fully concentrated on the beliefs and legends of primitive man. My thoughts continually swept back to my childhood, and the stories I was told by my mother of the fabulous monsters and gods, and how they interfered with the lives of ordinary men. Reflections appeared back at me through every angle of my research, and I saw my own face shining clear through all of them. I felt these stories were my own, almost as if we were made of the same stuff, the same flesh and blood. I felt one with them.

I became engrossed in my work, so much so that I did not realize until too late that a war was going on. The opium wars with China had begun. I was force to enlist by city law and went off to fight in that Eastern country.

I’ll never forget the first time I was wounded. I felt something pierce me like a blade. It was like no other pain I had known before. I felt my breath released from its bodily restraints. It was sucked from my mouth and nostrils. I felt for a moment what it must be like to die. Then, all of a sudden, it flew back into me with double force, thrusting its way back inside me, and threw me right off my horse.

I lay panting on the ground, unable to move. My lungs felt over-full. The world seemed to lurch. I saw only blackness. I awoke in an infirmary several days later. No one could believe what had happened. They said I had received a blow straight through my chest that should have killed me. But it didn’t. It didn’t. Some lucky chance of coincidence. They laughed it off. And so did I.

I continued to fight in the war. I saw good men fall beside me – friends. I still remember their faces – the breadth of their brows, the creases and lines that would show when they smiled. And how those same faces looked dead on the battlefield, the eyes still open, gazing at a world they could no longer see. The flies hovering over their wounds. Mouths still wrenched open in fits of pain or shock. Sometimes I would see my own faced attached to the body of a dead soldier I was passing. I kept thinking to myself: I could have been him; that might have been me. But eventually the novelty wore off.

I came home and pretended to forget about the war. I remember looking into a mirror for the first time in what seemed like forever. I expected a massive change. I’m not sure what kind of change, but something physically perceptible that would strike me as different. Something to show for all the blood and death I had seen. I looked into the mirror. My face seemed the same. Same eyes, same nose, same mouth. My stomach twisted in a tight knot. I felt something was wrong. I had been away for five years, yet my face was the same as ever. It should have been different somehow . . . somehow different . . . .

I remember the first time I saw her. She was stepping down from a carriage. There was something about her face that caught me off guard. It was different somehow, almost unearthly. The difference I had wanted to see in my own face after the war. There was a newness about her. I could never quite decipher what it was.

But I knew at that moment that I could marry no other but her.

“Benu, she whispered to me through the night. We were on the doorstep of her parent’s house, hidden away from the music and the laughter of the party going on inside. I had just told her of my childhood, and my subsequent journey to England.

“What did you say?” I said, chuckling.

“Benu,” she said, laughing. “I think that shall be my new name for you.”

“But why? What does it mean?” I said, my eyes trying to discover the mystery that lay within her laughter.

“You’re a mythologist, aren’t you? I thought you would know the legend of the Phoenix.”

“Oh. The Phoenix. Well, yes, of course, but . . . .”

She placed a finger on my lips so I would cease talking, and began herself:

“The Egyptian Phoenix is called the Benu. According to the legend, every two hundred years the Benu bird builds a special nest from twigs and bark. “

I knew this story already, but I reveled in how her sweet intoxicating voice galloped across the syllables and vowels of the narrative.

“Once the nest is finished the Benu burrows inside it and bursts into flames.” Her hands clapped with the sound of a thousand fireworks launching into the night sky. I could see the colors: the brilliant purples and yellows and greens.

“The flames transform the bird into a small, defenseless worm. This worm eventually grows and matures into the bird it once was, only to disappear again after another two hundred years to be born again.”

“So you’re naming me after a worm?”

She laughed, and put her hand to her mouth, trying to stifle her laughter so the guests inside would not hear and begin to wonder.

“No, silly. You’re my Phoenix, my Benu. You’re a transformation.”

I wedded Juliana in a small ceremony, and we started a happy life together in London. We wanted to start a family, to start a new life ourselves. And before I knew it, Juliana was with child.

“Benu . . .,” she called to me, “. . . what names are you thinking of.?”

“Names? What do you mean?” I was impatiently looking over our bills.

“Names for the baby, of course. What should we call it if it’s a boy?” She latched her arms around me from behind and gently kissed my cheek the way she always did.

