Raveled Sleave

Stumbling from the mouth of the cave, he shaded his eyes from the blinding blast of the harsh sun. It wasn’t enough. Sitting, he closed his eyes, letting the light filter through the lids, slowing seeping in until he could open them a crack and see where he was.

The mountain above was jagged, hard, rocky. Below, down a slope strewn with miniatures of the peak above, was a flat plain.

On the flat plain was a dwelling.

Between him and the dwelling, a small figure sat, doing something on the ground.

He stood, eager to go down. Not because he was curious about what the small figure was doing, but because that figure would see him, speak to him.

The heavy boots he wore were perfect for the terrain, as were the dungarees and light shirt. More than a few sleeps ago he’d stopped wondering about the clothing. It simply was, like everything else in his confusing existence.

“Hello.”

A young girl, more than half his height, but young. Seven, perhaps eight, if he had to put a number to it, but then, how would he know?

“Hello yourself.”

There was another curiosity. Had language never changed? The few people he spoke to understood him, in fact, spoke so exactly like him that he’d begun to assume he was being adapted, somehow, to each successive encounter.

“Are you a stranger? I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

He crouched down, to be on her level.

“I don’t think I’m a stranger, but of course, you should always mind your parents.”

The young girl stood from her play, pushing figurines of animals around in a dusty menagerie.

“Do you want some lemonade?”

“I think I might like that. But still, you should ask your mother—”

“That’s what I’m going to do, silly. I’ll tell her you’re here to play with me, and that we need some lemonade because it’s hot.”

He smiled. “You make sense, young lady. I will wait.”

Shortly, she returned with two glass bottles filled with lemonade. A woman stood in the doorway, drying a plate and smiling.

Yet another unusual thing. Strangers trusted him, as if he wore a special sign from God that he was no danger to them. She simply smiled and went back inside to her cleaning.

He and the little girl moved the animal figurines around in what struck him as outlandish situations and circumstances. Her inexhaustible imagination would have worn him out when he was younger. He wondered at his own immaturity, selfishness. Was it part of the point of his situation, part of the cause, perhaps a remedy?

The lemonade was gone. The animals were, apparently, tired, and needed to be stabled for the night. The sun was, in fact, sinking behind an even bigger mountain across the valley.

He knew, but he asked anyway.

“Do you know what year this is?”

“Course I do.” Her answer sounded like she was saying two different numbers, twenty, and ten.

One-hundred and ten years. A new millennium.

He stood.

“Will you come play with me again tomorrow?”

He wanted to touch her, to ruffle her hair, but he didn’t.

“I’ll see. If I’m still around tomorrow, I’d like that.”

He would not see her again. He knew that. He did not know where he would wake up next. He only knew when.

Then, some child, it was always a child, would answer with another unusual pair of numbers, or rather, the same number twice, twenty-one twenty-one, each sleep a year longer than the previous.

His climb back up to the cave to sleep was the same stillness it always was.


Feet First

He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.

No, what concerned him was the dark surface. It might mean deep water.

It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.

Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.

If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.

The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.

He leaped.

And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.

Head first.


The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.


Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill

My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.

We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.

I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.

I said, “We’re running aground.”

Nothing happened.

I said it again. “We’re running aground.”

Still nothing.

I said, “Hey, we’re running–”

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The Monkey in Menswear

“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.

“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”

“There! That’s him!”

The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.

“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)

“That’s him.”

The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.

“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”

Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”

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