Fiction Writer’s Compendium: Drug Street Names

Editor’s note: Provided below are a lengthy list of popular street-names (slang) for a wide variety of drugs, both legal and illicit. A ‘drug’ being define in the pharmacological sense of a non-nutritional substance of known structure, which when ingested, produces a biological effect. In addition to elucidating the general public, I hope this list aids fiction authors in better constructing stories wherein ‘hard’ drugs play a significant role.


Slang for Ketamine (and variant mixes)

  1. Cat Tranquilizer
  2. Horse Tranquilizer, etc — from its use as a veterinary anaesthetic
  3. K — shortened form of Ketamine
  4. Keezy
  5. Ket
  6. Ketapillars — a combination of ketamine and ecstasy pills (Keta- Pill- ars)
  7. Kenny
  8. K-Hole
  9. Kitty
  10. Kitty Flipping — a combination of Ketamine and ecstasy
  11. Old Man — as opposed to Madman (slang for Mdma/ecstacy)
  12. Regretamine
  13. Special K — humorous; from the breakfast cereal of the same name
  14. Super K
  15. Triple K or (KKK)– used in rave clubs in Southern Washington State
  16. Vetamine
  17. Vitamin K
  18. K wire
  19. KFC
  20. Wonky

Slang for Khat

  1. Cat
  2. Chat
  3. Clarkie cat
  4. Qat
  5. Quaadka

Slang for LSD

  1. Acid
  2. Acid tabs
  3. Alice — from Alice in Wonderland’s psychedelic adventures
  4. Alphabet
  5. Blotters — from the blotter paper it comes on
  6. California Sunshine
  7. Doses
  8. DSL — LSD backwards
  9. Eye Candy — LSD sold in Visine bottles
  10. Glories
  11. Lavender
  12. Lake Shore Drive — as in, “I’m cruisin’ down Lakeshore Drive” — Detroit area Lucy in the sky with diamonds — slang originally from The Beatles song about a painting done by Lennon’s son
  13. Magic Tickets — pieces of paper containing LSD
  14. Microdots — from tiny tablets
  15. Monterey Purple– a form of LSD that Jimi Hendrix used before his famous guitar burning performance at Woodstock
  16. Paper — from the blotter paper it comes on
  17. Rips — Abbreviation of ‘trips’
  18. Cid-drip the Entertainer — wordplay on ‘Cedric the Entertainer’
  19. Sugar cubes
  20. Sunshine Acid — The acid made by hippies Square dancing tickets
  21. Tabs — LSD is sometimes blotted onto sheets of paper, cut up into little squares called tabs
  22. Timothy Leary Ticket
  23. Trade names — e.g. Strawberries, Orange Sunshine, Felix
  24. Tickets – often used to describe blotter paper
  25. Trip — note than an LSD experience is known as a trip; being on LSD is known as tripping
  26. Uncle Sidney, Uncle Sid, Sid, Syd (as in Syd Barrett), ‘Cid — contraction of A-cid
  27. White lightning Window Pane
  28. Yellow sunshine

Slang for Mescaline

  1. Cactus
  2. Dusty
  3. M — used in PiHKAL
  4. Mesc
  5. Peyote
  6. Pixie sticks — so-named for the dream-like hallucinations induced by consumption

Slang for Methamphetamine

  1. Amp — Amphetamine
  2. Batu
  3. Billy — A reference to Billy Whizz, a Brit comic character who could move at high speeds (Beano comics)
  4. Cale
  5. Gerst
  6. Champagne
  7. Chris
  8. Christina
  9. Crank — noncrystalline methamphetamine powder prepared for insufflation or injection
  10. Crystal — from the crystalline form of pure methamphetamine
  11. Crystal Meth
  12. Devil’s Dandruff – a term common with law enforcement. Brought to popularity by the US-based A&E TV Show ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’
  13. Dope — a term for drugs in general but also used for meth
  14. Flash — slang used in the 1970s
  15. Fluff — crank of higher quality, commonly as powder
  16. G — glass
  17. Gak
  18. Geek
  19. Glass – from the shards that resemble pieces of glass
  20. Goose-Egg
  21. Go or Go Fast
  22. Go Pills — military slang, especially pilots (Japan, Germany, USA)
  23. Ice — crystalline methamphetamine, resembles ice
  24. Ink — reference to “pen” short for penitentiary, refers to the harsh penalties for possession, use or distribution of the drug.
  25. Jenny Crank — wordplay on ‘Jenny Craig’; from the idea that Methamphetamine makes you lose weight.
  26. Jib — Canadian Meth
  27. Meth
  28. Methedrine — a brand name
  29. P — short for ‘Pure’
  30. Pervatine — produced in the Czech Republic
  31. Philopon Poor man’s Cocaine
  32. Poot
  33. Pure
  34. Redneck cocaine
  35. Rudy — a reference to Rudies or Rude Boys
  36. Sean
  37. Shabu — Japanese street name
  38. Shards — resembles glass or crystal shards
  39. Shit
  40. Speed
  41. Tanner
  42. Terry
  43. Texas Tea
  44. Tina
  45. Tik — South African street name
  46. Twack
  47. Upside-down b — A reference to ‘P’, popularized in New Zealand by animated TV show Bro’Town
  48. Uppers
  49. Whiz Yaba — a powerful Asian meth tablet contain caffeine, often colored and flavored Zip
  50. Chicken Feed

Slang for Morphine

  1. Adolf
  2. Block
  3. C & M — refers to the use of cocaine and morphine simultaneously
  4. Cotton Brothers — cocaine, heroin and morphine
  5. Cube
  6. Dreamer
  7. Drugstore
  8. Dope
  9. Emsel
  10. First line
  11. German boy
  12. God’s drug
  13. Goma
  14. Gunk
  15. Hardcore
  16. Hardstuff — refers to both heroin and morphine

Slang for Phencyclidine [former trade names, Sernyl, Sernylan]

  1. Angel
  2. Angel Dust
  3. Cyclone
  4. Disembalming
  5. Fluid
  6. Dust
  7. Ice
  8. Juicy (when smoked with marijuana)
  9. Krystal
  10. Leak
  11. Love Boat
  12. Magic dust
  13. Mesk
  14. Monkey dust
  15. PCP
  16. Rocketfuel
  17. Sherm or Sherms — Sherman Hemsley
  18. Sugar
  19. Wack
  20. Wet

Slang for Promethazine w/Codeine [pain reliever and a cough suppressant]

  1. Barre
  2. Lean
  3. Oil
  4. Paint
  5. Purple Drank
  6. Purple Punch
  7. Rainbow
  8. Colors
  9. Sizzurp
  10. Syrup
  11. Tuss

Slang for psychedelic mushrooms

  1. Benzies
  2. Blue Rimmers
  3. Boomers
  4. Caps
  5. FireWorks
  6. Fly agarics — a form of mushroom (Amanita muscaria) containing no Psilocybin, or Psilocyn, the active ingredient in standard magic mushroom
  7. Fun Gus
  8. Fun Guys
  9. Fungus
  10. Goombas
  11. Gus
  12. Jesus
  13. Lalkas

The Silence & The Howl | Part 20

§.20


“Yo. Someone asking bout you at the front.”

Damion turned from the fat man with whom he was sharing a beer to the lanky, bejeweled man before him.

“And he is?”

“Don’t know. Never seen him before. Some white boy.”

“What about me is he asking?”

“Asking to speak to you.”

“Everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

“Not quite everyone,” Harmon declared, striding impassively beside the lanky man who reached swiftly for his gun. Before he could fully unholster the piece, Damion swiftly raised his hands in entreaty.

“Take it easy. Think our boy here is just lost. Ain’t that right?”

“No, Mr. Strake, not lost at all. Came to talk. If you’ve got a moment.”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“You don’t look afraid.”

Damion looked to his bodyguard with a raised brow. The lanky man shook his head and turned to Harmon derisively.

“Who the fuck you think you are?”

Harmon ignored the flustered guard, his eyes fixed on Strakes.

“I’d like to speak to Mr. Strake in private.”

“I’d like to be a millionaire.”

“With a mouth like that, I find your prospects doubtful.”

The lanky guard opened his mouth to repost the verbal jab but before he could speak, Damion interrupted, gesturing towards the door.

“Kelly, wait outside please.”

“Whatever.”

As Kelly and the fatman made their way out the door and sealed the pulsating electronica behind them, Harmon took a seat, upright, eyes level with his host, hands folded upon his lap.

“Thanks for calling off your dog.”

“You’re lucky I did. He bites.”

“I suggest a muzzle,” Harmon replied as he studied Damion’s face and then straightened once more, “You don’t remember me.”

“You don’t look familiar. What is it you want?”

“Does the name Sprawls ring any bells?”

“That ratfuck… yeah. He a friend of yours?”

“Used to be.”

“My condolences. Wait. I’ve seen you before.”

“Yes. We met – what was it – two years ago, at a music festival not far from here. You sold Sprawls something. Were secretive bout it.”

“Just some gas. You know how it is.”

“I don’t. That’s why I’m here.”

Damion rolled his eyes and leaned over the table, pushing a unopened can of beer toward his guest.

“Gas. Pot. Marijuana.”

“He buy other things from you?”

“Maybe. Why you asking? You buying?”

“Maybe. What other things does he buy?”

“Ya know, that’s the kinda question that only really dumb niggers ask. You ain’t no dumb nigger are you?”

Damion assumed an aggressive posture, his bleary eyes narrowed and he leaned out even further over the table, his mouth crinkling into a grimace.

Harmon cracked the beer and raised it to take a sip, responding before he did so.

“Do I look like a dumb nigger to you?”

Damion smiled humorlessly and shook his head.

“I don’t know what you look like. You on some bullshit.”

“Still haven’t answered my question.”

Damion gave the man a wary look before continuing.

“China Town.”

“He buy a lot?”

“Woulda if he could afford to. Last I heard that broke ass nigger was scrubbing toilets.”

“He come lately?”

“No. Why the fuck are you so interested?”

“Will you be selling, or not?”

“Depends on if you’re paying.”

“Course. You accept checks?”

Damion paused, furrowing his brow before he spied Harmon’s mocking expression.

“Very funny. You know you fucking lucky Karst ain’t here.”

“Don’t know him.”

“You should, this is his building. He ain’t quite so accommodating as me. Month ago, some dude named Luke Rawel comes up in here, talking shit, bout how much TNT he got and whole buncha bullshit. We tell him he needs to leave. He decides not to and says if we didn’t do business he’d have to have a word with the cops. Karst, well, he calmly told him there was no need for that and that they should talk about it in his office in the basement. Don’t know what happened, but ain’t no one seen Rawel after that…”

“That a threat?”

“Fuck no. I’m just telling you like it is.”

“Your boss’ personal affairs don’t concern me.”

Harmon removed a thick clip of hundred dollar bills from his belt and waved it before the pill merchant enticingly.

“Bring me what Sprawls last bought. Whatever he paid, I’ll pay double.”

*

Hinterland

Hinterland — “a place of exile”


“We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, and our ravages.  But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.” —Albert Camus, The Rebel


Prologue

     The boy felt like a giant, seated on the broad shoulders of his uncle who was well over six feet.  He towered over the other people walking down the middle of the street toward the crumbling Catholic church on the corner and could easily make out the anticipation in their eyes.  It reminded him of the way people looked when they approached a burning building.

     “You aren’t getting dizzy up there, are you, Keaton?” his uncle asked as he looked up at the youngster.

     He shook his head.

     “You’re sure now?”

     “I’m sure.”

     They didn’t enter the church but followed the others to the courtyard between the church and the rectory where it was so crowded his uncle had to stand in the flower bed.  They were surrounded by people with rosaries and cameras and smiles as bright as some of the daffodils.  One person right in front of them held a large cardboard sign on which was written, in thick black letters, “Bless the Virgin.”

     “Can you see all right?” his uncle asked, rising a little on his toes.

     “I can.”

     “I don’t see anything happening.”

     “Neither do I.”

     “You have to be patient,” an elderly woman next to them whispered in a reproving tone.  “Sometimes the crying begins in a matter of minutes, sometimes not for hours.”

     Not quite a week and a half ago, while smoking a cigarette in the courtyard, a housekeeper at the rectory noticed what appeared to be drops of rain spilling out of the limestone eyes of the Blessed Virgin statue in the center of the courtyard.  But when she realized it wasn’t raining out she nearly fell from the bench she was sitting on and, with a gasp, ran into the rectory to tell the priests what she saw.  By the time one of them got out to the courtyard the Virgin’s eyes were dry and he dismissed what she saw as an illusion.  The next morning, however, another priest saw the statue weeping and immediately reported it to his superior who came out and also witnessed the crying.  Quickly news of the weeping statue spread through the parish and people began to come in droves to witness the phenomenon.

     “It’s a miracle,” the elderly woman beside them insisted when she overheard someone in the crowd speculate that the alleged tears might be nothing more than beads of condensation.  “That’s what it is.” 

     The skeptic smiled.  “I’m not so sure, lady.”

    “When the crying was first witnessed by the housekeeper, it hadn’t rained for almost a week. It can’t be condensation.”

     “There has to be an explanation, though.”

    “There is, sir. It’s a sign from the Blessed Virgin, a prayer, if you will, for our salvation.”

     “Maybe so.”

     “Maybe nothing,” she snapped, clutching the chipped rosary beads in her frail hands.

    Every day, for the next two weeks, the boy and his uncle visited the church and stared at the statue along with many others. Although they never saw it cry, they believed those who did see the tears and hoped one day they would be fortunate enough to see them too.

i

    As he approached the young woman at the communion rail, Father Keaton Gregor grimaced when he saw that her tongue was pierced with a candy-striped barbell ring. He just did not understand why anyone, especially women, did such vile things to their bodies.  Besides her tongue, her nose was pierced, and her left arm, from her wrist to her shoulders, was covered with hideous tattoos. She looked like someone who belonged in a carnival sideshow.

     “The Body of Christ,” the priest muttered as he set the communion wafer on her pierced tongue.

    Suddenly, a tiny speck of the wafer fell onto the paten held under her chin by the altar boy. She didn’t notice the mishap, though, because her eyes were closed.

    The next person at the rail was Mr. Knight, a retired accountant, who always attended the eight o’clock Mass, and beside him were the Manning cousins and their aunt, Mrs. English, who also regularly attended the daily service. The last person to receive communion was a sullen woman with swollen eyes who stared at him so intensely that he found it unsettling and had to look away as he set the wafer on her tongue. He doubted if she was a member of the parish because he was sure, if he had seen her before, he would have remembered.

    As always, after the service, after he removed his vestments, he stood at the door to wish those who attended a pleasant day.  Knight often took the opportunity to speak with him for a few minutes about some financial matter concerning the church but he had a dental appointment so he left after a brief handshake. The Manning cousins, as usual, each offered him a breath mint. The last person to leave the church was the woman with the swollen eyes. She moved very slowly, as if she were much older than she appeared.

     “Good morning, Father.”

    He nodded faintly. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

    “No, Father. I’m not a member of the parish.”

     “Oh.”

     “I’m here because I wanted to have a word with you.”

     “And you are?”

     “Helen Murrey.”

     “Well, ma’am, how may I be of service to you?”

    “It’s about my daughter, Father. She lives with a very abusive man.”  Squinting, she paused to collect her thoughts. “And I’ve seen reports on the news about you helping people who are in a bad way.”

     “Certainly I’d be happy to speak with your daughter.”

    Mrs. Murrey frowned. “I doubt if she’ll talk to you, Father. She won’t talk to anyone who wants to help her. Not since she got involved with this man.”

     “If she won’t speak with me, I don’t know how I can be of any assistance.”

     “I know what you did for that boy with the heroin addiction.”

    Gravely he folded his arms across his slender chest. A lanky figure, well over six feet tall, he looked much as he did when he played on his high school basketball team even though he was close to forty years of age. His hair was just as dark and long and his eyes as intense as a sentinel’s.

     “That’s not something that turned out well.”          

    “But you got him back to his family. You got him away from the bad influences that caused him to take heroin in the first place.”

     She was mistaken, but not wanting to discuss that episode, he did not correct her and, instead, watched Knight pull out of the parking lot in his recently acquired Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

     “Here, Father,” she said, taking three photographs out of her shoulder bag, “are some pictures of Olivia.”

    Expecting to see a family snapshot of the girl or a graduation photograph, he was surprised when the first image he looked at showed a young woman with a split lip and a bruised left cheek. The other two showed her with bruises on her neck and arms.

     “The man she lives with did this to her not more than a week ago,” she said, the anger rising in her voice.

     “I didn’t think you had any contact with her?”

    “I don’t, Father. A friend of hers took these pictures and sent them to me.  She’s as worried about Olivia as I am.”

     “I see.”

    “I’m afraid one day she’ll be beaten so badly she won’t recover. That’s why I’ve come to you, Father. I don’t know where else to turn.”

     “You’ve spoken to the police I take it?”

    “Many times but they aren’t able to do anything if Olivia won’t cooperate with them. And she won’t because this man, Roland, has such a stranglehold on her.”

     Nodding, he handed her back the photographs.

    “You’ve helped others in trouble, Father. Won’t you please help me get her away from this monster?”

     “I’ll have to think about it.”

    “Please do, Father. Anything you can do to help would be greatly appreciated.”

*

    Leaning back from his desk, a glass of Merlot in his left hand, Father Gregor stared at the haunting image of the “Bombed Mary” pinned to the wall above his bed. A parishioner, visiting Nagasaki a few years ago, had taken the photograph and given it to him. Her head was badly scarred by the nuclear blast, her eyes melted away so that all that remained were two blackened sockets.

    As a youngster, he never found it difficult to pray. Always he was asking the Blessed Mother to grant the most trivial requests, from helping him score a basket in some game to making it snow hard enough so he got a day off from school. However, as he got older, he found it embarrassing to ask for such assistance, believed requests for special favors were made only by young people and weak people. Still, he needed guidance, and as he stared at the hollow eyes of the Blessed Mother, he lowered his chin and asked for her direction in determining if he should help Mrs. Murrey in rescuing her daughter from her abusive companion. Of course, in his heart, he knew he should help the woman but he couldn’t bear a calamity as grave as what happened after he intervened on behalf of Aaron some three months ago.

*

    Father Gregor met Aaron’s father, Paul Gilmore, late one night in a rough area of town known as “The Burrows.” He was walking to his car after helping to serve dinner at a charity house supported by the diocese when Gilmore approached him, waving a long silver flashlight.

