They ran down the old railroad like children after the ringing of the last school bell, arms wide and smiles broad. The young man twined his arm about the woman’s own, she a month his senior, skin milky neath the ambered summer light. In mirthful exuberance, they passed beside a long line of chainlink fencing, overgrown by ground ivy, brilliant blue like seawater tinged with blood and paused in the thistle to observe a young deer which starred at them, ears straight and haunches primed, transfixed by terror.
Forward-facing eyes, the indelible mark of the predator.
The woman took a step forward, silently as possible, and crunched a branch beneath her old and crinkled tennis shoes whereupon the cervidae flew for the treeline as if its life depended upon it and vanished therein. They laughed, filled with the joy of their comraderie and the effortless sway they held over all that skittered and furrowed in the snaking green ambit surrounding.
The pair then turned their attention to the north where stood a small oil refinery, abandoned and covered over with rust and crows that crouched on thrones of steel and turned up in great whorls, cawing unto the clouds as if to prime their fellows of the newcomers arrival. The wayfaring duo skirted the edge of the fence. The woman following the man’s lead. After a pace he ejaculated a “ah-ha!” and found an area of the fence which gave way to his prying and calloused hands.
“Through here, Reggie.”
Reggie tied back her long, red hair, frizzy with the humidity, and adjusted her belted sun-washed jeans and bent neath her companion and slipped through the metallic aperture whereupon the fence-holder deftly followed. They trekked across a lumpy tumulus of patchy brown-green and hard with the clay underneath. The air smelled of iron and decaying vegetal matter. Reggie paused and took in the scene with great curiosity.
“You find the most interesting places, Harmon.”
Harmon nodded skyward – something he did in place of smiling – and arced out to the leftern area of the refinery yard where stood two massive storage tanks, side by side, like massive stovepipes, silent fluting to the blood-orange sky. Both of the tanks were ringed by black, creaking staircases, bolted to the frame. As Reggie looked to the right, at the main facility, Harmon pranced up the stairs and stopped midway, some twenty feet off the ground, paused and turned to his traveling companion.
“You sure its safe?”
“Not entirely, but its bolted sturdy.”
He slammed his left foot down forcefully upon the stairwell, causing reverberations to clatter throughout. It barely moved.
“That isn’t very reassuring.”
“You can only win as much as you wager.”
She shook her head and hesitantly climbed the stair, making muted gasps with every metallic creak and groan. At length they emerged upon the top of the tank where the wind grew in intensity and their footsteps sounded with booming steel echos. Harmon spread his powerful, sinewy arms, his lithe, well-scarred frame braced against the wind, as if he were drawing down some eldritch power from the welkin.
“A beautiful view on a beautiful day.” He said matter-of-factly, taking a seat upon the massive iron drum.
“With a beautiful woman?”
He turned to her, his expression opaque.
She frowned briefly and forced a more pleasant expression and moved to stand directly beside the man.
“I’m getting dizzy up here.”
He gestured for her to sit. When she did they listened to the wind singing through the trees and fall to guttural clattering as it passed between the massive, metal structures of the industrial facility. Harmon placed his hand upon the rusted metal surface of the oil tank, palms down, caressing the ruddy gray surface, speaking low as he did so.
“This facility was built over fifty years ago; its older than I am and older than my father lived to be and it may very well stand long after I fall. Such resilience, born of ingenuity, is impressive. It is as much a comfort to me to see this mighty creation as it is vexing to see it so deplorably abandoned, overgrown and ill-kept. Thinking this, I consider my novel, not as it is now, but as it might be in the future. Will it end up like this facility? Mouldering away on some shelf, my after-image shuttered from all the world?”
Reggie listened attentively, not entirely following. It was a rare occurrence to hear him speak at such length, rare indeed to hear him say anything other than “Indeed” or “Yes” or “No,” his three favorite words. She could think of no one more taciturn and aloof than Harmon Kessel. She had known him slight for four years and in that space, every time they’d met it were as though he were exercising great force of will to stay his feet; as if he were but half-listening, ready to elope off with his ideas to some shutter place like as that which they now occupied. Yet here, now, she thought, he seemed fully present. Open. Vulnerable, even.
“I think you’re worrying too much.”
“It isn’t worry. There is some concern in it, but in casting my mind forward in time, I wish to be as descriptive as possible and eschew all should’s and ought’s. Once you know the former, the latter becomes readily apparent.”
Reggie scrunched up her brow, but nodded and pretended she understood his monologue. She wondered half-seriously if he were mad. Her friends said he was. That he’d gone insane after Lyla left him. Even if it were true she could understand it; they had been together since high-school. A decade. Ten years of dedication destroyed in the blink of an eye. And for what?
Harmon turned to the woman, his strange, green eyes searching the pale blue of her own. Forest to sea. There were never any half-measures in his attention; it was either given or withdrawn; always in totality. To some that was off-putting but Reggie only found it endearing.
“Won’t she be angry you and I went out together?” She figured he wouldn’t know that she knew things were over between Lyla and himself.
“You’re smart enough to know there is no point in asking a question when you already know the answer.”
Fear swift-welled in her bosom.
“What do you mean?”
His eyes narrowed slightly but other than that his face remained unexpressive.
“You don’t know? She went to college. Apparently a requirement of continued attendance is to cut all of her ties. Career apparently took precedence to the man who had just bought a house for her.”
“I’m not entirely sure and I’m reasonably confident she doesn’t really know either. All I know is that she has ceased to love me.”
“You two aren’t together anymore?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“How could it not?”
“I mean talking about it.”
Reggie was silent a moment. She wasn’t sure how to respond, nor whether it were wise to do so. She did not wish to upset Harmon yet desperately wanted to know more. She was only aware that they were not together anymore. She’d heard as much from her friends who had attended classes with Lyla, but she didn’t know the details. She slowly reached out and caressed his hand and took it in her own whereupon he glanced down at her limb as if it were some alien lifeform and methodically and coldly withdrew.
“Talk to me.”
“Why do you think I brought you here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you think I brought you here to put the moves on you?”
“I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I just… I really like you, Harmon.”
“I appreciate that.”
She drew closer, prompting Harmon to tense.
“Don’t you like me.”
“Course I do. Just not that way.”
“Well what way do you like me?”
“Let’s talk about something else.”
Reggie’s fist clench like as her jaw as a rage boiled over within her breast.
“She doesn’t fucking love you, Harmon. You just said so yourself.”
“I know it.”
“So why do you act like I’m a fucking leper?”
Harmon sighed and then turned to the delicate redhead who sat upon the oil drum on the edge of tears and spoke with great deliberation.
“Love is not something which should be dispensed with simply because it is one-sided.”
[Excerpted from my forthcoming novella, The Silence & The Howl.]