Posts Tagged ‘short story’

I don’t know what this is, nor where it’s going, but…hmmm…here it is:

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands were already gnarled with great strength and abrasive and harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways such that no one thought of it as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

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A bit more on the Antarctic mystery:

No fires were to be lit upon the ice. This was well understood by Gleese, by Tomaroff, and Kroones, but a few of the Argentinians started a fire and this nearly unhinged Kroones, who cursed them and made a show of stamping it out. The language barrier was thus overcome by example.

From the story that Gleese had, Kroones was missing two of his toes to frostbite. He was on one of the early Arctic exploration teams with Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, who had found the northeast passage during the Vega expedition of 1878, and after a falling out with Palander of the Swedish Navy, had become an explorer in his own right, albeit a penniless one.

Gleese liked the Dane. He was a hard-bitten soul of few words, preferring the company of dogs to men, and could abide no ignorance or foolhardiness in any man other than himself. Gleese had found him alone —but for a small pack of dogs—in a room above a tavern in the extreme northeastern Greenland village of Qaanaaq, that launching point for many of the early Arctic expeditions, including the trips to Prince Patrick Island where the fabled graveyard of the whales was believed to lie. He had put the question to Kroones by way of a local Inuit interpreter: was Kroones searching for the valley of the whales, the place where the great behemoths went to die? Gleese could not get a verbal answer out of the man, so he’d removed his necklace and showed him a small golden locket. Upon opening it, the scent of ambergris filled the room and the dogs began to howl. Kroones’s eyes grew wide in wonder.

Gleese assuredly had been looking for the mother lode of ambergris, and hired Kroones on the spot.

They found no ambergris—the strange, cancerous growth found in the guts of sperm whales which was the base of all perfumes, more valuable than gold or diamonds. Instead they had found death and all but bankruptcy. But that was seven years before.

Antarctica, Gleese believed, was made for men like Kroones. If there was any man alive who could see to it that he made it to the pole and returned, it would be the strange Dane.

Just a little bit on this Antarctic story:

CHAPTER TWO: THE SHELF

The Antarctic
September 16, 1888

The Invincible lay at anchor before the blue and white cliffs. The first rope, attached to Gomez’s harpoon, was fired up and over the ice shelf by the twelve-pounder prow cannon—which equipment was the last vestige of her fighting past, but which the navy could not easily remove from the prow emplacement before her auction—and the breathless spectacle of watching Manuel Ortega shinny up the rope with three other rope bundles and an additional forty pounds of steel spikes bound about his form made for the single-most riveting moment for the passengers and crew during their brief voyage from The Falklands, apart from the bloody taking of the narwhal the previous day. If the harpoon, embedded somewhere above in the implacable ice, were to give way, then Ortega’s fifty-foot climb would be his last, this everyone knew.

When he disappeared over the cliff’s edge, a cheer went up.

“Hurrah! Ortega!”

“Mr. Gleese,” Captain Kuralt stated, “you and your men may now disembark, and with my compliments.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Gleese said, and shook the Captain’s hand. No wind blew here beneath the cliffs of ice, and as the cheering about them ceased a silence stole like death across the deck as the men returned to their work.

The cargo hold was thrown open and the supplies were hoisted forth.

Mr. Kroones—Gleese’s Danish dogman—led the pack up from the stern stairs and onto the deck. The pack was composed of a mix of grey Huskies, white Lapps, and black Alsatians—and it was a marvel that Kroones somehow kept them all from tearing one another to pieces. At night the man sang them to sleep, his melodious and nearly falsetto voice reverberating off the interior of the hold as if he were in some grand Opera house. Kroones waved to Gleese and Gleese nodded. Kroones and the dogs would be first up onto the ice after Ortega.

“You’ve marked the coordinates well, then, Captain?” Gleese asked.

“Yes. Hmph. We’ll see you here on December fifteenth, sixty-nine degrees, fifty-fourth minutes, forty-nine seconds south by sixty degrees, twenty-nine minutes, fifty-five seconds west. And Godspeed, Mr. Gleese.”

“Godspeed, Captain. I shall reach the pole and return.”

Kuralt nodded, but did not speak further. He had meant to say, “See that you do,” but he could not bring himself to tempt the Fates, or otherwise put voice what he felt in his chest—a disquieting foreboding, much like the coming onset of some malady that might prove a challenge to the doctor, if not to the clinging hand of life itself. Instead, he turned his eyes from the already tired explorer, placed his hand on the railing and gazed down upon the men at work.