     “Excuse me, Father,” he said, nearly out of breath, “have you seen a young man tonight with a scruffy brown beard?”

     “I just finished serving meals at the Adelman House and there were many diners with beards.”

    Nodding, he drew from a pocket of his sheepskin car coat a snapshot of his son, arms crossed, slouched against a chain-link fence underneath a basketball net and handed it to the priest along with the flashlight. “Did you see this young man there tonight?”

    Father Gregor shined the light on the photograph. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said after a couple of minutes, “but I don’t know if he was there for dinner or not.”

     “No idea at all?”

    Slowly he shook his head. “Why are you looking for him, if I may ask?”

    “He’s my son, Father. My only child.”

    “Oh. I see.”

    After taking back the photograph and the flashlight, Gilmore started to turn away, then hesitated and looked at the priest.

    “Aaron’s twenty-two, Father. Like a lot of kids, he started experimenting with drugs in school, but unlike most of them he got hooked on heroin and dropped out halfway through his junior year of college and started living on the street. To be sure, he’s been in and out of rehab facilities, but for the past eight months he’s been clear.” He paused, wiping a thread of sweat from his forehead. “I am concerned he’s had another relapse, though, because I haven’t heard from him for almost a week, and, usually, he calls me on the phone every other day to let me know how he’s getting along.”

     “Maybe he’s just been busy?”

     “I wish but I checked with his landlady, and she hasn’t seen him for several days, either.”

     “What makes you think he might be down here?”

    “This is one of the places where he used to come to… buy drugs.”

     “Well, we better find him then.”

     “You don’t have to help me, Father.”

     “Oh, but I do,” he said, briefly clamping a hand on Gilmore’s left shoulder.

    The two men searched every abandoned building in the desolate area that night, every alley and doorway, but they didn’t see Aaron. They resumed the search the next evening in a driving rainstorm, showing one person after another the photograph of Aaron slouched against a fence.  Only a few bothered to take more than a few seconds to look at it, and not one of them admitted they recognized the young man. Their third night in The Burrows Gilmore saw someone who he thought might be his son talking with a tall figure in a doorway, and immediately he called out his name and ran toward him, with Father Gregor half a step behind him.  When they got within a few feet of the doorway, they saw that it was Aaron all right and he was in handcuffs. The person with him was a police officer.

     “What’s going on here?” Gilmore demanded, pointing the flashlight at his son.

     The officer, ignoring him, continued to talk to Aaron.

     “This is my son, officer, and I’d like to know why he’s in handcuffs?”

    “He’s been arrested for possession of an illegal substance.”

     “Sorry, Dad,” the young man mumbled, his eyes cloudy and still.

    “Don’t worry, son. Things will work out.”

    “Your son will be taken to the county jail,” the officer informed Gilmore, “where he’ll receive medical treatment while he detoxes.”

     “I’ll see you there, Aaron.”

     “No one, except the medical staff, is permitted to see those in custody while they are detoxing,” the officer said curtly.

     “Why’s that?”

    He shrugged. “Those are the rules, sir. I don’t make them. I just follow them.”

*

    As a priest, Father Gregor was able to visit prisoners going through withdrawal in order to provide spiritual comfort. So, early the next morning, he went to see Aaron, but was told the young man was sleeping.  He returned later that afternoon and was able to speak with him for a few minutes even though the young man was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open.

     “You know your father loves you very much.”

     Staring at his hands, which were clenched together very tightly, he was silent.

    “He’d be here with me, if he could, but that’s not allowed. Not until your clean.”

     Still, he was silent.

     “Soon though, once you get stronger, he’ll be able to visit you.”

     “Soon.”

     “Listen, if you wish, we could say an ‘Our Father’ together.”

     He nodded faintly.

    “Our Father, who art in heaven,” he began, watching the young man intently.  “Hallowed be thy name.”

     All he heard was his voice, Aaron’s was quiet, and he wondered if the young man heard a word he was saying.

    Surprisingly, when he returned to the jail the next morning, Aaron appeared even more lethargic. His eyes were vacant, with dark circles around them, and his head hung to one side as if it were loose somehow.  He attempted to engage him in conversation but the young man still seemed to be listening only to voices in his head. Concerned, he asked one of the nurses at the facility about his seemingly deteriorating condition and was informed that lethargy was a pretty common symptom of someone detoxing from heroin.

   “I don’t think he knows who I am,” Father Gregor said in frustration. “I don’t even know if he knows someone is trying to communicate with him.”

     “Oh, he will in another day, Father,” Nurse Weinberg assured him.  “Patients usually start to come around after two to three days of withdrawal.”

    “I just thought he’d be a little better today… a little more responsive.”

    The nurse frowned, scratching the side of her nose. “You know, when a drug like heroin gets its claws into you, it’s hard sometimes to get rid of it.”

     “Of course.”

     “You have a good day now.”

     I’ll try, he thought, watching the nurse return to her station.

    In another moment, on his way out of the facility, he was stopped by a prisoner pushing a cart stacked with dirty dishes. “Father, do you have a moment?” he asked, anxiously looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching him.

    “Yes. What can I do for you?”

     “That kid you were visiting—”

     “Aaron Gilmore.”

    “Yeah, Aaron,” he said, still looking over his shoulder. “He’s not doing well. I’ve detoxed from heroin a couple of times and, believe me, I was never in as bad a shape as he’s in.”

     “The nurse I spoke to about him claimed his withdrawal was proceeding as expected.”

    The prisoner grimaced. “My cell is right across from his and he was vomiting and dry-heaving all night long. He told me his heart was beating so hard he couldn’t sleep. He needs help and he needs it fast.”

    Father Gregor considered speaking again to the nurse but doubted if she would say anything differently, doubted if anyone on the staff would disagree with her assessment. So he left the facility, hoping the prisoner had exaggerated the plight of the young man. He hadn’t, though, as the priest discovered on his next visit when he found Aaron sitting in a wheelchair in his cell. Alarmed, he asked one of the nurses why he was in the chair and she said he was too weak to support himself.

     “I thought he was supposed to be getting better?”

    “It takes a while, Father. Some people respond to treatment slower than others.”

     “I wonder if he even is aware I am here to see him?”

     “As I said, some patients take longer to detox than others.”

    He frowned, squeezing his hands into fists. “Something isn’t right.  I know it.”

    “Trust me, Father. We have people detoxing in here all the time.  We know what we’re doing.”

    Later that evening he received a call from Gilmore telling him his son had passed away. He was stunned, but only for an instant, because each time he visited the young man it was obvious he was not improving.  Though he expressed his concern to those treating him, he was always assured Aaron was on schedule in his recovery. His only medical training was a first aid class he was compelled to take when he was a lifeguard in high school but he knew the young man was in serious trouble. He just wished he had pressed his concern more vigorously, maybe asked to speak to the nursing director or to one of the attending physicians. Without question, he believed he had let down the young man and, if only in a small way, was partly to blame for his death.

*

     “I am so grateful you have agreed to help me get Olivia away from this monster she’s living with,” Mrs. Murrey said to Father Gregor at the breakfast table in her kitchen.

     “I’ll do what I can, ma’am.”

    “Once we get her away from him, I know she’ll be grateful. Maybe not right away but, in time, I know she will be.”

    He nodded then took a sip of the chicory-scented coffee she poured for him. After what happened to Aaron, he was really not prepared to get involved in another family matter but the pictures she showed him of her battered daughter offered him little choice.

     “Are you familiar with the group ‘New Day’?”

    “Is that a band?”

    “Oh, no,” she snickered. “It’s one of those ‘maximize your human potential’ groups.”

     “Oh.”

    “The reason I asked is that this man with Olivia used to work for the group. He was what is called a ‘facilitator’ who conducted four-day-long seminars designed to help participants realize their potential and become more fulfilled in their daily lives. He worked there almost a year before he was let go because some of his training methods became a little too intense.  For example, he was known to encourage people to beat their fists against walls until their knuckles bled as a way of breaking down the barriers that kept them from realizing their full potential.”

     “That is extreme, all right.”

    She nodded, circling a cranberry-red fingernail inside her coffee mug.  “I have little doubt he’s demanded that Olivia do such awful things. I have little doubt at all, Father.”

     “So how do you propose to get her away from him?”

     “Just take her,” she said firmly.  “As if she were a member of some cult.”

     “You’re talking about an intervention?”

     “You can call it that, I guess.”

    He leaned back on his stool. “I can’t get involved in something like that, ma’am.”

    “Oh, you wouldn’t be, Father. You’d just be there as an observer is all.  You see, Olivia once was very religious until she got involved with this Roland character, and I think it would put her at ease if she saw a priest with me.”

    He remained very reluctant about getting involved in such a scheme even though he was convinced the young woman would be better off to get away from this man she regarded as her common law husband. Of course, what he should do that instant, he knew, was politely decline to become involved and leave but, instead, he listened as Mrs. Murrey presented some of the specifics of the intervention which she intended to carry out at the Waterfront Blues Festival this coming Saturday evening. She said she planned to invite along an old girlfriend of Olivia’s, who also was very concerned about her welfare, as well as a couple of neighbors who were strong enough to prevent anyone from interfering with the abduction.

     “So, Father, can I count on you being there?”

     “I’ll just be there to observe, is that right?”

     “That’s right.”

     “Yes, I can do that, ma’am.”

    Pleased, she slapped her hands together. “Thank you, Father. I promise you won’t regret your decision.”

     “One question?”

     “Yes?”

     “Why have you picked a music festival as the place to rescue your daughter?”

    “The main reason is because I know she’ll be there. She’s been attending the Blues Festival since she was a sophomore in high school. And also, if there is any kind of ruckus, I don’t think anyone will notice because there is so much noise and horseplay that goes on at outdoor music events.”

*

    As usual, the festival was packed, with the grass embankment in front of the stage blanketed by people dressed in garish outfits that seemed more appropriate for Halloween. Because it was so crowded, the minivan Mrs. Murrey rented for the undertaking could not be parked any closer than six blocks from the main gate. Mrs. Murrey was upset and wondered if they should try to grab her daughter another time but Sarkowsky, one of the neighbors who agreed to help her, was adamant they could carry out the abduction.

    “Whoever spots her first will alert Andrea,” he said, referring to Olivia’s old friend. “Then I’ll drive the van up to the gate and pretend I have engine trouble, and as soon as Andrea manages to get Olivia near the gate, we’ll nab her.”

    “All right,” Mrs. Murrey sighed. “That’s what we’ll do then. Everyone knows what Olivia looks like so let’s go find her.”

    Schmertz, the other neighbor, agreed. “We’ll have her out of here before she knows what happened.”

    Father Gregor was not really sure if he would recognize her, since the only picture he saw of Olivia was the one with the badly bruised face, but he was willing to try. So he got out of the van and walked with the others to the main gate. When they got there Mrs. Murrey assigned each person a particular area of the grounds to search, and his was the southeast corner which was at the opposite end of the stage. Still, it was crowded enough that he could not take more than a couple of steps without bumping into someone.

    “I’m not a Catholic, padre,” an intoxicated young guy with long sideburns barked at him after he banged the back of his head with his knee. “I don’t need your blessing.”

     “Sorry, friend.”

     “Here,” he said, lifting up a joint, “have a toke.”

     “No thanks.”

     “You’re sure now?” he chuckled smugly.

     “I’m sure.”

    Warily, he made his way through the crush of people, looking at each young woman he approached to see if she was Olivia. The mournful music of the Mississippi Delta blared through the loudspeakers set up throughout the grounds and, at moments, he almost felt as if he were in the Deep South because the heat was sweltering and tasted like butterscotch. Swiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, he wished he wasn’t wearing a Roman collar tonight but Mrs. Murrey insisted so that Olivia would see that he was a priest.

     “Over here, Father!” someone called out as he stepped around a jug of ice water.

    At once, he looked around and saw a woman with rainbow-colored hair grinning at him. When he grinned back she knelt down on one knee and lowered her loose-fitting muslin blouse to reveal a cross pierced through her left nipple.

     “For you, Father!” she cackled furiously, her green eyes shining in the twilight.

    Quickly he looked away, always amazed at the particular thrill some people found in tempting a priest to break his vows. Often he said a prayer for them, but not this evening.

     Moments later, as he made his way past three couples dancing to the infectious music, his cell phone rang and Mrs. Murrey informed him Andrea was walking with Olivia toward the main gate.

    “All right. I’m on my way.”

    “Hurry, Father. Please hurry.”

    When he got to the gate he saw Sarkowsky and Schmertz struggling to get Olivia into the van. They were having a hard time because she was squirming to get loose and screaming so loudly several people had gathered around the vehicle. Mrs. Murrey, in a frenzy, seized his left arm and pulled him toward her daughter.

     “Here’s a priest, dear!” she shouted, digging her fingernails into his arm.  “He wants to help you like all of us do.”

     She glared at him for an instant then turned and spit in her mother’s face, and immediately Mrs. Murrey slapped her so hard her lower lip started to bleed.

    Numerous people demanded to know what was going on, a few even threatened to call the police, but Mrs. Murrey ignored them as she helped push her daughter into the van. Then, as Sarkowsky went around to open the driver’s door, someone grabbed his wrist and pulled him away from the van. Swearing at the person, he easily shrugged off the hold but then two more people intervened to keep him from driving away. Schmertz, who was inside the van, quickly got out and shoved aside the two individuals. Others joined in, however, so he pulled out a pocket knife and started waving it back and forth while Sarkowsky scrambled into the van. Scarcely anyone backed away, though, until a couple of moments later when Schmertz nicked some bearded guy across the side of his face.

    “My ear!” the guy screamed almost as loudly as Olivia. “You cut off a piece of my ear!”

     “You’re lucky I didn’t cut off something else,” he barked as he piled into the back seat next to Father Gregor.

    More and more people surrounded the van, pounding their fists on the roof and hood. Frantically, Mrs. Murrey urged Sarkowsky to pull away, but it was impossible because no one would get out of the way. Father Gregor, who assumed the intervention would proceed without any trouble, could not believe there was so much resistance. And realized he had made a serious mistake by agreeing to help Mrs. Murrey because clearly his presence did not calm Olivia who continued to scream at the top of her lungs.

*

     “Please, take a seat, Father,” Monsignor Inman said as soon as Father Gregor entered his office.

    Promptly, he sat down in the lone, hardback chair that was in front of the monsignor’s enormous black, walnut desk.

    “I know you were scheduled to meet with the bishop this morning, but I’m afraid he’s a little under the weather today.”

     “I trust it’s nothing serious.”

    Vigorously he shook his nearly bald head which was so bright it almost gleamed. “No, I understand he just has a touch of the flu that’s been going around the past couple of weeks.”

     “Oh.”

     “Anyway, as I suppose you have surmised by now, he wanted to speak with you about the latest escapade you’ve been involved in, Father.”

     “So I suspected, Monsignor.”

    “He knows, and I have no doubt about it, either, that your heart is in the right place… that you want to help people who are in dire straits.  But you cannot break the law in these merciful acts of yours, Father. Not only do you risk harm to yourself but also to The Church, which, by association, may be perceived by others as thinking of itself as above society’s laws.  That can’t be.”

    Father Gregor, folding his hands together, leaned forward in his chair.  “Certainly, I regret any embarrassment I may have caused The Church.  That was never my intention.”

     “I’m sure it wasn’t.”

    Nodding gravely, the monsignor looked at the single sheet of paper that lay on his desk. “Because of these escapades you’ve engaged in, the bishop has decided it would be best if you took some leave to reflect on what your true purpose is as a pastoral servant of our Lord.”

     “You’re sending me into exile?”

     “Well, that’s somewhat of an antiquated term but the bishop is ordering you to go away for a while.”

     “You’re not going to send me to a house full of pedophiles, are you?”

     “No.”

    “Where am I to go then?”

“Have you heard of Camp Schonley?”

     “No, not to my knowledge.”

     “Well, it’s a decommissioned Army outpost located across the river in the foothills of the Evergreen Mountains.”

     He frowned.

    “Others in need of reflection have spent time there,” he continued. “It’s quite isolated and very quiet, I’m told, which will allow you the opportunity to sort out what you need to sort out.”

     “How long will I have to be there, Monsignor?”

    He shrugged, fiddling with a bent paper clip on a corner of his desk. “As long as you need to figure out what your purpose in the priesthood is I suppose.”

     “More than a week you think?”

     “I should think so.”

     “More than a few weeks then?”

    “That entirely depends on you, Father, on the amount of effort you invest in this opportunity.” He paused, rustling the sheet of paper in front of him.  “I understand someone from the diocese will check in on you every now and again and what he reports to the bishop on how you are making out likely will determine how long you’ll be at the outpost.”

     “I see.”

    The monsignor then rose from behind his desk and extended his right hand. “May our Lord and Savior be with you, Father.”

    “And with you, Monsignor,” Father Gregor replied as he shook his hand which was damp with perspiration.

ii

    “Oh, look,” Father Petrie said, lifting his left hand from the steering wheel to point at the “Caution Troops Crossing” sign on the opposite side of the two-lane road. “We must be getting close to the camp.”

     Father Gregor glanced at the sign, which was riddled with bullet holes, then looked at the young protégé of Monsignor Inman’s who was driving him to the place of his exile.  He suspected the young man had not been out of the seminary more than two or three years because he was full of enthusiasm.  Any errand the monsignor asked him to perform, he was sure, would be carried out as if it were absolutely essential. He had little doubt if he tried to escape the young priest would chase after him with a huge smile on his face.

     “Will you be the person Monsignor Inman sends to check up on me?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “He hasn’t said anything to you about that?”

     “Not a word.”

     “Well, I suspect you’ll be the one since you’re taking me there.”

     “As I said, Father, I don’t know anything about that.”

     “I suspect so,” he muttered, staring at the soaring fir trees on either side of the road.  “I just hope I don’t disappoint whoever is sent.”

     “So do I.”

     “Do you have any idea how long I’m going to have to be at this place?”

    “I gather until you find what you’re there for, according to the monsignor. That shouldn’t take too long, should it?”

    “I don’t know. I honestly don’t.”