“Well, he should have a good English name, of course. Maybe Jack. Or Thomas.”

“Thomas . . . yes, I like that name. And if it’s a girl?”

“Let me see . . . .”

“Emma. I’ve always liked that name.”

But our baby wasn’t to be named Emma. It was a boy. Or at least, it would have been, if it had survived.

Juliana miscarried in the autumn of that year. I still remember everything . . . the blood, and the screams, and the tears, and the pain . . . I felt powerless to do anything . . . I had no control over anything . . .I felt useless . . . I felt I had betrayed Juliana.

My dreams were terrorized by nightmares of the unborn child. I dreamt of my mother and the foundling sheep. I dreamt eating their flesh. And then suddenly it was not sheep meat I was eating, but the fetus of little Thomas . . . .

That was when I stopped sleeping.

The relationship between Juliana and myself was not the same after that. I felt distanced from her. I admit I intentionally distanced myself from her. I felt I was the one responsible for the death of our child.

But then she spoke to me. I can still hear her voice ringing in my ear. She said it was meant to be. We could have more. It was not the end.

So we tried again.

But again, the child did not survive. And this time neither did Juliana.

The day had fallen to night. I watched the house slowly fill with darkness, the shadows stretching their fingers out to every crevice and cranny. My eyes burned with intensity and emptiness. I made my way back to the bedroom.

I stretched out upon the cold, inviting sheets. And then I felt something. A feeling that I hadn’t felt for a long time. I didn’t know what it was, but it crept over me like a curtain slowly opening upon a stage of endless possibilities. The floor seemed to revolve. There was a new landscape. I saw new things.

I felt my chest relax and my breath grow deeper.

I was in a black expanse of emptiness. There seemed to be nothing around me, only vacant space. I sat looking around me for a moment, wondering what to do. I decided to stand.

At that moment a spark of fire lit up my surroundings. I thought some great sun had descended. And then I saw the three.

The oak tree stood towering above me, its limbs reaching to the sky, so high that I could not see the very tops of the branches. The trunk seemed enormous. But it was not the ordinary oak tree I remembered from my childhood. Now it grew apples and pomegranates. Sometimes they fell to the foot of the tree, and turned to pure gold. I stepped between them, not wanting to disturb their final resting place.

She was pierced to the tree, a spear sticking straight through her breast. Her arms sidled two of the lowest branches, and supported her weight upon the trunk. Her face was calm and peaceful. It seemed like she was asleep. She seemed beautiful and terrible.

I knew what it was then. It was the Tree of Life; Yggdrasil; the world tree. The tree that the Norse god Odin hung upon for nine nights to gain the secret of the runes, to gain the secret of life itself.

My mouth felt dry. I tried to swallow but could not.

She opened her eyes, and turned her head towards me. A smile played on her lips.

“Benu,” her voice whispered.

I didn’t think I could speak. Finally, words came.

“Juliana . . . .” I tried to say more, but my mouth was clamped shut. My tongue wouldn’t move.

“Come here,” she beckoned.

I walked further towards her.

“Juliana, I’m sorry . . .,” I began. So many things unsaid.

“No. No words.” She lifted her hand to my lips. I felt her skin against my skin. A sound grunted out of my chest. I rested my head on her breast. I kissed the blood that oozed from her wound.

I felt her hand upon my head. I looked up, and my lips met hers.

The sun shone through the windows of the bedroom. Birds chattered outside. My eyes grew used to the light. I sat up.

Light and shadow played throughout the room in a never-ending waltz.

I heard the unfolding of wings.

Thirteen Fragments

A Short Story by Kyle Kepulis

“I just want the story to end.” Omri panted, his breath becoming lighter and shallower.

“The story can’t end before it’s begun.”

~

Omri woke up. His eyelids fluttered, having to get used to the bright gleam of daylight. A figure stood above him. It was a boy. His golden hair gleamed in the sun, and his eyes glittered with prescience.

“Where am I?”

“You are here.”

Omri sat up, and looked all around him. He was on an empty plain. Sunburnt grass was all he could see for miles.

“And where is here?”

“Where you are.”

“Well, that’s fairly obvious.”

“Don’t forget now.”

“How could I forget where I am?”

“Easy.”

The boy started to walk away, without even looking back at Omri.