*****

Twenty-five men and forty dogs watched as the Invincible belched steam. Her whistle blew a shrill goodbye as two sets of men who had been intimately intermingled for the past week waved to each other across the Antarctic air.

“Let’s move a bit towards land, shall we?” Gleese stated. “I wish to be away from these cliffs before we make camp for the night. Mr. Tomaroff, how far off is the land mass, would you say?”

“Fifty kilometres, no less,” Micail Tomaroff said. Tomaroff opened his pocket watch, then glanced up at the southern stars, as if confirming his calculations—a nod to the seemingly arcane science of celestial navigation. The sun was on the horizon, and would not quite disappear below it for several months to come, or at least not until the Antarctic fall, which would commence sometime in February, long after they were scheduled to depart this desolate and forbidding land.

“Very good. Mr. Kroones, please prepare the sleds for travel.”

“Sehr gut, Herr Gleese.”

Danish, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese were four languages that Gleese had not learned, or at least not well enough to carry on a conversation beyond an exchange of idiotic pleasantry. He could read Latin, some Greek, Gaelic, Chinese and Nipponese, and could speak some pidgin of the two Asian dialects—which was necessary in the far away Arctic—but English was his native language. While the language of Tennyson, if not of Chaucer and Mallory, was his favorite reading, he was forever mentally tethered to the American dialect of New England; that of Washington Irving and Thoreau, of Thomas Paine if not Thomas Jefferson, was how he best thought. That few of his own expeditionary party could converse with him intelligently could ultimately prove costly if luck refused to hold, as Kuralt had pointed out to him when the Argentinians had signed on en masse, lured as they were by the legendary weight of Gleese’s purse. He had largely and single-handedly depopulated the Falklands of male Argentinians, and all for filthy lucre. Some might die during the expedition, particularly if they did not heed the regulations—no wandering away from camp solo, even to relieve themselves, and not without rope.

The most dangerous foe, if it were not the ice and the wind itself, was the stealthiest, most hidden quarry imaginable; that of crevasse. He had personally witnessed a man swallowed whole by an opening in the ice that had not existed a moment before. Swallowed so utterly and completely that it was as if the man had never existed. And it did so even more abruptly than a cry could escape the lips.

No. He would not allow this to be. He resolved to spend a portion of time each evening learning Portuguese, Danish and Russian.

Here’s a never-before read short story (the rough one I was talking about a week ago). It’s called THE GOLD POT:

“Need is no factor in luck,” Lattie said as she dealt the final round. I sniffed. Any professional gambler will tell you that statement isn’t entirely true. The fact is, the greater the need, the less likely luck is to strike, which definitely makes it a factor. A negative factor. It’s a reverse proposition, and any player worth his salt knows this from hard experience. The problem is, when you’re in it up to the short hairs, it’s that much more difficult to fold. Which was why there were, as yet, no vacant chairs at Frank Somer’s poker table.

The game began seventeen long hours before. The chips segued back-and-forth and from side-to-side, like some damned slow kiddie amusement park ride. Only it wasn’t amusing. Not one damned bit. Around two in the morning, just three or four hours after the first hand, I got a flush, and my stack of chips multiplied in size, and then for another five hours dwindled down and up, down and up. Me, I’m cursed with luck. Nothing goes right because of it. But I had no idea how much things were going to change by the end of that final hand.

It was a stupid trick Lattie pulled, and she did it because she knew what we would all think of it. She dealt a hand of Maverick: seven cards—two down, two up, two down, one up—with a bet each round after each up card. It’s a blow-out type of hand, sort of like Mexican Sweat, and the pot mushrooms in size. It’s the ultimate final hand. Most pros hate it—or, at least in my estimation, you’re not a pro unless you do hate it. I hate it because I don’t like to win that big in one whuff. When I do, the odds go up incredibly high that someone’s going to get pissed enough to jump me afterwards, or possibly even during. And I already knew what no one else at that table could: I was going to win, and in a very bad way. It was right then that I could have folded. Ah well. Live and learn.

My first up card was a seven of clubs. Innocuous. No danger to anyone there. I dared not look at my hole cards. The ante was a mere twenty-five bucks. Then Mercer, to Lattie’s immediate left, chunked in a hundred based on his King of Diamonds. There were six of us, and so the pot swelled to seven-fifty on that first up-card. Thankfully, nobody raised the bet.