     A rusted panel truck rumbled toward them, with an elk strapped across the roof.  Father Gregor frowned, suddenly aware of how deep in the woods the camp was situated.  The fir trees were so thick and tall they nearly blocked out the sun which compelled Father Petrie to drive with his headlights on as if in a funeral procession.  He wished, with all his heart, the bishop had not decided to banish him but supposed that his eminence had no choice.  Someone was seriously injured in the attempted abduction of Mrs. Murrey’s daughter, and he was very fortunate the person did not press charges against him.  Still, his involvement in the action was mentioned in the newspaper and one television station even showed some footage of him getting in the minivan, all of which brought considerable embarrassment to the Church. So he had to be reprimanded in some fashion, he appreciated that, he just wished he wasn’t being sent into exile like some pathetic pedophile.

     It was hard to admit but he had seriously considered refusing to enter the car with the young priest this morning. He was tempted to tell him he was not feeling well enough to go on a long drive, was afraid he might get sick to his stomach. It was not true because, physically, he felt fine but he didn’t want to go to some isolated place he had never heard of and live like a Trappist monk for he didn’t know how long. Still, he knew he had to obey the monsignor because of the vow of obedience he made nearly seventeen years ago at his ordination into the priesthood. To be sure, there were plenty of occasions when he was tempted not to comply with particular instructions but, so far, he had always resisted the temptation.

     Surely, the closest he came to breaking any vow was not more than a year and a half after his ordination when he happened to see Madeline, his girlfriend in high school, one evening at an airport. She was one of several high school classmates who were stunned when he told them he intended to enter the seminary after graduation. She was, like him, a cradle Catholic, but she could not believe he wanted to become a priest, thought it was a grave mistake, and even tried to persuade him to change his mind to no avail.

     They had not seen one another since high school, she having moved back east to go to college, and awkwardly shook hands. Then, at her suggestion, they went upstairs to the lounge for a drink.

     “You know, Keaton, I really never thought you’d follow through on becoming a priest,” she said almost as soon as they sat down at a table.

     “I know you didn’t want me to.”

     “No, it wasn’t that I didn’t want you to. I just never thought of you as the sort of person who enters the religious life.”

     “And what sort of person is that?”

     Arching her razor-thin eyebrows, she took a sip of the white wine she ordered. “Oh, someone who doesn’t mind being alone a lot of the time.”

     “I didn’t enter a monastery.”

     “True, but you have to be on your own much of the time. I mean, you’ll never have a family of your own.”

     He nodded.

     “Don’t you wish you could have a family some day?”

     “The church is my family.”

     She frowned. “That’s not the same, Keaton, and you know it isn’t.”

     He started to reply when a portly man, seated alone at a table near theirs, shot back, clutching his throat with both hands. At once, Father Gregor sprang from his chair and rushed over to the table, stood behind the man and circled his hands around his belly.  The man, who was choking, started to lose consciousness. Forcefully, he jerked his hands upward, practically lifting the man out of his chair. He did this, repeatedly, until an olive pit burst out of the man’s mouth.

     “You see, you should have been a doctor instead of a priest,” she said when he returned to the table.

     “That was just something I learned when I was a lifeguard many years ago.”

     She took another sip of wine. “Tell me, if I invited you to my hotel room, would you come?”

     “Please, be serious, Madeline.”

     “I am absolutely serious,” she said, crossing her heart with a single finger.

     “I can’t do that. I have my vows. You know that.”

     “You can do whatever you want, Keaton. You’re not a child.”

     He just shook his head, astonished that she dared to ask such a question.

     For several seconds she did not say a word, as if waiting for his answer, then all of a sudden she leaned across the table, took his face in her hands, and kissed him so hard his bottom lip started to bleed. “That’s so you won’t forget me,” she said, rising out of her chair.

     Pressing a finger against the bite mark, he watched her walk out of the lounge, sure he would never see her again.

*

     Some ten minutes later, as they drove past a burnt-out shed, the two priests saw on a slope half a mile ahead of them a row of eight barracks that looked as bleak as boxcars.  They were made of wood and covered with clapboards.  All one-story, they were as green as the surrounding trees, although in many areas the paint was chipped and peeling.

     “I wonder if anyone is here,” Father Gregor said, sounding concerned, as they turned onto the gravel road that led into the compound.

     “Someone has to be,” Father Petrie replied, after noticing a battered pickup truck parked behind one of the barracks.

     “I don’t know.  It’s awfully quiet.”

     “I can change that,” he said and beeped his horn a couple of times as they crept up the road.

     No one appeared, though, so he beeped the horn a few more times. Still no one came out of any of the buildings.

     “That’s strange. It was my understanding that the caretaker would be here to show you around the place.”

     “That was my understanding as well.”

     “Maybe we should get out and see if he’s sleeping in one of the barracks.”

     “Sleeping?  It’s almost one o’clock in the afternoon.”

     Father Petrie shrugged as he opened his door. “Maybe he had a hard night last night?”

     Father Gregor walked over to the nearest barracks and tried to open the door but it was locked. Then he peered through one of the dusty windows and saw stacks of bed frames and mattresses in the middle of the bay that almost reached the ceiling. Plainly no one had slept there in a very long time. He started to check on another barracks when a hefty guy in a denim jacket and a faded baseball cap strode out of a corner of the woods. Poised on his right shoulder was a long, muddy shovel.

     “Sorry I wasn’t here when you fellows arrived, but I was doing some digging and lost track of time.”

     Father Petrie nodded.  “No problem.”

     “I’m Matt Buckwalter, the caretaker here,” he said as he dropped the shovel on the ground and stuck out his right hand.

     Both men shook his hand which was as freckled as his round face.

     “I take it one of you is the priest who’s going to be spending some time at the compound?”

     “Yes, that would be me,” Father Gregor answered, briefly inclining his head.

     “Well, Father, if you like quiet, you’ll find plenty of it here.”

     “I suspect so.”

     “And your name is?”

     “Keaton Gregor.”

     “Keaton. That’s an unusual first name.”

     “It’s my mother’s maiden name.”

     He smiled, never having met anyone by that name. “So would you like to see where you’ll be staying?”

     “I would.”

     “All right, let’s go have a look,” he said, making an abrupt about face. “It’s the Bravo Barracks near the top of the slope.”

     The two priests followed Buckwalter up the slope through patches of grass that brushed their kneecaps. At one point a jackrabbit darted between them, startling Father Petrie so much he nearly lost his balance. Father Gregor smiled, sure the young priest was eager to return to the comforts of the rectory.

     A small, gray, metal desk sat in a corner of the barracks and beside it a metal chair and a shadeless floor lamp. In the opposite corner was a narrow bed with a thin mattress and a single pillow, and at the north end of the bay was the kitchen which consisted of a table and two chairs, a sink, a fridge, and a small stove.

     “I know there is not a lot here,” Buckwalter said, “so, if you like, I can round up a couple more pieces of furniture for you, Father.”

     “No, no, this’ll be fine.”

     “Well, if you change your mind, just let me know.”

     “I won’t.”

     “Behind that bamboo curtain screen in the back is the bathroom.”

     “All right.”

     “So, if you like, I can show you fellows around the compound now.”

     “Thank you, sir,” Father Petrie said hurriedly, “but I have a long drive ahead of me so I should be on my way.”

     “Are you sure you don’t want to have a look around?” Father Gregor asked, not really surprised by his eagerness to leave.

     “No. I should be going.”

     “Well, thank you for driving me here.”

     “My pleasure.”

     The two priests shook hands, then Father Petrie returned to his car while Father Gregor climbed into Buckwalter’s truck to take a tour of the compound. Other than the barracks all there was to see were trees and grass that stretched for miles. But for many decades, Buckwalter told him, the compound  was a bustling military training facility with several rifle and grenade ranges, a bayonet field, obstacle and infiltration courses, and a gas chamber.

     “During the Second World War,” Buckwalter noted, driving past the shell of a vintage Jeep, “the compound served as an Italian prisoner-of-war camp.”

     “Is that so?”

     “So I’ve been told because I wasn’t even born then.”

     “What is the compound used for these days?”

     “Well, it’s not really used much at all. Sometimes, in the summer, some companies will come out for a few days so their employees can get to know one another better and maybe rekindle their enthusiasm for their jobs.”

     “That’s it?”

     “Oh, we always have some scout groups that come out for a weekend but, as I said, there’s not much activity anymore.”

     “What about someone like me?”

     “Since I’ve worked here, which is close to eight years, you’re the first priest who’s come out here by himself.”

     “Is that so?”

     Nodding, he maneuvered around a split tree limb in the middle of the dusty dirt road.  “What brings you here, Father, if you don’t mind me asking?”

     “You don’t know?”

     “If I did, I wouldn’t have asked.”

     “I was sent here by my diocese because I did a bad thing.”

     “What was that?” he persisted, fearful that the priest was a child molester.

     “I tried to help a mother help her daughter and, as a result, I embarrassed myself and the Church.”

     “So being sent here is a sort of penance?”

     “In a sense, I suppose, but not one I volunteered to perform.”

     “How long do you fix on being at the compound?”

     “It’s not up to me, Mr. Buckwalter.”

     “Please, Father, call me Matt.”

     “All right, Matt,” he complied. “It’s up to the diocese. As long as I don’t get into anymore trouble, I figure it won’t be too long.”

     He chuckled. “You don’t have to worry about getting into trouble here. This place is damn near quiet as the inside of a church.”

*

     That evening, lying on the narrow Army bed, Father Gregor found it hard to go to sleep which surprised him because he was exhausted. He thought one reason might be because the compound was as quiet as Buckwalter said, but he also knew he could not keep from thinking about why he was sent here. Monsignor Inman made it quite clear he expected him not only to seek forgiveness for his involvement with Mrs. Murrey, but also to decide if being a priest was really something he wished to continue to pursue.

     Not for an instant did he regard it as a mistake to help someone in distress, that is something priests are supposed to do, but he did regret helping Mrs. Murrey because she misled him. As he discovered later, she was an active member of a similar but rival splinter-group from New Day, known as the “Anointed,” and all she was interested in was bringing her daughter back into the fold of that group. Nothing she said about her daughter being abused by her so-called husband was true. The photograph she showed him of Olivia’s bruised face was taken after a spill on her bicycle. He could not believe he was so gullible, realized now he should have asked many more questions of her than he did. Instead, he followed his heart which, he should have known, can often lead one in the wrong direction.

*

     After he shaved, showered, and had a bowl of cereal, Father Gregor sat down at the desk in the barracks and opened his coffee-stained Bible to the Gospel according to Matthew. Then, for several seconds, he stared at his folded hands in front of the Bible, breathing slowly and deliberately. It was so quiet in the musty room he could hear each breath he drew. Following the suggestion of Monsignor Inman, he was about to begin the ancient practice of praying the Scriptures instead of just reading them. Known as Lectio Divina, Divine Reading, it was a method of prayer in which one is encouraged to listen to the words with his heart.

     He cleared his voice then, almost in a whisper, he read Matthew’s account of the first temptation of Christ: “The tempter approached him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’”

     He leaned back in his chair, reminded of the different interpretations of the temptation he had presented in sermons over the years. Then realized that was not the purpose of this method of prayer and leaned forward and repeated the “stones into bread” phrase again and again until his forehead gleamed with perspiration.

*

     Father Gregor knew he could not stay inside the barracks all day praying and contemplating his future as a man of God, nor did he think anyone in the chancery expected him to, so he offered to help Buckwalter with some of his chores around the compound. The caretaker was surprised but gladly accepted his offer as he needed to spruce up a couple of rifle ranges by the end of the week.

     “Why’s that?” he asked.

     He grinned, revealing a missing incisor. “Some realty company is scheduled to come out here this weekend and I was informed they’d like a place where they could shoot off some fireworks. So what’s a better place than a rifle range, right?”

     “That makes sense.”

     “We’ll get started on it tomorrow morning then, if that’s all right with you?”

     “Whatever you say, Matt.”

     Buckwalter lived in Schlueter Grove, which was some eleven miles east of the compound, so he did not arrive until half past nine. Quickly, he and the priest piled some rakes and brooms and shovels in the back of his truck then drove out to a range alongside a shallow creek a couple of miles north of the barracks. Grungy and full of weeds, the grassy range was about half the size of a football field with stacks of tattered sandbags lined up at one end. A bare flagpole, bent at the top, stood behind the sandbags.

     “Before we do anything else, we should rake the range,” Buckwalter suggested as he handed Father Gregor a bamboo rake.

     “All right.”

     “After the compound was decommissioned, I understand, the Army hired a contractor to clean up the place. The main concern, of course, was to remove any munitions left over from all the years of training that went on here.  That was four years ago, and I still come across brass on the ranges.”

     “Brass?”

    “Spent shells. But every now and again I’ll find a live round. So be vigilant as you rake, Father.”

Nodding, the priest dragged the flimsy rake across the ground very cautiously, concerned at any moment he might set off an explosion. But after a few minutes he began to relax, as if back at the rectory, raking maple leaves into piles the height of traffic cones. The morning air was cool but soon he grew warm and felt patches of sweat spread across his back and shoulders. He was tempted to take off his windbreaker but was afraid he might catch cold so he kept it on but pushed the sleeves above his elbows. When he finished raking, he picked up a shovel to dig out weeds which proved a lot more strenuous. At moments, he wondered if it was a smart idea to offer to help Buckwalter with his chores but then realized the ancient practice of praying the Scriptures was even more demanding.

“What was that?” Father Gregor asked as he emptied a pail of weeds into a plastic yard bag.

“What was what?”

“I thought I heard something in the woods.”

Buckwalter, turning around, held a hand behind his right ear. “I don’t hear anything.”

The priest shrugged his left shoulder. “I must’ve imagined it.”

Just then, in rapid succession, three emphatic whip-cracking sounds burst from deep in the woods.

“Damn it!” Buckwalter growled, dropping his hand from behind his ear.

“What is it?”

“Gun shots.”

“I thought this place is off limits to hunters?”

“It is, Father, but that doesn’t stop poachers from coming out here in hopes of shooting a deer or an elk.”

“There’s nothing you can do to stop them?”

Tired, he leaned a hip against his shovel handle. “Oh, if I see any poachers, I let them know they’re trespassing and threaten to call the sheriff but they know and I know by the time the sheriff gets out here they’ll be long gone.”

  “So you’ve never squared off against any?”

  “A few months back I did cross paths with one poacher and nearly got my head blown off. The guy said he thought I was a deer. Maybe so, but I have my doubts.”

“What did you do?”

“I told him he was trespassing on Federal land, and he started going on how the land belonged to the people, not the government, and claimed he could come here whenever he damned well pleased.”

“Is that a popular sentiment around here?”

“I don’t know, Father. I’ve never heard anyone talk like that before. Poachers come here because there’s game here, not to make some kind of political statement.”

“You think we should try to find out who’s doing the shooting?”

He shook his head. “It’s too risky to be tramping around in the woods when folks are shooting guns.”

“So how are they ever going to be stopped?”

“Oh, I’ll continue to put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs and make complaints to the sheriff’s office, but other than that there’s not much else I can do.”

The priest, not convinced other measures couldn’t be taken, did not say anything and turned and stared long and hard at the woods.

*

They had nearly completed the clean-up of the second rifle range when a dark green station wagon appeared in the distance on the narrow gravel road. It was headed toward them, moving at a pretty good pace, with a huge cloud of dust in its wake.

“You think these might be the poachers?” Father Gregor wondered out loud.

Buckwalter smiled. “Nah, it’s my wife. She said she might come by today.”

The middle-aged woman was almost as tall as her husband with nearly as broad shoulders. Her flaming red hair, however, was much longer and tied in a ponytail that fell to the base of her spine. Her calico skirt was much too short, Father Gregor thought, unflatteringly exposing her kneecaps which looked like the faces of angry clowns.

“Mary Grace,” he said, after she got out of the station wagon, “I’d like to introduce you to Father Keaton Gregor.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Father.”

“And yours as well, ma’am.”

“Call me Mary Grace. Everyone else does, including my nieces.”

He smiled. “I’ll do that then.”

“I baked some blueberry muffins,” she said, glancing at the carton she left on the passenger seat, “and I thought you gentlemen might enjoy them.”

The priest started to thank her when three more gun shots rang out from the woods.

Buckwalter, frowning, looked at his wife. “Poachers.”

She was not surprised. “About half a mile from the gate I noticed a truck parked along the side of the road. I figured it belonged to folks up to no good.”

“You think we should check it out?” Father Gregor asked Buckwalter.

“And do what, exactly, Father?”

He thought for a second. “Maybe leave a note on the windshield reminding them this is a restricted area.”

“I can just imagine what they’d do with that note.”

“We should do something, though,” he insisted. “We could take down the license plate number and report it to the sheriff.”

Buckwalter, rolling his eyes, flicked a bead of sweat from the tip of his nose. “Yeah, we can do that, all right, but we still have no proof they’re the ones doing the shooting.”

“We could wait for them to return to the truck, and if they have a deer with them, we can take their picture and that should be all the proof we need.”

“Yeah, we could do that, Father,” he conceded. “But I’ve got work to do here and I can’t be wasting my time waiting for that to happen.”

“Besides,” Mary Grace added, “the first rule in dealing with poachers is: don’t confront them. Remember, they’re armed. You’re not.”

He nodded slowly, realizing that Buckwalter had no interest in challenging the poachers.  Apparently, if they didn’t bother him, he wouldn’t bother them. So he expected to hear many more shots fired during his stay at the compound.

*

“Your guest seems a little excitable,” Mary Grace remarked as she sat across from her husband in his nook of an office in the Foxtrot Barracks which was adjacent to the mess hall.

He smiled, munching into his second muffin. “You’re referring to his wanting to check out that truck?”

“I am. Sticking your nose into someone else’s business is a sure way of getting it broken.”

“I’ve told him that, but he doesn’t seem to listen.”

“Well, he better, or his time here could be a lot harder than it needs to be.”

“The trouble with the good father is he can’t sit still,” he said, dusting some crumbs from the front of his flannel shirt.  “As I’ve told you, he was sent here as penance because of his penchant for getting involved in other people’s problems.”

“Hell, if he knows what’s good for him, he better learn to sit still.”

“I agree,” he muttered, flinching a little as more shots erupted from the woods.

*

Father Gregor shoved the half-eaten muffin to a corner of his desk, leaned forward, and recited the second temptation of Christ: “’If you are the Son of God,’ the tempter said, ‘throw yourself down.’”