“Wait!” Omri shouted, getting up and running after him. “Where are you going?”

The boy turned around.

“Everything here is as you wish it to be. There’s nothing here that you don’t already know.”

Then the boy was gone. No explanation, not even any kind of sign that he was going to depart. He just vanished. And Omri was alone.

~

He headed down the street, mindless of the hour or what was awaiting him. He passed people on the street, looking into their faces for some kind of sign that he knew them, or had the opportunity to know them. They were all the same. Blank and faceless, monotonous bodies marching continuously on their way to unknown destinations.

But the old man was different. His features were rough and strong, had weathered extreme hotness as well as extreme cold. As Omri passed him, the old man looked straight into his eyes. They seemed to burn into Omri’s irises, inflaming the depths of his soul.

Omri didn’t look into anyone else’s face after that.

He soon found himself outside the building with the large sign above the door that proclaimed in bleak white letters: “Toy Shack.”

~

The palace was magnificent. It loomed above Omri, making him feel small and inferior in comparison. Its towers jettisoned into the clouds, reaching up to unknown heights.

The heavy front doors opened before him, and welcomed him inside.

~

“So where were you today?” Omri’s father said as Omri walked in carelessly through the front door. What his dad really meant to ask was where had he been after school.

“Nowhere.”

“Everybody’s somewhere.” Was his dad’s retort.

“Not always.” He shut the door to his room, blocking out the brightness.

~

“So,” He heard her voice call him. “You have finally come. I’ve been expecting you.”

He strolled down the aisle to her throne, taking in her extravagant beauty.

Her auburn tresses cascaded over her shoulders, and fell on to the deep brown robes that adorned her body. She raised a hand in the air as if to usher him further into the room.

“I was wondering when you’d finally arrive. But at last you are here.”

He took her hand, and helped her rise from her throne. Brilliant flashes of color and light emanated from her pointed tiara as she descended from her place of nobility. Omri took them in and held them captive.

“Come, we have much to discuss.” She told him. They exited into a room off the threshold.

~

The dream entwined him, coiling its deadly tentacles around his mind, rooting and furrowing its poisonous limbs deeper and deeper into the recesses of his brain.

He saw the faces. So many of them, dancing all around him. And he knew them all. They had no eyes, no noses, no mouths, nothing to distinguish one from the other. All expressionless, staring at him through invisible, nonexistent eyes.

And they expected him to know them.

He did know them, and yet he could not decipher who they were. He had memories of them all, yet there was something missing, something important, that made him able to connect them to their rightful names and places.

This is what started making the faces angry. They began to reach out at him, taunting him. And then they started hitting him. Blow after blow, he felt their pain and anger. He wanted to help them. He truly wanted to remember who they were, but he couldn’t. And the faces devoured him, tearing his limbs and scattering them till there was nothing left of him but bountiful blood and pathetic bone.

And then he woke up.

~

His room was bathed in shadows. The sun just barely peered over the horizon outside his window, winking as if to say good night. Omri threw his backpack down on the floor, and his body landed with a thud on to the warm escape of the blankets of his bed. He breathed in through his nose the scent of home, and isolation. The smell always lingered here. He hoped he wouldn’t have the dream again, the dream he could never remember…

~

“I’ll excavate the dream for you.” She said simply and matter-of-factly, as if it were something done every day.

“You can do that?”

“Yes. All you need to do is relax.”

He closed his eyes, and tried his best, but nothing happened.

“Here. Let me help you.” She said. She placed a single hand on his forehead, and suddenly there was blackness.

~

The bell on the door rang noisily as Omri entered the toyshop. The building was large and bright and sterile in its whiteness. He started his way down the endless aisles, each linked to each gratuitously through connecting shelves and corridors. His eyes ran listlessly over the names on the boxes of each of the pre-packaged and slickly marketed entertainments.

He heard music.

It sounded as if it erupted from some demented music box somewhere.

He edged closer and closer to the aisle where the music seemed to be coming from, half afraid of what he’d find.

He turned a corner, and there was the boy.

He was around Omri’s age, maybe a little older, an employee at the toyshop. Dark, curly hair. He was sitting at a toy piano, on the small, child-sized stool, and playing. The tune was loud and abrasive, but it somehow drew Omri closer and closer.