To my left Aubrey Pike threw in a small stack of chips. Aubrey had a mean grin on his pock-marked face. He had lost his job at the cell phone plant last month. Also, I knew his wife was up for a liver transplant and he was twenty-five thousand short of what he needed and there was no insurance left to him. A guy like that can get pretty desperate.

Aubrey detected my stare, squinted his eyes and turned my way a fraction. I looked down at the table and the growing pot.

Second card up for me was the eight of clubs.

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t. There was no chance of two of those in the same game, fourteen hours apart or not.

Lattie’s bet, with a pair of threes showing, both red. Lattie used to house-keep at the Governor’s mansion. Her husband was one of the first African-American cops in Austin. The guy got blown away during a routine traffic stop ten years ago, and Lattie lays a wreath on his grave every September second. Meanwhile, the remainder of the year, she plays cards. Lattie has the heart of a great white shark, which makes me love her in no small way. She’s probably the wealthiest black woman I know.

Lattie paused, looked at each of us in turn. A flare for the dramatic, that woman. “Thousand,” she said, and moved over a whole stack of chips.

Somewhere off the coast of Sri Lanka, there is a unlucky sailor, drowning. I understood him.

Mercer Underwood whistled. “Lattie, my dear,” he said. “I truly love you. Will you marry me?”

“You’re already married, you glass-eyed pervert. In or out?”

“In,” Mercer said. A drop of sweat rolled down his right cheek. I supposed he was hoping no one noticed. It was like sixty-two degrees on Franks Somer’s back porch. Outside the cicadas stopped droning and got interested in the game.
Mercer had closed his plumbing supply shop awhile back. I’ve got a real estate buddy who’s been trying to get me to invest in foreclosures. Last week he showed me the list. Mercer’s house and his shop were on it. I recall wondering at the time whether or not Kitty knew. Both properties were going on the block in two weeks. So far, that made two who might kill for that damned pot.

Frank Somer added another thousand to the pot.

Frank was the only bona fide felon sitting at the table. He had been out on parole since ‘95 after twenty years in the clink. Strange, the kind of people a guy like me hangs out with. Frank had killed a man in cold-blood, or rather, cool blood. He’d waited a week after finding out his wife was cheating on him before he walked into the Lago Vista Country Club and shot the man right between the eyes. A week. A lot can happen in a week. Frank scalped football tickets for a living. No one hires a felon, after all. The last time I saw him, I had to pay his bar tab for him. That made three.

It was to me.

I pushed a thousand in chips to the center of the table and noticed I wasn’t breathing. When was the last time I had breathed? And because I couldn’t answer myself it sort of ticked me off and I did something really, really stupid. Moronic, in fact. I shoved over two more stacks and said: “that’s three to you, Aubrey.”

Aubrey looked at me. Then he looked at his cards.

“I hate you,” he said. “You haven’t even looked at your hole cards, you bastard.”

“I know,” I told him, and smiled. I thought of how cold the Indian Ocean might get in the south latitudes.

Aubrey had maybe five thousand left, and there were far too many rounds to go. I watched as he slowly counted out three thousand in chips.

“There!” he said. The neat stacks in the center spilled. It was all one pile now.

“It’s to you, Perry,” Lattie said.

Perry Tanner ran a title company office. He was middle-aged, totally bald, and was being thoroughly and completely divorced by a petite little college girl who had seen Perry for his true value. I discounted Perry as a potential violence factor. But, then again, who knows?

“Yeah, yeah,” Perry said, and pushed over about half of his chips.

Everyone else stayed in. Lattie smiled. Mercer sweated. Frank grimaced. I breathed. Aubrey shook from head to foot. Perry yawned.

Two cards down and no bets.

“Would you please look at your goddamned hole cards?” Aubrey raised his voice.

“Okay,” I said, and did.

A seven and an eight of spades. Huh. Two pair. Lousy. I looked at the other two. An eight of hearts and an eight of diamonds. Ha! Four of a kind!

At that moment Lattie dealt the last up-card.

“Not so pretty now, are they?” Aubrey asked.

“Man,” I said. “You have no idea how much it’s going to cost you to find out.”

Mercer had the bet, with a pair of Kings showing. Mercer bet a mere hundred.
When it got around to Lattie, she immediately raised him by nine hundred. You can say one thing for Lattie: the bitch is consistent.

It came to me again. I shoved the rest of my chips forward.