Leaning back, he repeated the temptation several times, struggling to picture Jesus standing on the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. But it was difficult and, increasingly, his thoughts strayed to the vintage military whistle that sat next to the muffin. It was made of solid brass, about the size of his thumb, with a long chain attached to one end. He discovered it last night, wedged in the back of one of the desk drawers. It was very tarnished so he assumed it had not been used in years. Curiously, he put it between his lips, wondering if it still worked, and it did, sounding as shrill and clear and emphatic as it must have sounded on a drill field.

Soon he tired of praying and picked up the whistle and blew it as forcefully as he could.  Grinning, he imagined himself marching under the stern gaze of a ramrod-straight drill sergeant who appeared as intense and sure of himself as Monsignor Inman. As always, he envied such confidence, wishing he shared their certainty in the things he did.

iii

Suddenly, a snake as narrow as a garden hose slithered in front of Father Gregor as he approached a stream and, instinctively, he kicked a rock at it. He hated snakes, still rattled by the memory as a boy when an older cousin he was playing with wrapped one around his neck.

“Get out of here!” he snarled as he watched it disappear behind a fir tree. “Get the hell out of here!”

Late in the afternoon the priest often went for a walk in the woods that surrounded the barracks. The first few days he just did it to exercise his legs, but after Buckwalter told him about the “fire balloon” that might have fallen in the woods he went in search of it.

*

“You know, not all poachers carry firearms,” Buckwalter mentioned to him one day while they were replacing some shingles on the roof of one of the barracks.

“Some hunt with bows and arrows?”

“Oh, yeah, some do all right, but I was referring to the folks who come out here to look for the fire balloon.”

“What’s that?”

“You’ve never heard of it?”

The priest shook his head as he handed the caretaker another shingle.

“Near the end of the Second World War the Japanese launched thousands of balloon bombs toward North America with the aim of starting fires in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Really?” Father Gregor said, surprised. “I wasn’t aware of that.”

“Not that many folks are. At the time this was going on the people in the Pentagon chose not to say anything about it because they were worried people living in the Northwest might panic.”

“I should think so.”

“Only a few fires were ever ignited so the Japanese considered the campaign a failure,” he said. “However, one family across the river in Oregon was killed by one of these bombs—the only fatal casualties, as far as I know, suffered on the mainland during the war.”

Father Gregor swept a hand through his shock of chestnut-brown hair. “Well, I guess you really can learn something new every day.”

“Yeah, I didn’t know anything about these balloons, either, until an article appeared in the local paper a few years ago marking the anniversary of the deadly explosion.”

“So you think one of the bombs landed here at Camp Schonley?”

“I have no idea. No one does, for that matter, but it’s a strong possibility since the camp was an active training facility during the war.”  He paused, adjusting the collar of his wrinkled work shirt. “Which is why folks come out here looking for the fire balloon.”

“There can’t be anything left of the balloon, though?”

He agreed. “Most of them, I was told, were made out of paper. They were pasted together with a potato-like substance by schoolgirls who only went to school half the day so they could contribute to the war effort.”

“Is that so?”

“That’s what I was told. So all that would be left is the explosive which, no doubt, is covered by piles of leaves and mounds of dirt.”

“Whoever finds it will garner a lot of attention, I’m sure.”

“And maybe even some money, too, with people inviting the person to talk at schools and churches and museums about his discovery. That’s what really brings folks out here looking for the balloon I believe.”

“You think so, do you?”

“That’s the reason why I looked for it.”

“Oh, you have?”

“Yeah, when I first heard about the fire balloon, but after a couple of months I realized it was a waste of time because it has to be the smallest needle in the biggest haystack that’s ever been.”

*

Buckwalter, chopping a stack of wood behind the mess hall, stopped when he heard a car coming up the gravel road. It was his wife, with a couple bags of groceries on the passenger seat of the station wagon.

“I didn’t think you were coming by until later,” he said, setting his axe against a cedar stump.

“I wasn’t but I forgot I promised to help McKenzie hang some curtains this afternoon.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t see your guest anywhere,” she remarked, after briefly surveying the ground. “Is he in his barracks praying?”

Buckwalter grinned mischievously. “No, he’s not in his barracks.”

“Where is he then?”

“He’s out in the woods looking for the fire balloon.”

“He isn’t?”

“He sure as hell is.”

Anxiously she shook her ponytail. “Why, in God’s name, did you tell him about that damn balloon, Matt?  You know it’s nothing but an old wives’ tale.”

He shrugged. “I figured it’d give him something to do,” he explained. “He’s not allowed to leave the premises. He can’t have a phone or a radio or a television or any papers or magazines. He’s not a monk, Mary Grace. He can’t be expected to sit in his barracks all day and pray.”

“Maybe not, Matt. But you’ve sent him on a wild goose chase. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know, but it’ll help keep him occupied for a while, otherwise I’m afraid he might go stir crazy around here.”

“You might as well have told him to look for Sasquatch.”

He chuckled. “Maybe I’ll do that later.”

“You really don’t have any idea how long he’ll be here?”

“I don’t. He doesn’t, either, he told me. Which is why I’m chopping some firewood so he’ll be able to keep warm when the weather starts to get cooler.”

“That won’t be for another couple of months.”

“It’s never too early to prepare for bad weather around here, he said, picking up the axe.

“I suppose not.”

*

Groaning audibly, Father Gregor sat down on a charcoal gray boulder and nibbled some blackberries he picked a few minutes earlier. He was surprised how sluggish his legs were, almost felt as if weights were attached to his ankles. Buckwalter suggested he begin his search for the fire balloon in the northern sector of the woods, just above the infiltration course, and so he had, trudging through needle sharp brush that came up to his knees. This was his third afternoon in the area and still he had not spotted any sign of the bomb. He wasn’t discouraged, though, well aware, as Buckwalter had said, he was looking for a needle in a very large haystack.

After he ate the berries, he got up from the boulder and resumed the search. As before, he proceeded cautiously, concerned if he took a wrong step he might set off an explosion of the buried balloon. Around his neck hung the Army whistle he found earlier in the week. Right away, he showed it to Buckwalter, who said he had come across many such whistles over the years, and the caretaker suggested it might be a good idea if he carried it with him so if he ever got into any kind of trouble he could blow it for help. That made a lot of sense so he hung it around his neck along with the silver crucifix he had worn since he entered the seminary. The two ornaments made him feel, if not invincible, strong enough that he could cope with just about any obstacle he encountered in his search for the fire balloon.

He was pretty sure if Monsignor Inman knew what he was up to he would not be pleased. The monsignor expected him to spend most of his time at the compound in prayer, as if he were still in the seminary, and though he tried to do just that the first week, he found it too difficult. To be sure, as a seminarian, he could kneel and pray for an hour at a time but, the past year, he had trouble praying for just a few minutes as doubts increasingly crept into his head. Other priests he knew who experienced doubts about their choice of vocation, about their faith even, often were comforted by the cryptic observation of the early ecclesiastical writer Tertullian regarding the resurrection of Christ: certum est quia impossibile est (“it is certain because it is impossible.”) The incredulity argument did not cure his doubts, though, but remained a paradox he was unable to reconcile with the nagging questions in his head.

Half an hour later, after climbing a steep rise that overlooked the infiltration course, he sat down on a split birch tree, took a sip from his water bottle, and began to massage the back of his sore legs. He was so tired he suspected, if his legs weren’t aching so much, he could fall asleep on the tree and not wake up for a couple of hours. Grimacing, he started to take another sip of water when he sensed he was being watched and turned around and saw an eight-point buck staring at him from beside a felled cedar tree. He held his breath, afraid if he didn’t the animal might get spooked and run away. But after nearly a minute and a half he could not hold it any longer but, surprisingly, the animal did not budge and continued to stare at him. It was so still the priest wondered if he was just imagining it was there so, very slowly, he slipped off the whistle hanging around his neck and slipped it between his teeth and blew it as hard as he could. Immediately the buck wheeled around and disappeared behind some brush.

He smiled so hard he started to laugh.

*

Mary Grace, watering the geraniums near the front entrance of the mess hall, waved when she saw Father Gregor heading toward his barracks. She assumed he had been out looking for the fire balloon again because he had a pack on his back and was carrying the long cedar branch he used as a walking stick when he was out in the woods.

“Find anything out there?” she asked just to make conversation because she knew it was unlikely.

He shook his stick. “Nothing but a pair of broken sunglasses.”

She wondered, for a split instant, if she should tell him it was doubtful he would ever find any trace of the Japanese balloon bomb out there but, instead, said, “Well, maybe you’ll have better luck tomorrow.”

“Maybe so.”

By now, he didn’t really care if he found the fire balloon. He went out looking for it, day after day, because it was less strenuous than sitting at a desk trying to pray. That wore him down more than any steep climb did and caused his heart to shudder and ache because he didn’t know if he believed in prayer anymore.

*

Father Gregor, winding through a rugged stretch of switchbacks in the northwest area of the woods, nearly lost his balance when the toe of his left boot stumbled on a half-concealed tree root. But, just as he was going down, he managed to grab hold of a maple branch and arrest his fall. Still, he felt a twinge in his ankle that he hoped would not be a problem.

“Watch where you’re walking,” he scolded himself as he resumed his search for the fire balloon.

Soon after he got through the switchbacks, he spotted a stream off to his right and headed for it, eager to rinse the sweat from his face and neck. He was within a few feet of it when he heard the crack of a rifle shot and flinched because it was so loud. It must be very close he reckoned. Then he heard two more shots, even closer, and scrambled behind a moss-covered rock and peered around it and saw two figures, outfitted in camouflage jackets and caps, shooting at a border collie.  The left flank of the animal was so soaked in blood it appeared to be covered with a bright red blanket and a side of its skull was completely exposed.  Clearly the dog was dead but the two men continued to shoot at it, as rapidly as they could, as if determined to remove every inch of his skin.

Repulsed, he closed his eyes and squatted behind the rock and waited for them to leave.  He hated to admit it but, if not for Father Barnett, he might have been just like those men he was sure were poachers.

*

When he was a sophomore in high school, he hung around with a couple of older boys who had driver’s licenses but no cars. So sometimes on the weekend they would break into cars and hot wire the engines and cruise around town as if the cars belonged to them. They never intended to keep the vehicles they took, just drive them around for a while, and then leave them in the parking lot of some popular supermarket where they would be easily found. Three times he accompanied the older boys on their joyrides, always pulsing with excitement whenever he was invited to go with them. He felt older then, more mature somehow, even though he never got to drive any of the stolen cars.  But he did share cans of beer and malt liquor with his friends and mentholated cigarettes. The last joyride he went on ended badly when the car he was in sideswiped another car on a hairpin curve. No one was seriously injured, just banged up a little.  Panicking, he and the other boys took off running but were soon tracked down by some other drivers and held until the police arrived and took them into custody. After being charged with the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, they spent the night in jail. Later, they were each sentenced to one month probation and were ordered to perform 150 hours of community service. Also, the licenses of the older boys were suspended for a year, and Gregor was informed he would be prohibited from driving for a year once he was old enough to operate a motor vehicle.

Raised by a single parent, his father having abandoned the family when he was six, he knew how much he had disappointed his mother and promised he would never go joyriding again. She was skeptical, though, and asked their parish priest to speak with him. Because the priest was scheduled to be out of town the next few days, he had one of his associates, Father Barnett, meet with the youngster.

He had never exchanged a word with the recently ordained priest and was very reluctant to do so but his mother insisted so one afternoon, as soon as he got out of school, he met with him in a closet of a room at the rectory. There was only a single chair in the room so he expected he would have to stand at attention before the priest and listen to him deliver a stern lecture on right and wrong. Instead, the priest picked up the basketball that was on the chair and invited him to play a game of “HORSE” with him at the basket attached to the side of the garage of the rectory. Gregor was stunned, thought for an instant he misunderstood him, then realized he did hear what he thought he heard as Father Barnett dribbled the ball out of the room.

“You start,” the priest said, bouncing him the well-worn basketball.

Nervously, he tossed up a lazy hook shot from the left side of the basket, which the priest deftly matched, then tried another a little farther out and missed. Father Barnett then proceeded to sink one jump shot after another, from every conceivable angle, and easily dispatched him. They did not play a second game rather they took turns shooting the ball while discussing why the youngster was there this afternoon.

“When I was about your age, Keaton, I had a friend who thought it would be a good idea to drive his grandfather’s car without asking for permission. And, like you and your friends, he got in an accident but it was a very serious accident that cost him a leg.”

Gregor, not knowing what to say, just dribbled the ball harder and harder.

“That well might happen to you if you continue to do things you’re not supposed to do.”

“Yes, Father.”

“I don’t know you, son, but you seem to have a level head on your shoulders so you shouldn’t let others do your thinking for you. If you know something is wrong, don’t do it because others are doing it. In the words of Jiminy Cricket, ‘Let your conscience be your guide,’” he said as he swished a jumper from deep in the corner of the driveway.

A few days after their meeting, Father Barnet invited him to attend a college lacrosse game, and he went even though he knew nothing about the sport. To his surprise, he enjoyed himself and accompanied the priest to several more games. Afterward, they would go to a McDonald’s for cheeseburgers then drive around town for a while in Father Barnett’s decrepit green Toyota. They would talk about whatever was on their minds, sharing their ambitions as well as their regrets. The priest became the older brother he never had, providing the guidance and understanding of someone who had known him for a long time.

Back then no one was the least bit concerned that a priest and a young boy spent time together outside the church while nowadays, as he well knew, people would be very suspicious, worried that the older man intended to take advantage of his young acquaintance. Father Barnett never laid a hand on him, except to exchange high fives with him whenever he sank a clean jump shot in their one-on-one games, and more than anyone was the reason why he entered the priesthood. He wanted to become someone as generous and compassionate and encouraging and sincere as Father Barnett.

*

“May I pour you a glass of sherry?” Monsignor Inman asked as soon as Father Petrie entered his office.

“Yes, please.”

“I didn’t expect you back so soon,” he remarked, after handing him a sherry that was almost as dark as his enormous desk.

“I guess I made pretty good time.”

“I’m sure you did, but what I meant is that I thought you might decide to spend the night at the camp.”

He grimaced. “No, Monsignor. The thought never crossed my mind.”

Smiling, the monsignor took a sip of sherry. “I don’t blame you, Father. I wouldn’t have considered it, either. One summer, when I guess I was around nine, my parents sent me to camp for two weeks, and I was never so miserable in my life. Some people like the outdoors, I recognize that, but I’m not one of them. I prefer looking at trees and streams from a distance, preferably in an air-conditioned car.”

“I’m not much of an outdoor person, either.”

“So, tell me, how is Father Gregor getting along at Camp Schonley?”

“I can’t say he’s excited about being there.”

“I shouldn’t think he would be.”

“But he does seem to be doing a lot of reflecting because every day, he told me, he goes for long walks in the woods.”

Yawning, the monsignor stretched his spidery arms above his head. “That’s good to hear.  When you’re alone, as he is, you often are compelled to think about the truly important things in your life.”

“I suspect he’s doing just that.”

“I pray that he is but I have my concerns. He just doesn’t seem content with doing the pastoral work of a parish priest. Instead, he wants to be doing adventurous things, things that get noticed, things that have little, if any, connection to his obligations as a parish priest.”

Father Petrie, who scarcely knew Father Gregor, did not respond to the monsignor’s skeptical remarks.

“The priesthood, by its nature, is a lonely profession. Each of us who enters it has, in effect, abandoned ourselves to our Lord and Savior. I just am not sure if Father Gregor is content being an abandoned man any longer.”

He wasn’t sure if he was comfortable with that notion, either, but rather than press the monsignor on the matter he asked, “How much longer do you figure he will have to be at the camp?”

“Long enough that he recognizes that, in the words of the French Jesuit Caussade, ‘there is nothing pathetic about the abandoned man.’”

iv

“After the tempter took Jesus to a very high mountain, he showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory,” Father Gregor read from the Gospel of Matthew. “All these I will give you, if you will only fall down and do me homage.”

He had discussed this temptation in numerous sermons over the years, and had always interpreted the passage as a crude invitation to commit the sin of avarice. But now he wondered if it might not be more than that, if it might have a political dimension, an ends-justify-the-means connotation, in which the temptation was to do evil that good may result.

Abruptly, he smacked himself in the forehead with the heel of his right hand, recalling that in Lectio Divina the purpose was to listen to the words of Scripture not interpret them as he had for so long.

“Listen, you numbskull” he reprimanded himself.  “Listen… listen… listen!”

*

Approaching a familiar hillside, which he had slogged up the past two days, he spotted a jackrabbit some twenty feet ahead of him and on an impulse started after it. It was difficult to run because of all the underbrush, but he moved as quickly as he could. He knew he could not catch the rabbit, which was much too clever and quick, but he relished the challenge of trying to because he was convinced he needed to get stronger and faster if he was to go much deeper in the woods.

A quarter of the way up, he was still at it which he knew would not have been the case two weeks ago when he first went alone into the woods. Then, he was so out of shape he had to stop every few minutes to catch his breath. Now, at least, he could make it to the top without stopping a single time. He had never been much of an athlete, only was able to play on the high school basketball team because of the help of Father Barnett who often played one-on-one games with him on Saturday afternoons. But now he was determined to get in better condition so he could search every square inch of the woods for the fire balloon.

At the top of the hill was a small pond and he walked over to it and bent down and splashed a handful of water on his face. It was as cold as an icicle pressed against the back of his neck. Breathing heavily, he looked around for the rabbit but it was nowhere in sight. He was not surprised. Then, on another impulse, he stepped out of his clothes and waded into the pond. After just a few seconds, his teeth began to chatter but he refused to get out until he stayed a full minute in the freezing water because he wanted so badly to get stronger for the days to come at the compound.

“One Mississippi … Two Mississippi … Three Mississippi,” he started to count, his whole body trembling as if caught in a savage storm.

*

“Good afternoon, Father.”

Father Gregor, hanging some wool socks on the clothesline strung behind his barracks, turned around and saw Mary Grace in a pair of stonewashed jeans that were so snug she could barely walk.  “Hello there.”

“How are you doing today?”

“Don’t have any complaints.”

“You still looking for that fire balloon?”

He nodded. “I just got back from looking for it in the northeast area a few minutes ago.”

“Any luck?” she asked, pretty sure there was nothing to be found.

“No, not yet,” he sighed, hanging a wrinkled tennis shirt alongside the socks. “But I don’t mind, really.”

“You don’t?”

“No. Because it gives me a chance to stretch my legs. I can’t stay inside the barracks all day.”