The music swelled and changed, its curves engulfing Omri’s senses.

Omri was now close enough to reach out and touch the dark-haired boy. His hand faltered in mid-air, trying to decide what to do.

Then suddenly the dark-haired boy turned around, and smiled at him over his shoulder.

Omri simply stood and stared back.

~

“I’m so thirsty.” Omri barely whispered, his voice strained with humidity and dryness.

“I know you are. Merely drink from this, and you will never thirst for anything again.”

“No, no,” Omri said in a daze. “I’m too tired…too tired…”

“Drink.” Was all the woman said. “And you will finally find rest.”

Omri stared at her. She seemed to be lingering in a haze, her form disappearing and then reappearing out of nowhere. He slowly reached out for the black goblet in her hands. He felt his hands fasten around the cold perspiring metal.

“Just one sip, and you’ll never feel anything again.”

His lips brushed against the rim of the cup…

An unknown force suddenly wrenched away his grasp on the goblet, and sent it flying from his hands. Omri heard a shriek as of a thousand birds dying in a single wail of sound, and then his mind drowned in an ocean of darkness.

~

The faces came back to him. Except now they had adopted a form that was clear to him. Each turned around, as if seeing him for the first time.

Here was the face of the man on the street, gazing up at him with his rough countenance, and there the face of the dark-haired boy in the toyshop, looking over his shoulder and smiling.

Next was the face of a childhood friend, and after it the face of a cousin he hadn’t spoken to in years.

Last came the faces of his father and mother, exactly as he remembered them. They looked as if they had been stolen from a photograph somewhere, that lay lodged only in his memory.

Then all the faces faded away, carried aloft by an unknown wind, like wisps of nothing gently falling to the ground, or dried-up leaves disappearing into the murky sub terrains of some long-forgotten pool.

~

“Omri!” A voice sliced through the air. “What are you doing?”

Omri snapped back to attention, focusing his sight on the pair of eyes staring straight at him.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” He apologized. “I was just thinking.”

“Which is exactly what you should be doing in this class. You were daydreaming again, weren’t you?”

Omri looked back down forlornly at his desk, as if in reply.

“Do I have to speak to your father again, Omri?”

“No, Mrs. Langley.” Omri almost whispered.

“Good. Make sure that I don’t.” With this Mrs. Langley went back to teaching the class their lesson in natural biology.

Before he could help it, Omri’s thoughts strayed back to what he was thinking of before Mrs. Langley so rudely interrupted him.

No, Omri, he thought to himself, wake up, wake up…

Legacy

A Short Story by Kyle Kepulis

Note: This story was originally published in the 2002 Touchstone Magazine, the Viterbo University literary publication. It was also subsequently published in the summer 2004 issue of La Crosse Magazine.

“A quiet thought will tell our story.” – “Yours Forever” John Mellencamp

I dreamed a dream.

The towers and steeples of the village stretched out before me, their power and strength glorious in the noonday sun. Beyond them I could see the distant hills and valleys of the countryside. Serene and beautiful, their strength was just as palpable as the man-made machinations before me.

My foot reached out to take a single step, and suddenly I found myself hurtling down towards the street below. For some reason I had forgotten I was standing on the roof of a building, and my momentary lapse of memory had now throttled me into an assured death. My body tensed, preparing itself for the moment of impact with the cobbled street below that was sure to come…

I awoke with a jolt, the mattress underneath me bouncing to alertness just as much as I. My thoughts ran incoherently through my head as I came to the full realization that what had preceded them just a few moments before had been merely a dream. And, in fact, a dream I remembered having several times. I’d heard other people had dreams about flying, but I never did. Always falling and falling, closer to the hard cobblestones stretched out before me. But I always woke up right before impact. I knew that was a good thing. They say you’ll really die if you don’t wake up before dying in a dream. Somehow, after the shock that always comes from having a nightmare, I fell asleep again, listening to the noises of summer outside the window.

After a while, the bedroom door slowly creaked open, and a figure walked over to the bed. It rested a hand gently on my shoulder, and slowly nudged me awake.

“Honey?” The woman’s voice whispered softly. “Honey, you’ve gotta wake up. Your dad’s here.”

I slowly stirred, for the moment not knowing what my aunt was telling me.

“Your dad’s here to pick you up.” She continued.

