Jul 28, 2012

An Uncertain Sky

Up past the forestry station along an empty stretch of highway, O.D. pushed hard against a rising headwind. He felt the resistance of the air against his body, the whoosh of wet wheels on slick pavement, the hypnotic draw of the blushing horizon. His breath wheezed in rhythm to the clink of the bike chain, the spattering rain drumming along in broken time to an old radio song that muttered in his head.

“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver… space ships flying… in the yellow haze… of the sun…

A gray ache gripped his tired bones but he forced the pedals harder, slippery feet on edge, legs wide apart to avoid knocking his knees against the intruding bag that dangled awkwardly from the handlebars. It’d been a while since he’d brought anything back that appeared useful but now was the time and he imagined they’d be pleased, especially Jemma.

“There were children crying… and colors flying… all around the chosen… ones.”

He was a piano of a man, his six foot six frame suffocating the rail-thin bike that creaked and wobbled under him. A plastic garbage bag bloomed over his wide shoulders – a poor man’s raincoat; it whipped and popped like snapping fingers against the wind. Gray beard gathered like wool along the upper ridge of his cheekbones, infringed heavily, swept down his moon face and bottomed out in a heavy hornet’s nest tangle ten inches below his jaw. His bright gray eyes - - round as saucers - - focused on the crowded rows of black trees that fenced the highway, millions of giant palings left pounded in the earth by industrious absent gods.

“All in a dream… all… in a dream…”

O.D. worked the words, wondered what was real, what was nightmare, wondered what had happened previous to this day’s passing, the time before, years of dim memories impenetrable, the future down the road like the setting sun, glowing in and out of view above an uncertain sky.

The folks at Haven House tended to step aside when O.D. wandered the aisles of the store picking through recycled goods. He seemed harmless enough, but his polished stare would send some skittering in another direction. Some of the staff huddled and whispered in conference when he passed, talked openly when he left.

I heard he went crazy when his wife and boy left him, got heavy into hallucinogens… nah, nah, word was he encountered strange flying objects one time, yoo-who, coo-coo! no, no, I heard he snapped and killed his wife and her lover, buried them somewhere…no, listen, Otis Digby was a good man, private that’s all… nope, here’s the truth, the guy’s a serial killer, I mean shit, look at him…

Few cars passed. On the slick curve, O.D. saw it, the pale blue fabric hanging from the shrub. He stopped and wiped water from his washed up face. He waited for a lone lazy truck to pass, bent to tinker with the front wheel and when the truck evaporated like a ghost in the distant mist, stepped from the bike and made his way across the long weeded burm. Overhead, rigid trees rose like thin pins poking against the lowering sky. The blue rag tucked against the dark camouflage; below it, a tangled dent hugged the ground and punched into dead limbs as if a low animal had burrowed through. O.D. scanned the empty highway once more and then knifed the bike through the wet shrub and disappeared, digested whole in one quick swallow by the waiting forest.

He came to the clearing two hundred yards in, a conclusion of trees uprooted from the earth. It formed a secluded backdrop against the surrounding forest. In the center, a worn card table with bent knees listed precariously. It was covered with a red and white banner from a big-box discount store, the Target logo prominently bulls-eyed on top. Dull rain tapped along the surface, overfilled a white vase containing wilted sunflowers. Propped next to it, a framed picture of a smiling young couple.
Two bodies - - one male and one female - - reclined, roped to yellowed kitchen chairs in front of the table. They tilted in the mud, a magician’s trick gone badly. The young male was crudely tied - - a diagonal plank - - his neck secured to the back of one chair by thin ribbon, ankles below the mud, a battered suitcase sinking in the mud beside him. The naked woman was seated, her breasts glossy smooth and featureless, a rag of wet plastered hair atop her head. The rain ran in rivulets down their bodies, pooled around them in wide puddles.

“Brought something Jemma,” O.D. said and advanced on the female.

He emptied the bag he’d been carrying. It contained a few items of fabric - assorted clothing, long sleeve shirts, a couple of suit coats, pants and one yellow dress.

“I’d hoped to have found a new wig, something nice for the journey. No such luck.”

He studied the confounding sky.

“It’s time don’t you think?” he said, gently laying out the dress.

“All in a dream… all… in a dream…”

The rain fell harder, pattering to a soft hush. Distant thunder boomed like war cannon. A few birds flew. The mannequins, bleached and lifeless, said nothing, only stared into a sunless world.

They waited.

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