“Otherwise you might get cabin fever.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he replied, noticing all of a sudden that the top three buttons of her western-style shirt were unbuttoned.

“I was just teasing, Father.”

She was not wearing a bra, as was her custom, so he could clearly make out the sides of her wobbly breasts. He wondered if she was really that warm this afternoon or if she was trying to excite him. Through the years he had encountered other women who seemed to enjoy trying to arouse a priest.

“You know what?”

“What’s that?”

“You should come over to the house for Sunday dinner some day.”

“I’d like to, Mary Grace, but I can’t.”

“Why’s that?” she asked, idly fingering one of the unsnapped buttons.  “You can’t be that busy around here.”

“I’m not allowed to leave the premises.”

“Says who?”

“Say the folks who sent me here.”

“How are they going to know if you slip away for a couple of hours?”

“I’d know, and that’s enough,” he said emphatically.  “I was told not to leave and I intend to abide by that instruction.”

“Well, then, maybe we can have Sunday dinner in the mess hall one of these afternoons.”

“I’d like that.”

“So would I, Father.”

*

A thorn snagged his left sleeve as he made his way through some dense underbrush and immediately he stopped to loosen it then resumed his hike with his walking stick in his right hand. It was his third day exploring the northeastern section of the woods and, as with the other sections he had explored, he had not come across any trace of the fire balloon. But, as he told Mary Grace, he didn’t much care if he found the balloon because he was really out in the woods to get some needed exercise, as well as to avoid the struggle of having to pray for long stretches of time; which he didn’t mention to her.

Trudging past a stand of birch trees, he noticed some scat on the ground which appeared fresh and suspected a deer might be in the vicinity. Pausing, he looked around but the brush was so dense he doubted if he could make out if a deer was there. But in case one was he decided to walk a little slower, not wanting to disturb the animal, and continued on, his walking stick tucked under his arm so it didn’t scrape anything. After nearly a quarter of a mile, he paused again, sure he heard something, and cupped a hand behind his left ear. At first, all he could hear was himself breathing then, off to the right, he heard what sounded like voices.

“Poachers,” he whispered under his breath.

He considered turning back, but only for an instant, then pressed ahead. Gradually, the voices became louder but still he could not make out what was being said. When he got to the edge of a narrow ridge, he knelt behind some vines and parted them and saw three men with rifles not more than a hundred yards away. They had thick, dark beards and wore orange juice orange hunting caps. One of them, whose left hand was bandaged, had a noticeable limp as if one leg was a little shorter than the other. Immersed in conversation, they were looking at one another then, all of a sudden, they stopped talking and looked to their right, and Father Gregor looked in that direction too, figuring they had spotted a deer. He didn’t see anything, though, but assumed the men probably had a better view than he did so he was sure they must have spotted something. At once, he clamped the Army whistle between his teeth and blew it and blew it and blew it.  Startled, the poachers whirled around, straining to see who was doing the whistling, then turned back and started firing repeatedly while Father Gregor crept away on his hands and knees. He didn’t find the fire balloon today but it almost seemed as if he did because he felt such a sense of satisfaction.

He didn’t come across any poachers the rest of the week but early the following week he did spot a man and a woman with hunting rifles. For nearly a mile he tracked them, always keeping a safe distance back so they didn’t mistake him for a deer. Then, just as they were set to shoot at something they had spotted, he got out his whistle and blew it three strong times. To his surprise, he felt as excited as he did the previous time he prevented poachers from killing an animal, so much so he wanted to let out a loud scream but was afraid if he did the hunters might start shooting in his direction.

*

His left arm throbbing, Father Gregor carried three more folding chairs from inside the mess hall to the grassy area behind the weathered building.

“How many is that?” Buckwalter asked as he slit open a bag of charcoal briquettes.

“A baker’s dozen.”

“All right, Father, that should be enough.”

Nodding, the priest began to unfold the chairs and set them at the two long wooden tables he and Buckwalter took out of the mess hall earlier. True to her word, Mary Grace invited him to join her and her husband and some others for Sunday dinner at the compound. Because the weather was so mild she decided to eat outdoors in the area behind the mess hall.

“Do you always have so many guests for dinner on Sundays?”

He smiled, carefully arranging the briquettes in the bottom of the grill. “Well, maybe not as many as we’re having this afternoon, but Mary Grace always likes to have some guests at the table,” he said. “Also, it’s a couple of days before her cousin Sharna’s birthday so this is kind of an early birthday dinner for her.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have anything to give to her.”

“Don’t worry about that, Father. Your company is enough.”

Shortly after four, Mary Grace and her cousin and friends arrived in their cars, chugging up the narrow gravel road in single file. One by one she introduced them to the priest, who could barely remember one name from the next except for Walt Stricker who was Sharna’s fiancé. Though he didn’t have a beard, his left arm was wrapped in a bandage and he walked with a limp so Father Gregor suspected he was one of the poachers he blew his whistle at last week. He could not believe a guy engaged to Mary Grace’s cousin had the nerve to hunt for game at the compound. He wondered then if he were mistaken. Maybe Stricker wasn’t the limping poacher he saw the other week. It was conceivable he reckoned, but he doubted it.

“Who needs to work up an appetite?” Halimon, one of the guests, asked as he unfolded the step ladder lying against the rear of the mess hall and set it up beside the wheelbarrow that was chock-full of ice and Coors six packs.

“I do,” his girlfriend, McKenzie, said, slapping her hands against her thighs.

Sharna and the other two couples eagerly agreed as Halimon and McKenzie taped numbered recipe cards to each rung of the ladder.

“How about you, Father?” Mary Grace asked while setting paper plates on the tables.

He smiled. “I can always use some exercise. What do I have to do?”

“Throw this,” Halimon chuckled, pulling out of his jacket a small brown beanbag which he then flung across the wheelbarrow to Glickman who was a neighbor in Schlueter Grove.

“The ladder toss is a very simple game,” Mary Grace said, cocking a hand on her hip.  “The objective is to toss the bag through the different rungs, which are worth various points, and the one who accumulates the most points after a certain number of tosses is the winner.”

“What do you win?” the priest asked.

“A big fat Kosher pickle!” Buckwalter shouted from the grill.

Ellis, another Schlueter Grove neighbor, was the first to throw and he chucked the bag through one of the lower rungs for 15 points which was the second lowest score possible in the game. He was not happy and instantly knocked back a long swallow of beer. Marty, his wife, then made a feeble toss that somehow made it through the 20 point rung which made him even more upset.

Through the first round everyone but Glickman, who tossed the bag well to the left of the ladder, managed to score. The leader, with 50 points, was Rickles, a dart throwing partner of Buckwalter’s. Father Gregor and Halimon, each with 30 points, were in third place. They played two more rounds, with Rickles maintaining his lead, when Mary Grace, banging a wooden spoon against one of the bowls of potato salad, announced that it was time to eat.

Once everyone was seated, she said, “Father, if you will, please say grace.”

Nodding, he made the Sign of the Cross then lowered his head and said, “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

“Amen,” Mary Grace murmured along with some of the others at the table.

“So, how does it feel to be clean shaven again?” Buckwalter asked, after sliding a hamburger onto the sesame bun on Stricker’s plate.

“A little strange,” he admitted with a hint of a grin. “I hardly recognize myself now when I look in a mirror.”

“It certainly feels a lot better,” Sharna interjected, stroking a finger across his chin. “And you look a good ten years younger, darling.”

Seasoning his burger, he stared at her for a moment. “I wish I felt ten years younger, babe.”

Rickles’ wife, Jemma, who sat next to Father Gregor, explained to the priest that all of the men except for Buckwalter played on the same bowling team, and as a result of losing a bet with their arch rival, they could not shave for three months.

“I have to give them credit,” she conceded, after scooping a forkful of coleslaw into her mouth. “Not one of them shaved before the end of the three months.”

Trading smiles with her, the priest looked at Stricker’s three teammates and tried to imagine them with thick, dark beards. And, almost at once, a vein began to pulse in his throat as he wondered if they were with Stricker the other week in the woods. He could not be sure but he would not be surprised since they were all such close friends.

“Excuse me, Father,” McKenzie, who sat on the other side of him, said, in a velvety voice, as she passed him a bowl of green olives, “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do around here all day? You can’t meditate and pray all the time, can you?”

He grinned. “I suppose I should but, no, I don’t. I regret to say.”

“So what do you do then to pass the time?”

Before he could answer her, Mary Grace, spooning some relish on her burger, said, “He’s out looking for that Japanese fire balloon.”

McKenzie tilted back in her chair, brushing a loose strand of hair out of her eye. “Many years ago, while my father was stationed here as an ordnance officer, he told me he spent half a summer looking for that balloon.”

“Did he ever find any sign of it?”

She shook her head. “He began to wonder if one ever landed around here.”

“I’m beginning to wonder the same thing.”

“It keeps you occupied, though,” Mary Grace said, biting into a corner of her burger.  “Isn’t that so, Father?”

He nodded. “It does indeed.”

“Aren’t you concerned about being out there all by yourself?” Jemma asked, shading her eyes from the sun as she stared out at the woods.

“That’s why he wears that thingamajig around his neck,” Buckwalter declared as he sat down next to his wife.

“What’s that?” Jemma asked. “Some kind of religious medallion that’s going to protect you from harm?”

“It’s a whistle.”

“A whistle?”

At once, Father Gregor noticed Stricker and his friends exchange glances, further supporting his suspicion that they were the poachers he blew his whistle at last week.

“Yeah,” Buckwalter continued, “Father found it in the barracks he’s staying in and showed it to me, and I told him he ought to wear it around his neck when he’s out in the woods so that if he needs help for any reason he can blow it.”

Jemma leaned back from the table, resting a hand on her husband’s knee. “Let’s hear what it sounds like, Father.”

Obliging her, he blew a short toot on the whistle.

“You think Matt is going to hear that if you get too deep in the woods?”

“Hell, yes, I’m going to hear it,” Buckwalter insisted through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “My hearing is as good as it ever was.”

“If you say so, Matt.”

“What did you say?” he cracked, holding a hand behind each ear.

“That whistle must’ve belonged to a drill sergeant it’s so shrill,” McKenzie surmised.

“It was loud enough to put a crimp in the plans of some poachers we had around here the other week,” Buckwalter told her with a stern gaze. “Father saw them getting ready to take down a deer, but before they could get a shot off, he blew the whistle and scared off the animal. Isn’t that so, Father?”

He nodded, aware out of the corner of his eye that Stricker and his friends were glaring at him.

“I think that deserves a toast,” Buckwalter proposed, lifting his nearly empty beer bottle above his head. “To Father Gregor and his very loud whistle.”

Everyone raised their drinks high in the air except Stricker, who barely lifted his bottle off the table. Father Gregor noticed his indifference which Stricker was well aware of as he dangled his bottle by the neck.

After dinner, Mary Grace set on the main table a red velvet cake she baked for her cousin. A single pink birthday candle sat in the center of it which Sharna needed a couple of breaths to blow out. Mary Grace then cut a large slice for her cousin and much smaller slices for her other guests. Stricker declined his, however, which Buckwalter was more than happy to put on his plate.

A few minutes later, after polishing off both slices, Buckwalter patted his belly and groaned, “I feel like I’ve put on seven or eight pounds today.”

“You probably have,” his wife teased, poking him in the belly.

“I need to do something to take the weight off and I’ve got just the idea.”

“What’s that, darling?”

“A stone throw.”

Grinning, she shook her hair. “Count me out.”

“Is that anything like the ladder toss?” Father Gregor asked, intrigued.

“Nah,” he said, shambling over to a stone the size of a basketball that sat behind the barbecue grill. “This is a challenge that tests your strength, not your marksmanship.”

“I guess that counts me out too.”

Sighing audibly, Buckwalter bent down and hoisted up the stone then rested it on his left shoulder. “Let’s see who the strongman is today, gents,” he grunted as he invited Stricker and the other men to take part in the throw.

Ellis was the first one to accept the challenge, and after taking a minute to loosen the muscles in his arms and shoulders, he gripped the stone with both hands and tossed it underhand some fourteen feet.

“Pathetic,” he groaned, and no one disagreed with his assessment. “Just damn pathetic.”

“You’re a trouble-maker, aren’t you?” Stricker muttered as he stepped beside Father Gregor while the priest waited for his turn to throw the stone.

He glanced at the clearly inebriated man. “Excuse me?”

“Isn’t that why you were sent here? Because you got into some kind of trouble?”

“I had some differences with my superiors. That’s true.”

“So you’re a trouble-maker?”

He didn’t reply and watched Rickles heave the stone nearly twice as far as Ellis did.

“You know, Father, you should be careful,” he said, slurring his words. “You don’t want to get into any trouble here, do you?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so. So I’d be very careful if I were you.”

“You’re not threatening me, are you?”

“No, not at all. Just offering you some sound advice.”

“I see.”

“Do you, Father? I hope you do, for your sake.”

*

Early the next morning, seated at his desk in his bathrobe, Father Gregor again opened his Bible to Matthew and in a whisper of a voice read, “The people who lived in darkness saw a great light; light dawned on the dwellers in the land of death’s dark shadow.”

His voice trembled, as did his fingers, and his forehead grew moist with perspiration. He did not understand why he found it so difficult to pray these past few months. It was something he had done for years without any sort of problem but now he could barely recite a few lines of Scripture without feeling as if he were going to lose consciousness and find himself sprawled on the floor. Beside himself, he edged back from the desk, mystified that it had become so much easier to walk for miles in the wilderness than to pray.

*

That afternoon, despite Stricker’s implied threat, Father Gregor resumed his search for the fire balloon, his walking stick at his side. It was a little cool out so he put on an Army field jacket that Buckwalter found tucked away in a footlocker along with a pair of leather gloves and a wool scarf. He looked like he was going on some kind of reconnaissance mission, he thought, all he needed was a steel helmet to wear.

Yesterday, after dinner, Stricker made it clear that it would be wise for him to stay out of the woods but he didn’t take the warning seriously. He figured that was the beer talking and wasn’t really concerned that Stricker or his friends would be foolish enough to do anything other than curse and holler if he scared away some more game they were about to kill. They didn’t impress him as malicious people even if they were poachers.

An hour into the search, he spotted a buck nibbling some blueberries and stopped and looked around to see if anyone else was there but he was alone. So he just stood and watched the animal whose antlers looked as sharp as paring knives. Just the other evening he asked Buckwalter about the faint scar across his left forearm, and the caretaker told him many years ago an elk he had wounded with an arrow slashed him with one of its antlers.

“I’ve never been in such pain,” he recalled. “It was so full of rage I know it wanted to kill me and well might have if my old man hadn’t finished it off with a bullet to the head.”

The next three days he spotted a buck and a badger but no poachers. Then, late Friday afternoon, after crossing a frigid little stream, he heard voices in the distance and immediately wondered if Stricker and his friends had returned because the previous time he saw them was on a Friday. Not wanting to alert them to his presence, he crept ahead, holding his breath for as long as he could because he wanted to be so quiet.  Gradually the voices grew louder, more distinct until he was able to make out three men, with rifles at their sides, passing around a bottle of whiskey. Stricker was not one of them but Halimon was there, his prescription aviator sunglasses perched on top of his orange cap.

“Jerk,” he muttered to himself.

The poachers passed the bottle back and forth a couple more times then slung their rifles over their shoulders and headed east, moving side by side through very thick underbrush. Without hesitation, he trailed behind them, making sure he stayed far enough back to they did not spot him. The three men scarcely said a word to one another as they walked, their attention was so focused on finding some indication of a deer.  After a couple of miles, the priest wondered if they might head in another direction but they continued east, trudging through undergrowth that sometimes reached their shoulders. He was surprised they were so patient, especially Halimon, who was always getting up and down at the table Sunday at dinner.

Just a few feet from a rackety waterfall that was scarcely a yard wide, Halimon paused and held up his right hand to signal the others to pause too, and they did. Father Gregor figured he must have spotted something in the brush to the right of the waterfall so he stepped behind a fir tree and watched. The three men did not budge for close to three minutes then, ever so slowly, Halimon raised his rifle to a firing position. At the same instant Father Gregor slipped the whistle between his teeth, but he did not blow it right away.  Instead, he waited for the other two men to raise their rifles, then he blew the whistle.

Immediately shots rang out as he scurried away, his head bent, still trying to keep out of sight even though he was sure Halimon had to know who blew the whistle. He was so excited, so certain he did what needed to be done, he could not help from grinning like a jack-o’-lantern. Soon he was running so hard his arms felt like wings so it seemed as if he were soaring above the ground. Thorns and nettles tore at his hands and sleeves but he scarcely noticed he was moving at such a fast clip. He could not wait to get back to the compound and tell Buckwalter he had thwarted some more poachers.

Starting down a steep stretch of switchbacks, he continued to run as hard as ever, his head weaving from side to side as if someone were slapping him across the face. He was about a third of the way through the stretch when his left heel slipped on some wet leaves and he stumbled and fell to one knee. Then, as he started to get up, he lost his balance and spilled several yards down the hillside until he slammed into the trunk of a gigantic tree.

“Damn it!” he shouted.

Furious at himself for being so reckless, he clenched his hands into fists and pounded the ground between his knees.  Then, as he tried to push away from the tree, he felt a sharp pain in his left shoulder and immediately wondered if he broke a bone. Exasperated, he sat there for what seemed like several minutes, hoping the poachers would appear so he could ask for help. No one came, though, and he doubted if anyone would by now.  Overhead, a hawk circled, squawking angrily.

“You fool!” he chastised himself. “You damn fool!”

Shutting his eyes, he muttered under his breath “stones into bread” then blew the whistle. Again and again he blew it, praying someone somewhere would hear it. He knew he was a long ways from the compound but maybe Buckwalter would hear it and realize he was in trouble. After close to an hour had passed, despite the pain in his shoulder, he attempted to push himself free again, and as he did he rolled off the trail into a narrow ravine and cracked the side of his head on a boulder and almost swallowed the whistle.

Epilogue

Many of the searchers returning to the compound switched on their flashlights because of the growing darkness, but not Father Petrie. He was so familiar with the terrain by now he was confident he could find his way to the mess hall with his eyes shut. This was the sixth day he had participated in the search for Father Gregor organized by Buckwalter and the sheriff of Schlueter Grove, and it would be his last because he was under orders to return to the diocese at the end of the week. Last night, he spoke with Monsignor Inman on the phone and asked to stay another week but his request was denied. He expected as much. The monsignor didn’t have a very favorable opinion of Father Gregor, regarded him as someone who was reluctant to listen to his superiors, so he would not be surprised if the monsignor thought Father Gregor got tired of his confinement and just walked away. He didn’t believe that for a moment but he knew others beside the monsignor shared that suspicion.