Unquestioning, I rose, and clambered my way off the top bunk, trying not to wake my cousin who was still asleep in the bunk below. I followed my aunt downstairs, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

When we reached the landing, I could plainly see the frame of my father standing at the door, waiting for me.

“Hey, buddy.” Dad said, attempting to smile.

“Daddy, why are you here?” I asked, still half-asleep.

“We’ll talk about that in the car, ‘kay?” My dad turned to my uncle, who was standing next to him. “Is this everything of his?”

“Yes, that’s everything.”

“Well, I guess we’ll be going then.” Turning to me again, he quipped, “Say bye.”

I did, and followed my father out to the car waiting outside. I sat down in the passenger seat, next to my dad in the driver’s, and shut the door behind me.

My dad started the engine, and we were off.

~

Pale sunlight streamed through the open window, on to the white sheets of the hospital bed I was lying on. I tried to memorize the creamy whiteness of the light and thought of how strange it was that light plays with shadow to make a myriad of different colors. The light on the sheets was somehow mixed with other colors, too—yellow and blue and gray.

I didn’t remember the conversation with my father in the car ride down to the hospital. I didn’t remember what was said, or even if anything was said. Then again, yes, we had talked, but it seemed so long ago now, that I simply couldn’t remember the words that had been spoken. It had only been a few short hours, but already those hours felt like a lifetime, at least to my eleven-year-old mind.

After we arrived at the hospital I was brought to this room, where visitors to patients in the hospital could stay overnight, if they chose to. No one else came in, except for my dad, sometimes, who came in to check on me. I knew both sets of my grandparents were here at the hospital, but I didn’t know what they were waiting for. I didn’t know what was going on.

I just knew one thing: my mother was very sick. I’d known that for a long time. Ever since I could remember my mother had been going to the hospital because she was sick. I knew she had cancer, and I even knew the kind, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I despised those people who felt I was too young to need to know this information. My parents had decided from the beginning not to keep any secrets from me concerning my mom’s illness, and I liked that.

I thought of my mom. She was just down the hallway, but I didn’t know what was going on. Dad had only said that things had gotten worse. It had started a little while after they had put the catheter in. My understanding of the events that had passed was hazy, and at the moment I didn’t really want to think about it.

I picked up the coloring book that laid beside me on the bed, and the crayons, and began to color another picture. There were some chapter books spread out on the bed, too, that I had attempted to read. They were supposed to keep me entertained, but as I read them I could only think about the thing they were supposed to make me forget about thinking about. I wondered what was happening, why it was so important for me to be here at this moment, but at the time the only thing I could do was wait.

~

I remember the man knocking on the door and entering. It wasn’t my father. I knew that, because my dad wouldn’t knock on the door, he would just come in. A tall, medium-sized man, mouse-brown hair, dark penetrating eyes. I had no idea why he wanted to come into this room, much less why he would want to talk to me. I didn’t like his eyes. They looked as if they knew too much. He wore a white collar around his neck.

“Hi,” he said, his mouth forming a tight-lipped smile.

“Hello.” I said, shyly, eyeing him.

“I hear your mom’s down the hall.”

“Yes.” Was my solitary answer.

“Have you seen her yet?”

“No.”

“Do you know why?”

“No.”

A pause.

“Would you like to see her?”

I stared back at him, not knowing what to say.

~

Memories. It’s strange how they can become malformed in your mind, twisted and diseased, or the opposite, rosy-hued and beautiful, shimmering images of a past that never happened. In the end, they’re the only things we keep of our past. It’s up to us what we do with them.

The door opened quickly, with what seemed like a sudden burst of air. I was standing in front of it, the man with the collar right behind me. The scene before me was almost surrealistic. There were some people standing in the room, but I don’t recall whom. My mother lay in the hospital bed, the very same one she had lain in when I said goodbye to her two weeks ago, when I left to stay for a while with my aunt and uncle. I couldn’t remember saying goodbye to her, but I knew I must have. And I knew she was in that hospital bed when I did so. But this was not the same woman that I had known as my mother.

Writhing from pain, the woman before me twisted and turned in the bed, moaning, and uttering inaudible words. An ashy paleness flushed her cheek, and the skin clung tightly to her bones. Her face and body were awash in perspiration. This wasn’t my mother. She was already gone.