“How much the hell is that?” Lattie asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Nobody here can cover it.”

“I can!” Perry said, and the room became golden. That is to say that Perry reached into his pocket where a jingle-jangle could be heard, and a stack of one-ounce gold krugerrands, about fifty of them, joined the stack of chips.

Cards slapped the table all around, Lattie included. But I sat firm.

“Well?” Perry asked me, a smirk on his face.

“That makes it about a hundred and fifty thousand,” I said.

“Well?” Perry repeated, and opened his palms. I caught a quick glimpse of his cards, but that no longer mattered.

“Hold on,” I said. I reached behind me, into my rear waist-band.

“Unless you’re gonna pull the Hope Diamond out of your ass—” Perry began, but then he and everyone else saw my real hole card.

“I don’t believe it,” Lattie said.

“Believe it,” I said.

I shot Perry first, the silencer making for a pea-shooter sound. Everyone sat frozen as Perry’s head thunked on the table. Aubrey I shot second, mostly because I couldn’t stand the sonuvabitch. The others, all except Lattie, tried to make a break for it.

Phhwwtt. Phhwwt.

Which left me and Lattie.

I turned over my four eights.

“Well,” Lattie said. “You win.”

“I guess so. Damn, but I hate my luck,” I said.

I shot Lattie through the heart.

I looked down at the gold pot. Outside the cicadas started up their drone again. I like hearing those damned things.

Me and that Sri Lankan fisherman. Both of us trying to breathe and both of us drowning.

Sometimes a guy will do anything, especially when he’s down. You just can’t trust them.

Finis

The Leonids

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

  the leonidsWe met at the City Lake around 1:30 a.m.  As promised by the

weatherman the sky was clear and shone with a million stars.  The

moon would not be putting in her appearance until sometime around

five a.m., so there would be no obscurity.  We’d be getting the full

effect.

    I pulled my old Ford off the gravel roadway, expecting to have to

wait, but a set of headlights pulled off the highway and turned down

the narrow road a quarter of a mile back.  Twin spears of light

penetrated the settling cloud of dust I’d left behind scant moments

before.  I wouldn’t even have time for a cigarette.

    After a minute of watching the headlights bounce and dodge all

over creation Matt and Mandy and the kids pulled up beside me,

their windows rolled down.
“Probably won’t see anything,” Matt said from the driver’s seat.
“Hey Bill,” Mandy said to me.  We couldn’t see each other worth a damn.  We were two ghostly faces in the night, mere feet away from one another.  She had her arm hanging outside the minivan.
“Hey, Amanda,” I said.  “Are you bored yet?”
She laughed.  I’d always loved her laugh.  Matt was a damned lucky man and I’d often wondered to what depths he knew that singular fact.
“I am,” a voice intoned from the back seat.  That would be Stuart, the eldest.  Stu was a lot like his father–he saw the rust-lining in everything.
“Did you bring the booze?” Matt asked me as he got out and slammed the door behind him.
“Hush, Matt,” Mandy said.  “Get the chairs.”
I waited while the Prescott family disembarked.  An onlooker might have thought we were all up to no good–a single man meeting a husband, wife and kids in the dead of night in a closed lake park miles from town.  We’d had it figured that there would eventually be cops coming by on patrol.  They’d see the vehicles, run an obligatory check or two of the plates, then start to nose around and see if they could find us and run us off.  Maybe even give us a ticket.  Or two.  But the plan was that if that happened I was supposed to flash my badge and magically make everything alright.
I fished the beer out of my trunk and Matt and Mandy and the kids each had their hands full as we trudged across the mown grass, up a hill and around the stand of trees down to the lakes edge.  We’d be out of sight from the road, so truthfully, anyone wanted to find us could, but it might take them awhile.  I estimated we were a couple football field lengths from the cars.
Mandy and the kids opened up the lawn chairs.  Matt clicked on a flashlight and inspected my cooler.
“Coors Light,” I told him.  “And a little something-something for us hard-core drinkers.”  I pulled out a flask and handed it to him.  Matt unscrewed the lid and sniffed.
“Scotch,” he said.  “How old?”
“Older than you,” I said.
“Bill,” Mandy said, “you’re contributing to the delinquency of a major.”
“I know,” I said.  “With malice aforethought.”
“Just so’s you know.”
I took the flask back, screwed the cap on.
“It’ll keep till later,” I told Matt and then tossed him a cold beer.  “In the meantime, shut off that damned light so we can see.”