“It’s a shame you have to leave tomorrow,” Mary Grace said as she handed Father Petrie a mug of coffee when he entered the mess hall.

“Believe me, I wish I could stay longer.”

“You can’t for just a few more days?”

He shook his head. “I have my marching orders.”

“That’s one thing a priest does, isn’t it? Follow orders, just like someone in the Army.”

“We take an oath of obedience and we’re obliged to abide by it.”

“Well, I’m sure everything will turn out all right,” she insisted, sitting down with him at one of the long tables. I just have a good feeling things will work out for the best.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“You know, I wouldn’t be all that shocked to see Father Gregor walk through the door one of these days. He’s always impressed me as a very resourceful person.”

“He is that. That’s for sure.”

“So it might happen. You never know.”

“You never do.”

“I wish I was that optimistic,” Buckwalter muttered, after joining them at the table.

“He’ll be found. I know he will.”

Buckwalter, slurping his coffee, rolled his eyes. “There is just so much ground to cover, hundreds and hundreds of acres, and half of it is woods as dense as cobwebs. And, believe me, no one knew that better than Father Gregor because every day, rain or shine, he was out there looking for that damn fire balloon.”

“That’s the explosive left over from the war?”

He nodded. “No one is even sure it fell anywhere around here but, for whatever reason, Father Gregor was determined to find it. Hell, folks have been searching for remnants of that thing for years, and I’m afraid we might be looking for him for years too.”

“Don’t say that,” his wife scolded him.

“Well, it’s the truth, and I figure that’s what the priest wants to hear. Isn’t that so, Father?”

“Of course.”

“Well, then, there you have it,” he said, after taking another slurp of coffee. “So I don’t think it much matters if you leave tomorrow or a month from tomorrow because we’ll be looking for Father Gregor for a long time I suspect.”

Just like the fire balloon, the priest thought, staring at the remains in his coffee mug.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 11

§.11


Harmon woke to the hot rays of the sun licking his loose and stimulated body. He inhaled the aroma of his basement room; stale beer, drywall and wood, plaster, steel and warm dust, relishing the tincture as might a perfumist a bag of potpourri. He stretch and looked to his left. Lyla was gone. Only a sunken spot in the gray mattress and the scent of womanly body spray remained. His momentary elation swift-faded. He sat upon the old and worn-out mattress, unevenly sprung, staring at the spot where his love had been. He reached over and caressed the area where her nape had leaned gainst the pillow. It was still warm. She’d left recently. He rose, naked, and stretched and threw on his underwear and pants where they had been hastily discarded upon the cold concrete floor and jogged up the stairs and ambled expectantly into the living room, empty save his laptop table and chair and Sprawls ratty couch. The notebook lay open on the table where she had left it, the portrait smiling up at him. He moved to the table and slowly closed the notebook.

He sat down and raised the screen of his laptop and, as if compelled by some ethereal force, opened a new tab on his browser and typed in ‘Lyla Regina Summers.’ The top results were from her personal website featuring her artwork, her page on the local universities site, one news article on local artists she had been briefly and briskly featured in, referred to by name only once. Farther down the search list he chanced across a podcast titled ‘Women Out Of Shade’ and saw that Lyla was featured on their metadata. He plugged in his headphones let someone should enter the house and clicked on the requisite links and listened.

“Hello lady writers, this is your host Monica Chambers and you are listening to Women Out Of Shade, a podcast dedicated to bringing female artists out of the shadows and into the light. Today we’ll be talking to Lyla Summers, a local soon-to-be-graduate from Haverral University. Ms. Summers is a illustrator, photographer, social activist and painter. So, welcome to the program Ms. Summers.”

“Thanks so much for having me.”

“So, I seen your recent showing, your gala – I thought your work was really quite wonderful.”

“Oh, why thank you. It went really well.”

“I wanted to know, first, how you came to be interested in art, in painting, and what your principal influences were.”

“Well, I’ve been interested in art since I was young. I always liked to draw. I got into painting when I was in high school and it all just sort of clicked. You know? Anyways, I decided, on my very last day of high school what I wanted to do and sent in my portfolio to Haverral and the rest is history. As for my influences, well, I have to give a lot of credit to Samanta Farrow, my advisor – she’s also a painter-”

“Yes, I’ve heard of her.”

“Isn’t work just wonderful?”

“Its really unique.”

“Yeah. She was such a good mentor. It was only because of her that I got placed in the gala. But anyways, to answer your question, her method really helped me grow, as an artist. So I’d say she was my chief influence.”

“So what are your plans from here?”

“Well, I planed to move. I really want to get out of this area.”

Harmon straightened in his chair, his eyes flying wide.

“My girlfriend lives in Florida, so I’m planning on moving down there soon.”

“Girlfriend like friend or girlfriend girlfriend?”

“Haha, girlfriend girlfriend. She’s been so support of me. I really should have mentioned her when you asked me about my biggest influences. I couldn’t have done half of what I’ve accomplished without her.”

Harmon paused the recording and rewound it and listened through once more to ensure that his ears weren’t playing tricks upon him. The audio came through the same on second listening.

“My girlfriend lives in Florida-”

Harmon listened through the rest of the recording, waiting for a name. Lyla never gave it. He slowly shut the lid of his lap top and rose from his chair, his mind whirring like a broken machine, hands flexing like speared and desperate crustaceans. How could she? How could she? Why would she? Why wouldn’t she tell me? She was just here…

The sound of footsteps upon the pavement outside left no room for further reverie as Sprawls burst in through the front door, a large white plastic bag under his left arm.

“Good news, had a sale at Captain Andy’s.”

Captain Andy’s was the locale liquor store and one of Sprawls favorite mercantile haunts. Harmon slowly turned to greet him.

“Nice. Mind if I have one.”

Harmon wasn’t sure what his roommate had purchased, nor did he care. Anything to numb the frantic rage he felt. Anything to blunt the urge to put his fist through the wall, to flipped his table and snap his laptop in half and cast his chair against the wall and drive down to Lyla’s house and beat her bloody until she gave up a name.

Sprawls withdrew a tallboy and cast the can to his roommate who caught it deftly and snapped it open instantly and downed a quarter of the bottle at once.

“You okay, man? You looked pale. I mean, paler than usual.”

“No. I am not okay. But I will be.”

“Something happen?”

“Something is always happening. No use complaining about it.”

“Yeah.”

Sprawls flopped down into his couch and cracked open one of the bottom-shelf tallboys and took a sip as he set his bag of beer down upon the floor.

Harmon remained standing, guzzling his beer. In short order he polished off and asked for another which Sprawls readily provided. After a few moments Sprawls spoke up dejectedly.

“Bitch fucking lied to me.”

“Who?”

“Sarah. That girl that was here. You seen her.”

“Oh is that her name?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d she lie about?”

“Bout being pregnant. Said she’d just been putting on a little extra weight – huh, yeah right. Got me thinking. Thinking bout lying. How often people do it. How often do you lie?”

Harmon turned towards his friend with deadpan seriousness.

“I never lie.”

“Bullshit. Everyone lies.”

“I have not told a lie since I was a child.”

“Bullshit. Hey, lemme get one of this cigs from you.”

“You just called me a liar. Get your own.”

“Just lemme have one.”

Harmon stuck one of the cigarettes between his lips and lip up the end and spoke without turning.

“No.”

“Hey fuck you, man.”

Harmon did not respond and smoked, starring at a peeling spot on the wall as if it were the very center of the universe.

“That’s some weird ass shit. This ain’t gonna work out.”

Sprawls waited for Harmon to say something and when he didn’t Sprawls got up from the couch and made for the stairs.

“This ain’t gonna work. Have your stuff outta here tomorrow.”

With that, Sprawls left off before Harmon could respond. He stood there, staring at the spot where Sprawls had been and then turned and grabbed his coat and headed for the road. He drove. Comforted by the roaring hum of the old hatchback’s engine, crunshing asphalt beneath its newly worn yet powerful tires. The earth shearing against itself like two techtonic plates. He determined suddenly, as the weight of the days events fully pressed themselves against his mind to drive to Lyla’s house. She lived twenty eight minutes away in her mother’s messy yellow house. He drove straight north. The gang of toughs that he’d spied before were no where to be seen, only a young man walking down the street, bobbing his head to the hidden hymns of his headphone. Harmon envied that man. Cocooned from the world. Happy with his big, dumb smile. A surge of rage that bellowed dragonlike from the roiling fractal depths of his mind overtook him. Bliss-through-ignorance is the harborage of cowards, he thought to himself coldly, redirecting his attention from the walker back to the road. He floored the gas and ran the lights as a vehicle he paid no mind to screeched to a halt, its driver howling out the window some indiscernible curse. He drove out of town to the north, the great crumbling ruin of the coal breaker visible in blurred side-glances to the northeast and then even it fell away from view.

No, he thought, suddenly slowing, I’m being primitive. Letting my emotions run away with the reigns of my soma. Predictable. Understandable. Vexing. He pulled to a stop before the highway off ramp and checked the mirror, he U-turned and sped back towards town.

He would not go to her. He would wait for Lyla to come to him.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 2

CHAPTER TWO


Harmon awoke with the rising of the light. He ran his hands through his hair, wild and dark as raven-down. He stretched and cracked his neck and leaned out on the tips of his toes til he fell to the floor, catching himself before his face collided with the spotless concrete of his tea and smoke-scented basement. He did a push-up and then one hundred and then twenty more. At one hundred and twenty he started to waver and dropped to his shoulder and rolled over on his back, breathing heavy as a cat howled from somewhere outside. Shortly thereafter, something else howled. Coon from the sound of it. He checked the time. 7:00 AM sharp. He’d an hour to make it to work. He rose and looked to his mobile phone, outdated by the standards of the day. Tense. Anxious. Expectant. It’d been two weeks since Harmon had dropped Lyla off with Serena. Only phone calls he’d gotten were from his boss and his bank to let him know that his account had gone inactive and would be closed if it continued to remain so.

He fancied he were being impatient, she’d call, he told himself, she always did. They used to speak for hours every other day. Hang out on the regular. Increasingly, that was becoming a rarity. Now they’d speak but once every other week, if that. They’d meet up once a month or every other. Harmon shook himself from reverie, stretched and leapt up to the exposed crossbeam of the basement ceiling and started doing pull ups. A sudden implacable fury permeating his soma. He hit fifty and dropped, muscles afire. A pleasurable pain. He looked in the old mirror that had been left in the basement by the previous owner; his pale-yet-tanning form, all sharp, angular lines and surging veins, was alien to him. It occurred to him he’d not looked at his own reflection for over a month. There were no other mirrors in the house. He tensed his half-naked body before the mirror with his arms at his sides; his opaque green eyes vacuous. Glassy. Like liquid emerald’s encased in amber.

He showered, dressed and walked up the stairs to the living room where Sprawls was sitting, drinking his bottom-shelf beer and smoking a joint that smelled of mildew. The odious scent of the rough rolled sheet permeated the room and Harmon braced himself against any outward show of displeasure as Sprawls took a sip before speaking.

“Morning. You been up all night?”

“Stayed up writing.”

“Come up with anything good?”

Sprawls nodded and offered his roommate the joint. Harmon waved the offer and poured himself a cup of coffee, waiting for the reedy black man to continue. After a shrug and a lengthy toke he did so.

“Got this nice blues line, man. Need you to cook up some lyrics for it.”

“We’ve been writing songs for a year now. When we gonna start playing places?”

“What kinda places?”

“Dunno. Bars. Somewhere with an audience.”

“I been busy, man.”

“You work at a failing print shop with one reliable client.”

“Yeah, well, its a very demanding client. Why you always so impatient?”

“Not impatient. Just think we’ve come up with some good work. Must be that stuff you’re smoking.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning it makes you lazy as shit.”

“What’s your fucking problem, man?”

“Didn’t have one til you started snappin.”

Sprawls shook his shiny, bald head, rolled his bloodshot eyes and took another drag, knocking back his beer. He flipped on the television.

As Harmon went to take a sip of his coffee Sprawl spoke up suddenly, “Rent is due soon.”

“Yup.”

“You have it?”

“I will.”

“So you don’t have it?”

“No. Not now, I don’t. Will once Swain pays me.”

“You want to stay in my house you’d better fucking have it on time.”

“What do you mean ‘your’ house?”

“My name on the deed.”

Harmon didn’t respond and took another sip of the coffee, inhaling the soothing Colombian scent. Then he spoke up with a ill-concealed vexation.

“I thought we were friends, Richard.”

Sprawls perked up, no one except Harmon ever called him ‘Richard.’ He’d taken on the moniker ‘Sprawls’ after getting released from prison.

“We are. Weird thing to say.”

“You just threatened to throw me out of our house.”

Sprawls took a toke. Body limp. Eyes shifting from the TV screen to the man behind the kitchen counter.

“Because its MY name on the deed.”

“I’ll have the money.”

“Five days.”

“Five days.”

“I’m serious.”

Harmon furrowed his brows. Sprawls was barely there.

“So am I. I’ll have it.”

“Cool. See ya.”

He may as well have said, “Whatever.”

Harmon finished his coffee and let out the house, got in his beaten and sun-scrubbed car, lit up a cigarette, cracked the window and hit the gas and drove down the cratered roads of the suburban neighborhood to the end of the northern-most street whereupon he spied a gang of toughs hanging about between two peeling and dilapidated houses that looked like over-sized shoe-boxes. The toughs were black and mostly middle-aged with cheap shirts and expensive sneakers. Harmon had seen them hanging around before and knew that they weren’t locals. They looked expectant and worried. Moving back and forth in wordless perambulations, tight little circles of uncertainty. Some smoked and others listened to their MP3 players on their phones. Harmon figured they were on business. Waiting for a drop-off. The area had changed after The Cartel moved across the border, peddling flesh and pills. He looked out the window again as he pulled to a stop at the red light; could have ran it but he liked the ritual of the thing, the stop and smoke and stare, at the gray, seething clouds, like great ethereal snakes, at the birds whirling swarm-tactically against the thermals, at the black outsiders with their baggy pants and bad tattoos and vacant expressions, at the drop off from the rise and the vast mechanical expanse of the abandoned plant below; coal breakers, they used to call them, sorting and processing sites for anthracite, bitumen and lignite. A place where children once labored under the auspices of strong-willed industrialists. From his metallic perch he could see strange forms moving where none should be, glassy-eyed and furtive amongst the shattered and rain-worn rocks of the coal breaker’s ruin.

Junkies.

The zombie apocalypse had already happened and it hadn’t even made the front page. Pharmacology, the vector for a self-inflicted scourge. The pharmacist-as-pusher. The citizen as outcast.

Harmon took a long, soothing drag and watched the addict-vagabonds moving in strange undulations against the dessicated corpse of the iron giant. He wondered if the once-mighty site of unparalleled industry could be rehabilitated, reanimated, summoned forth from its fetid slumber by some creative recourse to technological necromancy. The thought filled his bosom as his whirring clockwork mind with a sense of unrealized majesty.

The landscape before him transformed into a field of great ranging towers, like the fangs of some titanic canine, arcing towards the sky as if in hunger of the moon. The junkies and lean-tos vanished beneath the furious blaring of steam-engines charting the fruits of the coal breaker by rail-lines to every corner of the world and all those beyond it. Their rumbling stacks searing the acrid wind with staccato puffs of smoke, pitch and gray and fading out into particulates imperceptible to the eyes of Man. He saw high-rises crop up around the coal breaker and many more behind it. A metropolis. A megalopolis. A ecumenopolis. A city so great it were as a geological force unto itself, that shook the very foundations of the earth, reverberating the magmous core with the song of its creators; echoing out unto the very stars which were the builders’ own to claim.

Harmon’s reverie was broken when the light turned green. He paused a moment and looked out the driver-side window, away from the coal break, to the right, to the shoe-box houses and the would-be gangbangers stoop-shouldered and sag-pants’d as a troop of hispanics walked up to them, plain-clothed and colorful.

“The fuck you lookin’ at, white boy?”

Harmon said nothing and methodically flicked his half-smoked cigarette out the window, where it landed with a hissing sputter at the caitiff’s feet. He refocused his attention to the road as a muted “motherfucker” echoed briefly behind the rambling, metal wagon.

*

Harmon arrived at work five minutes late. His daydream’s heady alcahest the generative nexus of his tardiness. Eric Swain folded his thick and hairy arms before his chest and shook his head, short-cropped hair copper with the rising sun.

“You’re late.”

“I know it. Got distracted.”

“Hows that?”

“Got to daydreaming.”

Swain smiled slightly, wryly and shook his head fractionally and spoke slowly.

“Coulda lied. Traffic jam, or something.”

“I suppose. Ain’t many cars on the road though.”

“How would I have known?”

“You wouldn’t, but I would.”

Swain shook his head again, like a horse chasing off flies and then looked skyward, squinting his sunglassed eyes gainst the relentless rays of the effulgent sphere and then turned.

“Well. Come on.”

“I’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again. Much as I’m able.”

“What? Being late? Hell… you’re the only reliable hand I’ve got other than Daryl.”

“I don’t think Daryl likes me.”

“Daryl doesn’t like anybody. You said ensure.”

“Yeah.”

“My wife bought me some Ensure,” the duo moved over the front lawn to the unfinished house’s driveway where stood a stack of roofing tiles, Swain reached up and removed a bottle,” Its like a protein-shake type of thing,” he shook the bottle,” Said it’ll help me keep it off the middle,” he patted his rounded gut and smiled again, “Guess’n I could do with that.”

“Guess’n so.” Harmon scanned the neat and brightly colored packaging of the protein shake. It was delightfully designed. Beautiful in its simplicity. Bright blue swooshing up in a thick line at the top and bottom bracketed in the middle by off-white with the brand name strikingly colored in stylized typeface just below the thick, upper blue swoosh. He thought of all the work that had gone into the bottle’s design; he thought of the graphic design team that had spent weeks or months choosing an appropriate typeface, modifying it, colorizing it, sketching out drafts in some aromatic coffee house, of the plastic manufacturers which had crafted the bottle to be as ergonomic as possible and of the alchemists, shuttered away in their corporate laboratories judiciously mixing and remixing various tinctures so as to strike the right balance in taste and texture. Harmon fancied it likely that more cognitive energy had been distilled in the creation of that single drink than would be expended by most of those that drank it in a month. The apprehension of such industrious creativity flooded his mind with mirth. He looked up to the roof he would shortly help to build and for the first time in a very long time, he felt pure and unmitigated joy.