“This is your time to say goodbye,” The man in the collar said from behind me. “Go in.”

I couldn’t. I stood transfixed in the doorway, not knowing what to think of what I was seeing.

“You want to say goodbye to your mother, don’t you?” The man in the collar continued.

I did want to say goodbye. But my mother had already left. This wasn’t her.

“What’s going on?” I heard a voice from the hallway ask.

“Sir, I—“ The man in the collar started to explain.

“I told you not to bring him in here.” My father said, making his way between us, and putting a hand on my shoulder.

“When he gets older, he’ll want closure. He needs a chance to say goodbye.” The man in the collar continued.

“Well, this won’t give it to him.” My dad retorted. “This is not the mother he knew.”

“Why don’t you let him decide?” The man responded.

My father knelt down to my height, and looked me in the face.

“Is this what you want?” He asked gently. “Do you want to say goodbye like this?”

All I could do was shake my head no.

“Come on.” He whispered to me, leading me out of the room. As we passed the man in the collar, my dad said to him, “I don’t want to see you near my son again,” and he led me back to the visitor’s room.

~

The grandfather clock stood perfectly still, powerfully designed, always thinking, always working. It kept ticking the minutes away, never straying. It stood in the waiting area at the end of my mom’s ward. I remember sitting there for a while, waiting. Waiting for what I didn’t know. Just waiting until something happened. I remember looking at the clock, and wondering how many people it had seen whose loved ones were sick, or close to death. What was it like to be a clock in a hospital? Ticking away the last minutes of someone’s life…

I was sitting in an armchair, staring at the sunlight falling on to the other furniture in the room. Dancing in the rays of sunlight were tiny particles, falling effortlessly and gracefully to the ground. Down the hall I could see doctors, nurses and family going in and out of my mom’s room.

An old woman sat at a table across from me, drinking coffee. I couldn’t remember if I had seen her enter the room, or if she had been there when I arrived. Either way, she was there, and she was staring at me, smiling.

“What’s a nice little boy like you doing in this place?” She finally asked me.

“My mom’s sick.” I told her.

“Oh, that’s a shame.” She said sincerely. “My brother is very sick, too. My sister and I are visiting him. She should be back any minute, now, she just left to get some—oh, here she is now.” She said, motioning to another old woman with short, white hair, who had just entered the room. “Nellie, I was just talking to this nice boy. His mother’s sick in the hospital.”

“Oh, how sad.” Nellie commented, sitting down beside her sister, and taking a sip of her newly acquired coffee.

“She has Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” I said, as if that explained it.

The two ladies shook their heads in sympathy.

“She must be very young.” The first lady said to me.

I hadn’t thought of it before. Eleven-year-olds don’t think of their mothers as young.

“You have all our best wishes, dear.” Nellie said to me, reaching out her hand, and resting it on top of mine. “We’ll pray that your mother gets better.”

“Thank you.” Was all I could think of to say.

When I was little, even the slightest touch of a hand or brush of skin would send tingles all over my body. I loved the warm feeling of connection with another person, no matter how small that connection was. I lost that over the years, as I slowly came to realize that to other people a touch could mean nothing – something easily dispensed and just as easily forgotten. I wish I had that innocence again – to feel the sedated excitement of a simple brush of skin against skin. The old woman touching my hand and looking me in the eye with that simple, unselfish gaze gave me a sense of safety and security I thought I had lost when my aunt woke me up in the early hours of that morning. I knew then that nothing would ever be the same. Something new was beginning. Which meant that something else was slowly dying with every tick of the grandfather clock…

~

My grandmother was the first to notice something was wrong. She came out of my mom’s room, and called frantically for a nurse or doctor to come. Help came, while I continued to sit in the waiting room, staring at the hands on the grandfather clock. The small hand was on the four, and the large hand near the six. That image would stay in my mind long after that day had seen its end.

A short amount of time passed, and my dad came to get me.

We walked down the hallway, and entered my mom’s room.

The machines that surrounded her bed were now quiet for the first time that I could remember. There was a great stillness in the room. A single ray of light bathed her hospital bed in a rich whiteness, and illuminated her quiet face, her jaw still open as if she had fallen asleep that way. My dad and I walked over to the bed in silence. His hand reached out and gently closed my mother’s jaw. Then he took the sheet that covered her body in his hands, and tucked her in, a peaceful expression on his face.