*****

You can see the stars on the water on a clear night with no wind, no tide and no moon.  And the silence is its own presence.
“There’s one!” Suzie, the youngest Prescott exclaimed and pointed.  Our eyes had adjusted, so we could see her arm.
A line of light lasting about half a second traced itself across the sky just west of Leo.
“Oooo. . .  Ahh. . .” Stu said, clearly unimpressed.  What more can you expect from a fourteen year-old?
“Shut up, Stu,” Matt said.
“Good one, Suze,” Mandy encouraged.  “You be nice, Stuart.”
“Hey, Bill.  You heard about that water truck we crashed out at the Extension Service?”
“Nope,” I said, and sipped my beer. “But I’ve got the feeling I’m about to.”
“You sure are,” Matt said, and went on for five minutes about how he orchestrated a fully loaded truck crash into a concrete barrier at sixty miles per hour and managed to catch video from ten different angles for study purposes.  The whole time he talked I nodded, watched the sky, and kept Mandy’s perfume in my nose.
Three more lines came into the sky in rapid succession.  This time the ooo’s and ahhh’s were real.
Then, for five minutes, nothing.
Matt was my best friend.  I’d known him all our lives.  But I wondered what Mandy saw in him that I didn’t.  What stars in their courses had brought them together?  And why were they still together?
Mandy had always kept me at arms length, but at the same time she had always treated me with a deference I could not fathom.  A certain softness found its way into her voice whenever Matt wasn’t around and we had a moment to talk, which happened at least once every few weeks.  She would never know that I lived for those brief encounters.  And not for the first time, as I watched the night sky and breathed in her perfume and her presence not three feet away, I wondered if something was there.
“Say, Bill,” Matt said.  “I brought something I meant to show you, but I left it in the van.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a surprise.  I’ll go get it.”
“Matt, can’t it wait?” Mandy asked.
“I’ll only be a minute,” he said and got up.  “Stu, walk with your dad.”
“Oh hell!” Stuart said.
“Stu!” Mandy admonished him.  “Do what your father says.”
“Alright,” Stuart said, the way only a fourteen year-old who knew everything there was to know on God’s green Earth could say it.
“Be right back,” Matt said, and the darkness swallowed them.
The silence came again.
I breathed in Mandy.
“Mom,” Suzie said.  “I’ma gonna wade in the water.  Is that alright?”
“What do you think, Bill?  Can anything get her?”
“Anything that could get her will run from her,” I offered.  “Suzie, make sure you don’t go deeper than your knees.  This lake drops off pretty quick out there.”
“Cool!” Suzie said and darted toward the shore, ten yards or more away.
Silence again, but for little feet making gingerly, quiet splashes.
“Mandy,” I said.  “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.  You?”
“You know me.  I’m fine.”
“Yeah,” she said.  “I know.”
Silence once more.
There came a thudding.  A fatalistic thumping as of some oil well a mile away broaching the earth.  After a moment of careful listening I decided it was my chest.
“Are you happy?” I asked her.
A moment appeared, stretched itself out, and flitted away.
“I’m not unhappy,” she said.
“That’s not an answer.”
Another moment.
“I know,” she said.
A spray of meteors thirty degrees up visited us and our breaths caught as one.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said.  “He found me first, Bill.  It should have been you.”
“I know,” I said.  “There’s nothing we can do about that.  Ever.”
“Ever.”
I stood up, turned away.
“Thank you, Bill,” she said.
“For what?”
“For not saying it.  Those words.”
“Oh,” I said.  “Those words.  Any time, Mandy.  But if Matt ever hurts you, I’ll hurt him pretty bad.  And then I’m coming for you.”
“I know, Bill,” she said.  “I know.”

*****

The Leonids quit the sky around four, or so the newspapers say.  But these Leonids–Bill and Matt and Mandy and Stu and Suzie–we quit long before then.
I moved to Grapevine, Texas and took a job with the Sheriff’s Office ten years later.  Matt had a heart attack and died after coming home from work one cold January night.  I remember that my new wife comforted me while I cried, offering solace for one who rarely showed emotion.
I walk out in the back yard some nights and study the night sky.  Sometimes I feel like I can distinguish the relative distances between the stars, and can even tell which ones are closer and which are farther, and let me tell you, it has nothing to do with brightness.
And once or twice in a blue moon I’ll catch a shooting star.  So brief they are.  So very damned brief.

finis