*

Harmon was fifteen minutes on the bare roof of the house before, Andy Flint, the last of the crew arrived. He conversed with Swain briskly. Agitation the whole of their forms. Then Flint scaled the ladder to the roof and grabbed a sponge-pad to walk on to ensure he had some tractable footing such that he did not, in venturing out upon that perilous peak, slid off upon the slick, shiny wood or newly nail tiles and tumble out unto the void and there slam his skull upon the concrete drive below. Harmon recalled last winter when they had been working a roof in the middle of winter in the downtown area. The ice made the sponges near-useless and Swain, running a small operation and lacking the funds for harnesses, bid his crew work across the frozen tile. Harmon had overexerted himself and fallen flat upon his back some near twenty feet off the roof. He’d landed in some shrubs and lay their for a long while, stunned and unable to breathe. When Swain asked him if he was alright he had grunted and raised his left arm skyward, thumb extended upwards.

“Mornin’ Andy.”

“Harmon.” Andy replied, nodding dully as he scuttled up to the middle of the roof on his sponge-pad, wrinkled jeans scrapping against the sun-faded plywood like sandpaper on snakeskin. He was jittery and tense. His eyes bloodshot and ringed with owlish circles.

“Can you hand me that bag of tiles?”

“That asshole.”

“Who?”

“Fuckin’ all of them, man. All of them. Sonsofbitches, every one.”

Harmon paused a moment and watched the man curse under his breath and then returned to his work. He didn’t like to chat when he was focused on a task. Andy’s dour mood was ruining the atmosphere of creation. He wanted to dash lizard like across the roof as he built it up under the hot and ceaseless sun with nothing but the creaking of the renovated house and the sonorous opera of the wind. The chatter was breaking his concentration.

“Told me I’d be fired if I was late again. Just like that. Hell, I been working here just as long as you and they still treat me like I’m some… I don’t know… like I’m wet-behind the ears. Like I’m some kinda fuckup.”

“You shouldn’t pay so much heed to what people say when they’re angry.”

“A-fucking-men, man, a-fucking-men.”

Andy smiled awkwardly. He was twitchy and kept scratching himself, flexing his fingers and rubbing his arms in between nailing down the tiles, as if they were assailed by an army of invisible ants. Drugs. Uppers. Harmon wasn’t sure what particular kind, but he could tell the man was on something. He’d had a history of substance abuse, didn’t like to talk about it. Harmon didn’t want to ask. He was focused on the roof. Shortly, Daryl’s crass voice boomed out from the far-side of the rooftop.

“What are you two faggots talking about?”

“Just shooting the shit,” Andy responded irritably.

Daryl stood up high, as if to show his dominance over the peaked surface, “Well, you sure are filled with shit, Andy, so I’m sure you got a whole lot of it to shot.”

Andy leapt up, furious.

“You’re always talking down to me.”

Daryl loosed a cackle and shook his head.

“Why you gotta be such a drama queen.”

“You keep talking.”

“I will.”

“Piss off.”

“Rather not.”

“Keep on it.”

“Hows that girl friend a yours? The flat-chested one.”

“Shut it, Daryl.”

“Might have mosquitoes bites but she sure is pretty. Almost as pretty as that sweet thing our man Harmon’s saddled with. Nice curves on that one. Hows is she doing, Harmon?”

“Fine.”

“Oh look at ole Andy. He’s hopping mad. Look, what I said about your girl – its not an insult. If my mug was as ugly as yours I’d take whatever lay I could get.”

“Shut your fucking mouth.”

“Or what? You’ll shut it for me?”

Tremors of rage shook the hammer in Andy’s hand. His knuckles going white about the red-taped handle. Daryl pointed to the hammer, his tone sobering.

“You so much as swing that in my direction you will regret it.”

Harmon turned around his visage impassive and rose to his knees and slowly placed his hand upon Andy’s arm which clutched the hammer.

“Enough. We got work to do. Client is expecting us to finish this roof today.”

After a moment of tense silence Andy and Daryl moved off to opposite ends of the roof as the neophytes clamber up the ladder, bags of tile upon their straining backs.

*

After work Andy sided up to Harmon where he lay upon his back counting his pay on a patch of cool-shaded grass neath a willow in the backyard of the client’s house. To either side of the tree rose up thick hedges, ill-kept and somewhere a cat meow’d. Andy explained his cousin was unable to pick him up and asked if Harmon could give him a ride. Harmon looked around. Only Swain and Daryl remained, the neophytes all having departed the moment the boss had allowed it. Swain was talking to his wife, planning a dinner-outing for the night. There was no point in Andy asking Daryl. Harmon nodded, saying nothing and asked for but a moments patience. He liked the feel of the grass upon his skin. The moss of the willow upon his neck. He closed his eyes and inhaled and opened them and watched a dragonfly land upon one of the upper branches of the willow and he thought of the construction of the creature and then a facsimile all of copper and brass and steam and coal and fire. A great clockwork dragonfly and he upon it, skipping over the clouds with reckless enthusiasm and a conqueror’s cry. Then he shook himself from reverie, removed his keys and rose.

*

Cherry of Harmon’s cigarette flickered like furnace coal upon the windshield. Andy sat in the passenger’s seat. Sullen. Ashamed.

“Hey Harmon.”

“Yeah?”

“Just wanted to thank you.”

“Its no trouble at all.”

Andy nodded appreciatively and then looked out the red-tinged passenger’s window; some youths were ambling about a basketball court; to the left, a old woman sat upon her porch drinking from a mason jar as a cat the size of a small dog twined about her blue-veined legs. Harmon’s eyes were fixed to the road. He did not need to look out the window. He had memorized every house. Every sign. Every road-turning. Only the inhabitants thereof remained a mystery to him. There was no map, mental or otherwise could encapsulate them. A thin black man passed a young white woman upon the sidewalk before the house of the woman with the mason jar. Neither looked into the eyes of the other and they passed beside each other with wordlessly apathy as if the other were nothing more than a clump of grass. Harmon found it strange and unsettling how so many people could live in such close proximity for so long and yet almost never look or speak to one another. They came and went like ghosts under the setting sun.

“If you died in a crash, but some of your organs could be saved and transplanted, would you want them to be?”

Andy, arched a brow, confused and startled by the sudden query.

“Uh. Dunno. Why?”

“Just something I get to thinking about whenever I drive.”

“I don’t think I’d want my insides inside someone else.”

Harmon tilted his head up and took a drag of his cigarette and mulled his own question around in his mind and answered with measured tones.

“I used to think that way. Used to think it was weird.”

“And now?”

“Now I don’t. If I were to get pancaked – say, right up the road, before I pull in to your drive – bam, flattened; but one of my organs, say, a lung, remained intact and could be transplanted to some patient that needed it, I think whoever can should scoop it out, put it on ice. I wouldn’t need it, being a pancake and all. I’m not a pharaoh.”

Andy considered the driver’s words and then puckered up his mouth and nodded as if sense had been made of the thing.

“Makes sense I suppose. Less’n you’re religious in some kinda way.”

“Everyone is religious in some kinda way.”

“Thought you were an atheist?”

“So are the Taoists, but no one calls them that.”

“Caint say as I know much bout no Tao.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

They rode in silence back to Andy’s house where it stood like a fat skeleton against the pale, bony light of the slowly ascendant moon. Andy thanked the driver again and got out and strode up past the confederate flag which hung over the low-hanging porch, covered over in blankets and beer cans and rickety rocking chairs and flower pots and then vanished there within.

*

Blown Head, Black Dance

I hear his poorly maintained car before I get around the bend. The cabin is lit, since it is almost dark. Everything that Erin did seemed stupid, yet he had never been arrested. He conducted himself with a righteousness. Confidence I guess is a better camouflage than paranoia, a camouflage I should learn, since I am quite paranoid.

I open the passenger door.

“Yooo,” his grating affected blackness contrary to his suburban face. There is a dime in the cup-holder.

I point “I’m not looking for this. I need a gun,” I say, like its normal and Erin’s face grows sober.

There is a gap in the conversation and then it takes on the rhythm of when we smoke cigarettes.

“A gun,” he looks through the window with contemptible dramatic affection. Who is he lying to? He will sell me a gun; the suspense, I know, is him stunned by the labor that it will take to acquire it, no need for acting. I need this fucking gun!

“I’ll give you a lot of money,” I point my gaze into the center of his face and put a strong gust behind the air that the words float they are carried straight deep into his mind

“It’s difficult to get a gun.”

“I’ll give you 600.”

“Ha!” I understand the humorous jolt. We have been so un-business-like in the past, always casual, but Erin’s surprise continues to build as I lift my book-bag from my feet and place it on to my thighs from it I take an envelope.

“Your money,” I place the envelope on to Erins lap and his face changes or at least he took off the face that he had worn over that which is exposed now. With his hands shaking slightly from his money lust, he peers into and weeds through the deposit slip, checking that the paper aligned with my words.

“Alright, okay….give me like a week.”

I step down from his car on to the blacktop and walk towards home, a little staggered from what I had just done. I’m sure he felt similar. The nervous bug that lingered in my chest grew again when I see the sky begin to blacken. It was a short walk home, but the storm seems to be a sprinter. I want to get out of the way of this, I don’t like being wet. I feel rain or maybe a bit of dripping sweat, faint thunder or a car moving quick, riding over a bump or pothole, we have many of those around here. I make it inside through the door before the raindrops come from the clouds that wonder in the sky, watering the earth with their tears from their homeless sorrow. The beginning of the rainstorm always comes with that scent, then hissing. The winds confused on what direction to pick, twist the downward bound water and strike the windows in the living room making a rattle from the perpendicular rain-brushes. Thunder, it’s like you can hear the inside of the earth, the rocks and stones in chaos, like the air. Like the strumming of a guitar, the strings are feathered, they ring so close in time, you cannot tell which note started the chord. Which was first, the metallic scent, the deafening crack or the blinding light.

Lately chaos whispers in my ears starting sentences that I back out of…

Boring boring boring boring boring; life-less life-less life-less. The same comfortable thing every day. I wake up late, I go to sleep late, I sleep longer than I should, 12 hours. Things more or less ever moving move quite increasingly slowly without motion and nullified evolution –  

slowly slowly

Middle class homes arranged like traffic. Some parts of the town are still wooded, the trees hiding something historical, I tilt the wheel into Jesse’s nocturnal patch. A little plume of cigarette smoke rises and gets examined, passing through the yellow of the porch light. Jesse’s hand unerect dashes up and down when he hears my car. He does not look away from his phone that casts a blue foreground on to his round face, with strange long contrasting upward shadows behind all the ridges in his face. He looks like the oldest man who has ever lived.

He sucks more and there’s a long silence as I stand before him. His greeting crawls out dry and injured.

“Hey.”

“Sup.”

Jesse takes another long drag and it is as if he has just awoken.

“You see this video?” a fat black woman sits on a toilet, she is embarrassingly fat. She moves her massive weight side to side twisting at twice the speed of her head, facing away from the camera and then rhythmically her fat black head comes back around. Every time she faces the camera she says, “sittin on the toilet” her thick voice strained of its grease comes through the small speaker and cracked screen.

“What happened to your phone?” I say to avoid faking laughter.

He takes another drag from his cigarette it is a few moments away from the filter the smoke still obscuring his words.

“It’s been broken for awhile I was..uh just walking and dropped it, weren’t you there?”

“No” I was.

“That video is fucking funny dude, fucking uh.. classic.”

“Yeah,” I say without passion.

“Where’s Chris?”

“I don’t know….. you can’t text him?”

“Can you text him?” Jesse stamps out his cigarette.

“What’s the point of asking he is going to come any way we do the same thing every night.”

“can you just text him?”

We walk into his house

“can you just text him”  I mimic back to him “Your too lazy to text him”

“Its not my fucking job” Jesses says

while we walk down into the basement, my rage heightens with every creaking step.

“Not my job what the fuck does that mean. I didn’t think we had fucking jobs.”

“Why are you being such a dick?”

“I’m being dick?” I make a face.

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck….fuck you, talking about jobs you don’t have fucking job, so calling Chris should be your fucking job.”

“FUCKING LEAVE THEN!”

“FUCK YOU, you’re boring and you’re fuckin lazy, and you’re make me boring. We do the same thing and it’s boring, every night, every day we do the same thing, and we pretend it’s special, we get high and we watch videos and were not cool, were not cool, We are just losers who watch videos down in the basement, I want to be fucking cool, and I pretend, and no;  you!, YOU! pretend that you don’t care, I care, you act like a nigger, but a different type of NIGGER then you think, you act like a lazy nigger not like those cool fucking nigger who makes money like the guys you watch because they break rules and they hurt people they make money, you’re harmless, fuck you fucking NIGGER”  I turn my back to Jesse and walk out, surprised that in my moment of passion I went so vulgar and incoherent.

“Get the fuck out dude just get the fuck out” Jesse said as I ran up the stairs

Driving past homes, its night I left the house in rage, I pray to something – I hear something I can have the strength – I’m so con – fused – sumed – and chaos – whispering in my ear – I walk past – hours the – the homes – I left the house in rage – it’s night I can have the strength –  I – can’t – I can – I – am –’ve found myself rather far from home – I’m not suicidal or I’m not looking to do – anything – something bad – kill someone – like that b – but can you –  recently I’ve been watching a lot of videos – I think we’re headed for bad times and I need something to protect myself – I’m – depression – we are – I am – entering into a – the greatest depression is  – the economy its – RING –  In the middle of the woods field  – I grip the gun and I point it to the sky and shoot the fucking stars and my ears  – RING  – I feel exposed  – I run out of the hedge-line catching my breath  –breathing –  I should go into back into the woods  – it’s a safe place they won’t find me – I don’t know where my I mind is –  where I –‘m at least there’s  –  – RING  – and no chaos in my ears –  Nobody lives around –  nobody cares around – here they’ll ignore –  it – my thoughts fight my heart.

It really nice to have the floor supporting my back. Gazing into the lit ceiling my open mind fights between hope and despair – the paint when it was applied fought gravity and dried leaving snowy dimples – What am I going to do with this gun, I thought I would be inventive more brave, do something be cool. Hadn’t my creativity, my sanity, been taken by drugs, Erin’s drugs. I have my incite  – something  – I know something that’s righteous – I’ll kill him I’m going to kill him and put my gun in his mouth and take his mind  – mind.

“Erin, I need to see you now.”

“Yeah… what’s wrong? Where are you going to be?”

“Come to the baseball field.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

I imagined what he was thinking, thinking nothing of what I would be doing, evil for evil. I imagined his rickety car moving swishing through the lonely air.

How his dashboard rattled vibrations played from the speaker cones calling out comforting nigger chants that kept away the evil spirits that had gotten to this mind – He’ll be screaming. I’m a predatorI called my evil wicked self that slaughtered – hollowed – deboned the former me this predator so wise he did not even wear a demonic smile when he saw the sign of his prey that raised his horny heart to see that light through the woods.

Erin parked his car and he walked to me standing in the field. He’s coming towards He’s coming for me.

“Hey, what’s up!” he says from a little far  – he’s out of my range – away.

“Hey,” I call back.

“What are you looking for?”

“I’m not looking for weed,” Erin laughs.

I remember what I was going to do I think. My heartbeat – ed  – and – ed  – jumped in remembrance and knocked my eyes out of focus and I started shouting.

Why don’t you dance anymore you fucking idiot

relaxing is not a statement – playing off your dead feet

pretending you are too strong for the beats command

the truth is you are with the god death and not a

good subject of him – like I am – you use your fuel

that can’t get you beyond the next ridge to justify

your scrawny potential drag us down with your potential

potential is fat and fat is sticky, just like shit, just like your

in-consequence – So nonentity dance for me before my bullet  – before

my gun dance like an idiot  – else you’ll be dizzy busy dancing

blown head the black dance your last blown head goodbye

dance or you’ll dance there’s no option to deny my command

that I hope you don’t follow because I am the good follower of

death who wishes to harmonize your discontent with your own

sour note soul –  Dance before me or die  – I hope you don’t dance so I

may kill you – DIE! —————————————AHHHHHHHH——————HH!!HHHH————————x—————RINNNNNNNNNNGGG———————————————————————x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Which was first the metallic scent, the deafening crack or the blinding light?

I drove his poorly maintained car around the bend and –  the dark it’s almost gone – and I open the hatch and shoved his limp poorly maintained body into the storm drain, when he hit the ground it sounded like fresh dough ————————————— drove –  and the sun rose from the horizon and drifted off and away and the world around me turned a deeper lost black————— but I am the predator me and he has no need to smile————— The car –  I drove it into to the woods and into the swaps and I pushed it into a deep unknown pond. I walked for miles  – From the little woods to the places where all the lights were off and there was no sound – I started to see the new sun rise and my pupils shrunk  – I looked at the new sun’s new blank face.

“Hey I know that you freaked out and all on me the other night, look I’m not mad, we can be better, I was thinking that we could go to the museum.”

“oOk,” I’d like that

Jesse came and picked me up.

“What fuck man, are you okay?”

I’m fine

“Alright.”

Jesse played music the whole ride – I’m fine

We parked and gave the keys to the parking attended who guided Jesse’s car to a place somewhere deep in the earth.

“Dude, I get that your mad and all but like, can you talk?”

We walked through the city in the bottom of the glass canyon and went into the MET and the place was busy with foreigners who look with wonder at the big and beautiful things that were from their countries that are there on the walls– And I was struck – St John Baptise grey leather skin blood drained silent his nature submit to death and severed  – and as I drifted into fantasy – the noise of the city – RING – faded and – “We ask you to make a donation of what every you can”’ – I looked into the eyes of Johns flock of sheep and they could feel my knife pressed into their necks  – Satan paradiddled on my heart  – His closed gaze that draws me in like  – the closing of eyes draws me in  – walking in closer and closer

“Alan,” delivered back up into the world,  “aren’t you glad we came?”

I’m fine – Jesse – strange – John Baptise

“Fuck.”

his mind makes – sounds that pierce me and block out – the sound of chaos like the gun RING – a series of RING RING RING RING RING RING  

“Fuck no.”

I’m fine – Are you fine – I’m fine

“Dude Erin is dead… look at Facebook.”

I open my mind – in my hand – my phone – I have to climb a mountain – A mountain of conversation – dialogue plummeting down – that RING RING RING in my mind and RING – I put him where they won’t found in the coin slot – he’s just penny no one picks up a penny – it was in the woods – no – no it was in the field – but – no one cared – no – I’ don’t like getting wet – no – but – RINGRINGRINGRING – I’ll look – I –  NO! – know one looked –  NO! don’t look down there – but – i’ll do it  – I’ll look –  I’ll look   – I’ll look –  I’ll look  – I’ll look –  I’ll look  – I’ll look –  I’ll look  – I’ll look –  I’ll look  – I’ll look –  I’ll look  – I’ll look –  I’ll look – RINGRING

Yesterday morning our family received a phone call that Erin had been found and was unfortunately deceased. We are sad, very sad, his funeral service will be a 12:30 on Monday at the Bizub-Quinlan Funeral Home in Clifton. Address: 1313 Van Houten Ave, Clifton, NJ 07013 and Phone: (973) 546-2000. We ask the people of the community and especially our family and his friends to join us in our time of grief and speak about his life. RIP Erin Goffman 1994 – 2018 you will be missed, by everyone especially me your mother, your father and your sister

Eric omg I miss you so much see you in heaven

I wasn’t close with you man, but you were so nice every time I saw you, what an angel

what happened is that too early to ask

It was related to his business

Fuck this political system if these nazi politicians didn’t use this plant to justify fascism and scam money from the AmeriKKKan people than we wouldn’t have to be so hush about his business, lets be honest Erin sold pot is that so bad it’s just a plant. Fuck the fucking Republicans

I bet the cops shot him

Cops kill more people than pot ever heard someone overdosing on pot ha! Maybe if the fucking PIGS! Smoked a blunt once a while their little dicks would hit get so hard from killing an innocent kids!

Everyone, will miss you Eric my prayers go out for you and your parents so sad!

There is no fucking god

Incredibly rude I can’t believe that anyone would comment like that

Well Erin didn’t believe in god bitch, Erin told me if he died he didn’t     lllllllllllllllllllllllll         want a funeral he wanted to have a party so I’ll be smoking a blunt in the lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllparking lot BITCH

I’ll be calling the police ASSHOLE!!

This didn’t seem right I didn’t do that – Iook – I’m looking – I’m fine – RING – Its just paint and it’s the – figure is in a black room – something bad happened – Its not really real it’s like the –

But she keeps on smiling at me – hey let go don’t touch me – But I look and she is moving – who put her in the there in the wall – the wall is paint – and there are people in there tooo – ghost do’—RING–nnt— !— “YOU LIKE TO TO? PICTURE OF YOU TAKE OF AHHH US?” – don’t look at me freak you freak – I can say nothing – they will find me – coin slot eyes – chingchingchingchignchifnchinc – fucking nigger Chinese fucking nigger – It’s a drew – its not a drewing – its just a drawing – don’t look at me –That drew me in – I get closer and dance to its beat – look at its atoms – I smell it – taste it “SIR!” “ALAN!”  What do – n’t! touch em – you – f – ucking – rom – nigger I – make for – DIE – x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x – stab – hi – m – y – bl – ade – eed – s – harp – all over the gallery floor my – canvas – and penetrate his skin !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – It pours out – my paint – RING “P – I – UT – m – YO – fine – UR H ANDS UP——————————!—————”———!————————————————!!———!!!——!—AHHHHHHHH——————HH!!HHHH————! RINNNNNNNNNNNNNNG———xx——————————————— x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

The Opposition Identity of the Anti-Tribe

I’ve long been skeptical of the negation crew, the “anti” crowd, those individuals or groups who when asked who they are and what they stand for reply, “I am against X!” There are the “skeptics” who are wholly against all and any religions; the SJWs who are wholly against anything that they perceive as masculine, aggressive, racist or sexist; there are the puritanical religious – the deniers of the body – who gasp and flail at the faintest stirring of erotic passion; then there are the “new ageists” who are perhaps the epitome of the skeptic foil, those who languish in a jellied slush of “mystical” half-measures, neither a creature of faith nor truly one of hard verticality. There are also the anti-statist who, like Rousseau, seek to see man placed outside the grasp of “The Tyrants,” who pervert his very nature by their iron programs and thus stymie his ability to live in the rightful state of peace and freedom. Then there is the ironycel, who wages total war on forthright meaning and serious (“I was just joking – don’t take everything so seriously, bro…”) and also the hedonist who stands in total opposition to any and all impulse restraint. The list could go on and on; reams upon reams, enough to fill up the center of the earth, with enough left over to blot out the sun.

It is not for our purposes to trace the origins nor map the structures of any of the aforementioned groups – rather it is to remark upon the one thing they all share – they are all, without exception, defined either largely or entirely by what they oppose. Theirs is a identity of opposition. They are reactive, rather than proactive. Defined by circumstance rather than defining it. For stable construction, in any serious political sense, such tribes can offer one nothing, for they have nothing but derisive jeers – hardly the solid stuff one should be seeking. They have not the glue to hold a body politic together for they do not themselves know who they are nor what they stand for all that they know is that they are not what they oppose. They are NOT X, but not necessarily Y or Z.

What defines a body politic is its identity, this also drives such entities to oppose others; that is to say, when tribe X’s culture (the manifestation of their identity) finds itself incongruent with tribe Y, it behooves tribe Y to push back against it and make X conform (at least to some more desirable degree) to their outward expression of collective self. Failing this, there can be naught but war. But the anti-collective – the group who knows not who they are, nor what they stand for, nor where they are going – can not take the path of reprisal for they can not form a coherent political body (and even if they could they could only keep it so long as “the other” whom they opposed remained a active and present force, whether actually or mythically). The ephemeral formalism of the anti-tribes, useful for short-span guerrilla combat of the mind, is wholly useless for times of peace (and there should be little distinction made between peace from real-world combat and combat of a more ideological persuasion) as they do not have internal structure to their various, tangentially related collectives (often they have no reason for being a collective at all once their “threat,” their pet-problem, is removed). Due to the fact that the anti-tribes persist only so that X,Y & Z shall not, when another problem arises that is falls not within the purview of their own problem-set, they are like to ignore it or sublimate themselves to it (the case of the modern American Christian who constantly wails about Muslim “invaders,” but shows little to no concern about Zionist radicals destabilizing his nation).

It is, for all these aforementioned reasons, pertinent for those who are seeking a more stable ordering to things to treat the anti-tribes with the greatest of caution. For, as the old adage goes, it takes but one rotten apple to ruin the entire barrel.

Towards A Program of Great Works: The US-Mexican Border Wall

Pertinent First Questions.

Much has been said about the current US President’s proposed border wall, with opposition commentary generally running along the lines of, “A border wall is inherently racist!” Let us, from the start, dispense with such foolishness. Walls, no more than doors, columns or cornices, are in any cogently definable way classically “racist” meaning, presumably, bigoted (not that I think much of the term – it means little enough these days, a symptom of Prog Boy-Who-Cried-Wolfism). Furthermore, there are several very good reasons to wish to tighten border security, the opioid epidemic (covered in my previous article, American Deathscape: The Drug Scourge & It’s Sources) being pushed by the Mexican drug cartels that is currently ravishing the nation being just one prime example among many. Others include the prevention of sex trafficking and contraband smuggling operations and the countless injuries, mutilations, thefts, rapes and murders that come along for the ride, and, perhaps most importantly, the future cultural impact which massive Hispanic immigration will undeniably bring; indeed, it has already brought it (consider the curious case of the NCLR, or, The National Council of La Raza; which, literally translated, means, The Race).

Either a nation is sovereign or it is not; it is axiomatically impossible, given a long enough period of time, for any nation to maintain its sovereignty if it does not secure its selfsame borders. Thus, if the United States secures its borders it is taking a potent step in protecting its sovereignty. Yet, some crucial questions here must be asked, such as:

  • Would a wall really greatly aid in securing the border? That is to say, do fences work?
  • How much would such a construct cost, how long will it take to construct?
  • Would imminent domain be invoked or private property need be governmentally purchased?
  • Who is going to pay for it?
  • How would Mexicans and Americans respond to it during its construction and after its erection?

 

The Efficacy of Walls.

To answer the first question: Yes.

Yes, walls greatly secure whatever areas they are built upon from unwanted intrusion; that is their sole purpose. For thousands upon thousands of years civilizations have been using walls to deter unwanted migrants, undesirable criminals and warring invaders (ect. Great Wall of China, the walled keeps of the Scottish Lords, Hadrians Wall, The Berlin Wall, The Israeli West Bank Barrier as well as the twisting fences of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, all spring instantly to mind). Clearly they work. This doesn’t mean that they work everywhere, however, as some portions of the US-Mexican border are simply too hilly and uneven for a proper wall to be erected – but where walls can be built and utilized effectively they most certainly should be.

Financing the Project.

Now, unto a trickier topic – the cost. Estimates for the total cost of the wall to be constructed, were initially placed somewhere in the ballpark of the 15-25 billion dollar range (Mitch McConnell, in 2015 placed, the estimate far lower at around 12-15 billion). More recently, the estimated average price has moved to 21.6 billion dollars which is somewhere in between these extremes – still, it isn’t chump-change. Current estimates place threshold for completion at around 3 years. Mexico won’t pay, that is clear. Not directly anyways. Trump’s strong-man approach has utterly failed; Nieto made that clear when he spurned the President’s invitation to meet in January in the White House after Trump said he should only come if he was prepared to pay for the wall. With talks about the US pulling out of NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) the relationship between Mexico and America have only disintegrated further which has left many wondering if US taxpayers will end up drawing the short straw and footing the majority, if not the entirety, of the bill. Not good, but hardly hopeless.

Prospective Solutions.

While Mexico may not pay for the wall directly that does not, however, mean that they can’t be tapped to furnish it. Such a statement might sound both strange and more than a little ominous but such worries are easily remedied by taking a clear-eyed look at the sheer amount of money which the United States of America lavishes upon Mexico. Currently Mexico receives around $ 320 million a year from the US in foreign aid. A hefty sum by any measure. It would therefore be highly advantageous to the security of the American people to cease funding, in some portion or in sum total, to the arid federal republic. While some may cry that this would only grant further power to the various Mexican drug cartels – of which the Sinaloa Cartel is easily the most influential and hence, the most dangerous – this argument falls relatively flat by its very admission. If Mexico, since the la Década Perdida of the 80s, has been unable to crush the cartels, even with massive foreign aid from the United States, one can scarcely be expected to believe they will solve the problem in the immediate future. Funding Mexico IS funding the cartels. Thus one is left with a rather cut-and-dry binary decision: fund a failing state and its attendant criminal shadow-lords or fund the defense and further prosperity of one’s own nation. The proper choice here is clear.

Retracted foreign aid alone, however, will not cover the wall in its entirety as currently proposed so what other avenues of action could the government take that would circumnavigate the US taxpayer footing the bill? Remittances, of course! This is a highly promising area of inquiry for our purposes as Mexican Remittances alone make up around 2% of the countries total GDP, such payments by Mexicans living abroad generated $ 24.8 billion for Mexico in 2015 alone (which is more than the country generates in sum total from all of their oil reserves). If the President where to place a sufficient tax on this revenue source in conjunction with the surplus funds to be had after retracting foreign aid, the wall would be well on its way. This is to say nothing of the billions which our government could potentially utilize from the seized assets of Mexican drug lords such as the infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Whether or not there is the political will for such a arduous undertaking is, of course, another matter entirely. But as the old adage goes, where there is the political will, there is a way.

It is now lies with us generate that will and foster a return to an era of great public works that, for generations, will reverberate throughout the world. This newest prospective monument should be a codification of our nations strength and pride, of our indelible spirit of industry and order. A signal to noise.

Kaiter Enless is a novelist and a contributing writer for New Media Central & Thermidor Magazine. He is also the founder & chief-editor of The Logos Club. Follow him here.

American Deathscape: The Drug Scourge; Sources & Solutions

There is seldom anything more tragic than a 20 year old with a family, a lover and a bright and promising future being discovered face down in some filthy alley, spittle on the lips, needle in the arm. Yet this is precisely the way that a ever-growing share of America’s youth, the lifeblood of our great nation, are ending up. According to the CDCP (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the past 16 years over 183,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to proscription opioids – and that is only those that are tied to legally traded drugs obtained from pharmacies and doctors; it does not account from those deaths related to illegally traded drugs on the blackmarket or those that are stolen. The opioid crisis is now being called the worst drug epidemic in US history. This is not hyperbole, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in the US and are responsible for the majority of all deaths for Americans under the age of 50. More people have now died from opioids than died during the AIDs crisis of the 1990s. The scourge is so monumental that is has now been estimated that more have died from opioid overdoses in the last 10 years than died during 20 years of of military engagement in Vietnam.

There are a great deal of opioids on the market, both the legal market and the underground bazaars, and even more names from them, including: Captain Cody, Cody, Schoolboy, Doors & Fours, Pancakes & Syrup, Loads, M, Miss Emma, Monkey, White Stuff, Demmies, Pain killer, Apache, China girl, Dance fever, Goodfella, Murder 8, Tango and Cash, China-white, Friend, Jackpot, TNT, Oxy 80, Oxycat, Hillbilly heroin, Percs, Perks, Juice as well as Dillies. However, a couple names stand out from the rest. The proscription pain-killers Vicodin, Oxycotin and Percocet as well as the drug, diamorphine (Heroin) all have had majors roles to play in the drug epidemic but they are not currently the leading cause of death from opioids. That “honor” goes to the high-potency pain-reliever Fetanyl.

Fetanyl is a opiate that is far, far more potent than Heroin – it is 50 times more potent than Heroin and 100 times more toxic than morphine – which is generally used during medical operations that would cause intense pain as a numbing agent as it binds to receptors in the brain and nullifies unpleasant sensation. However, just like with the aforementioned trio of Vicodin, Oxycotin and Percocet, it is also highly addictive. The prevalence of proscription drugs like Oxycotin has led to a vicious cycle of dependency and primal-brain reward-seeking whereby a individual will utilize a drug like Oxycotin or Vicodin, become addicted, find that they cannot afford to fuel their habit legally and then turn to Heroin or black market Fetanyl cut with other substances (often nearly, or just as dangerous substances), because it is much, much cheaper.

Some of the states most hard-hit by the drug-plague include Appalachia, pro-drug Vermont and Washington D.C.

In tandem with the $ 800 billion cut-back to Medicaid proposed by the Trump Administration, the increasing death-toll from the drug crisis has re-ignited a nationwide debate about how often doctor erronously write subscriptions, how often normal people are using and abusing and the extent of various blackmarket and cartel influences as well as what should be done about it all. There has not been much in the way of a coherent answer but several things are imminently clear; firstly, this is a tremendous problem and it certainly is not garnering the attention it so rightly deserves. Additionally, any and all talk of regulations or laws should only ever be a secondary consideration for the core issue here is, initially, personal responsibility. Whilst many conservatives do not do the subject just when they say things like, “Its just a question of willpower,” there is much to this, especially if this is applied to situations where a individual is yet to become an addict. This is axiomatic: if you have not taken or are not yet “hook” on hard-drugs then it is, in no uncertain wise, incumbent, primarily, upon the individual to extricate themselves from the situation and not bow out to hedonism, thrill-seeking or peer pressure. After a given individual has become addicted the equation changes markedly, especially when one is discussion opioids which attach themselves to the pleasure-reward centers of the brain (opioid centers, hence the name) associated with sex, water and food and magnify the pleasure as well as the pleasure-seeking incentive. Physical dependence can theoretically become with sheer willpower but it is so rare that it is irrational for most common people to be expected to accomplish this titian task for it is like asking them to completely cease drinking water or eating food or having a compulsion to copulate only magnified several fold. Therefore, as they say, the best strategy or solution to the problem is prevention but that leaves out all of the individuals scattered across these many United States who are currently addicted to opioids; who are suffering and dejected and hopeless. So what of them? My answer would be either take the government out of it entirely and let the individual communities handle it or have the government take complete control over the situation via a country-wide task-force and a rehabilitation and reintegration program. No half-measures.

Whilst we have here covered the internal national problem of over-subscription of pain-killers there is another worm in the apple which must be discussed; the Cartels. The Mexican Drug Cartels are a huge source of numerous illegal narcotics that are killing our citizenry in record number at record rates. The cartels have a very diverse ranger of goods and services but, to the U.S., they primarily supply: heroin, cocaine and Fentanyl. According to former FBI Director, James Comey, the cartels have increased their production of heroin in Mexico which greatly decreases their reliance on their previous source for the deadly opiate, South America. This greatly reduces the cost incurred to the cartels from shipping which means they can now sell heroin at a much, much cheaper price and devote a greater deal of manpower and resources to primary market distribution. Good news for them, bad news for us. Politicians such as William Brownfield, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the International Narcotics & Law Enforcement Affairs, has stated that a solution to the cartel problem will be complex and require extensive cooperation with Mexico. Whilst I would heartily agree that it would be immensely preferable to acquire extensive aid from Mexico to help stop the cartel’s drugs from flowing into our borders they are basically a failed state that is run by the very people we should be seeking out and destroying. Regardless of whether or not the U.S. can bring on-board whatever fragment of law and order that remains in Mexico, the Cartels must be destroyed, all of them, and the border secured.

If you think such a declaration to be a touch too melodramatic for your liking consider the fact that the Mexican drug cartels kill over 20,000 per year – and that is only through direct violence, it says nothing of the droves of people who have been killed because of the filth which they peddle. Rates of violence in Mexico are currently so high that they well surpass many conflict zones in which the United States is or has been embroiled, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The phrase, “War on drugs,” has always irked me. It is like declaring a, “War on food,” drugs will always be around and in some cases (such as the use of opioids and opiates in the treatment of chronic pain), they should be. But a war must be waged, not on “drugs” but on those who do willfully and maliciously propagate them, on those who push them and those who encourage their use and thereby pollute and corrode the very fabric of our esteemed Republic. It is a war which must be total and absolute.

Kaiter Enless is a novelist, artist and contributing writer for New Media Central and Thermidor Magazine. He is also the founder & chief-editor of The Logos Club. Follow him online here.