I wandered over to the window across from my mom’s bed, and looked at the tree growing outside. We were on an upper floor, so the branches and leaves of the tree brushed against the window. The tree was in full bloom, its vibrant, green leaves cheerfully mocking the scene being played out within that little hospital room. I looked up into the blue sky that rose above the tree. It almost seemed as if the tree’s branches were reaching out, trying to touch the sky, but its roots would never allow it to do anything more than reach.

I turned around and looked at my dad, who was still standing beside my mother. He returned my gaze.

~

I vaguely remember the funeral. It passed quickly. It was a time of hollowness and wonder. I remember the endless confusion, and the endless questions. Why would God take my mom away from me? Was she watching my every movement now from Heaven? What if I did something wrong or bad? Had she dreamt of falling off the roof of a house, like I did, before she died? Did she not wake up before impact, and that’s why she was dead now?

I wasn’t angry. I remember being asked many times why I wasn’t. It almost felt like people were saying I should be angry, “because children always are.” Children don’t understand death, they said. But does anyone? Does anyone truly understand death?

I remember my mother’s blue casket, her body inside. I remember at the viewing, looking into it, and not recognizing her. She didn’t look like my mother. I also remember the pillow that was inside the casket with her. It was a small, heart-shaped pillow, with blue and yellow flowers on it. When my mom planned her funeral, she had meant it to be from me. That way there would always be a part of me with her.

I remember how odd it felt to be sitting in the front pew during the service. I could feel everyone’s eyes smoldering the back of my head. It seemed as if everyone was staring at my dad and I, pitying us.

I remember being in the funeral parade, sitting in the long, black limousine reserved for family. I remember staring out the window at my mother’s blue hearse, ahead of us.

The sun burned down upon the funeral party at the cemetery. The words of the pastor fell upon my deaf ears, as I gazed around at all the forlorn faces surrounding my mother’s casket. My legs were tired, and I didn’t want to have to stand anymore. I couldn’t concentrate on what was going on. Too much was happening. It was like a dream where so many things happen at once, that you can only walk through it blindly, until it leads you to its end.

I thought back to a moment not too long ago. It happened during the past summer, when Mom was still at home with Dad and I, and not in the hospital. I was sitting with her in her armchair, in the middle of what she called a “Kid Hug” which was really just a hug from me.

“You’re my legacy.” She had said.

I didn’t understand what she was saying at the time, but I thought I was starting to understand it now. I was her immortality.

I stared silently as her casket was lowered into the ground, and my heart with it.

~

I dreamed a dream.

Sunlight filled the front yard of our house, pouring down in thick, bright pools. Daddy was there, standing close by, watching. Mommy took both my small hands in hers and started spinning me around, faster and faster, until my feet were no longer treading the ground, but soaring high above the short stalks of grass. I was flying. I laughed in delight, as well as I could, for I found it awfully hard to laugh when flying by the seat of my pants. The world went zooming by around me, a brilliant blend of colors and lights and sounds.

But Mommy was still holding tight to my hands, so I didn’t fall and smash into the hectic blaze of chaos all around me. I knew she wouldn’t let go. I knew she wouldn’t let me fall.

My laughter filled the spinning world I was trapped in. It reached up to the heavens and soared.

– For J.A.C.K

Spindles

A Short Story by Kyle Kepulis

Note: This is a story I wrote when I was around fifteen, and I submitted it to the on-line site KidPub, which is a great place for kids to write their own stories and poems and have them published on the web. I thought it might be interesting to include it in my journal, as a kind of signpost of my writing and thoughts at that age. I’m publishing the original draft, so please excuse misspelling and incorrect grammar. I plan on possibly revising this piece, because I still like a lot of the ideas in it…

Luminescent pink clouds filled the sky, intermingled with blues and purples. Dusk was on the horizon. The young man on horseback decided to find a place to rest for the night. He had run away from home, though he knew not why. His parents had neither treated him badly nor done any other thing to upset him.

But in his heart he knew why he had run away.

It was because of the dream. The dream was about hundreds of thorns that seemed to make up a large forest. But these were no ordinary thorns. They seemed to be constantly spinning, like the spindles on a spinning wheel of old. At the center of these spinning thorns was a blooming rose. This rose was extremely beautiful; more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. It’s delicate light pink petals shimmered with dew. But then suddenly the rose would begin to wilt. He heard a scream and someone call out his name, but he could nothing. He felt helpless. Then, as soon as the last petal had fallen from the rose, the stem would change into yet another spindle, whose sharp edge sparked in the moonlight as if it were just waiting…for something…

He had awaken at dawn, and set out to search for the rose amidst the thorns – whatever that meant.

Finally, just as night was approaching, he came upon a village. He got down from upon his horse, and walked into town, leading the horse.

All the Village Inns were full. Some strange happening was soon to occur is all he could find out about why so many people were in town. Eventually he found a kind peasant’s cottage and slept the night there.

In the morn, during Breakfast, he asked the Peasant why so many people were in town.

“Why, do not ye know, sir?” The Peasant asked. ” A most unusual event is about to occur. The Island in the clouds is about to come down from the sky!”

What could this peasant possibly mean? The young man thought. A land in the clouds? Who did the peasant think he was? A fool?

“Oh, please excuse me,” The peasant went on. “I must sound like the town idiot, but it’s true! Legend has it that Utopia was an island not far from our little village’s cove. But one day, an evil fairy put a spell on the island, and cursed it to a life in the clouds, every- one on the island being destined never to see other human beings until one hundred years later, when the island would descend from the clouds for the one and only time, until one more one hundred years had passed. Tomorrow marks the first one hundredth year. Some people in our village will now be able to see their long lost ancestors.”

The young man was astounded. Could this island be the rose among the thorns he was searching for? He could only hope.

That night he dreamt the same dream he had dreamt before. Accept this time, when the last petal fell from the rose, the stem burst into flames, and he dreamt he was in a small room. In the room was an old woman, spinning on a spinning wheel. The small wooden door ahead of him opened with a creak, and in stepped the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her hair was like silken gold, and her skin as white and delicate as the petals from the rose he had seen earlier in his dream. The young woman stepped into the room, and asked the old woman something, but he couldn’t hear a thing she was saying. The old woman acknowledged the spindle on the spinning wheel, and gave it to the young woman. Immediately the young woman pricked her finger and fell dizzily to the ground. Then the whole scene burst into flames, and the young man awoke in a cold sweat.

The following morning everyone was assembled in the town square, awaiting the descension of the island of Utopia. At 12:00 noon exactly, there was a rumbling from the clouds above, and soon it seemed as if the very sky was falling towards them. The next thing they knew they were surrounded in swirling mists of white and grey and blue. When the mist dissolved, they found before them a vast forest of thorns.

Is this the island we’ve been waiting for? They wondered. An island of thorns?

Then the young man stepped forward. He knew this was the forest of thorns he had seen in his dream. He started slashing through the thorns with his sword, but every time he cut through one thorn, three more appeared in it’s place. Finally, after much labor, the thorns started spreadng apart themselves, making a passageway the young man could walk through. Soon, after the young man had walked a short distance, he came upon a large castle. He guessed this was the rose among the thorns in his dream. He stepped inside, and wandered among many corridors until at long- last he came to a tower room, and there, laying upon a bed of woven silver, was the young woman he had seen in his dream. As he stepped forward to take a closer look, he pricked his finger on a thorn near the bed. The thorn then bloomed into a perfect white rose, and when he glanced over at the young woman sleeping again, her eyes were wide open, and her red lips were smiling.

After the young woman had awoke, he learned her name was Brier Rose, and that a curse had been put upon her that she would sleep for a hundred years until a man of noble heart pricked his finger near her bed. They were to be married, and he had met the King and Quuen,

As day was turning to night, he and Brier Rose were walking in the palace gardens. The thorns that had surrounded the palace had by now all died away.

“Brier Rose,” He said to her, “I do not know exactly how to say this, but…I cannot marry you. I hardly even know you. Besides, we’re from two different centuries.”

“I understand completely.” Brier Rose whispered, the wind playing with her golden tresses. “I was thinking the same thing. It is not right. But I am forever grateful to you for saving my life. You can leave whenever you wish.”

He left in the morning, feeling as if he had accomplished nothing.

But the memory stayed with him. Of thorns and roses, and how he had saved the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood.