Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Narrow Gate

The trumpets cried a familiar song while the purple runner seemed to welcome him. Althalo had nearly forgotten how it felt to stand before a king. The ruler sat motionless as he approached the throne. Although his state of health was in decline his grip upon the scepter remained firm. His gnarled fingers, responsible for dispensing justice today were the very same that killed in justice’s name yesterday. Tales were many, recounting the fierceness of his sword and the loyalty with which he defended this kingdom he now ruled. A thousand times over Althalo wished it were not so, but his respect for the king had much more to do with his rise to power than the royal blood they shared.

Within the wisdom flowing from his father’s gray beard Althalo could find no cause to question the sincerity of his words. As they had always, his words struck with force. Like the magic blade of a sword, swiftly and without conscience separating dreams from obligation. The wall between father and son remained and neither could deny calloused hands from stacking stones. Althalo had discovered what moved his soul and it had nothing to do with serving and ruling a realm.

Althalo stood behind the plow as the horses lunged forward and a final chunk of sod gave way. The smell of freshly turned earth was unmistakably the aroma of independence. At that moment the sun shone brighter and the birds of the meadow sang a sweeter melody. An errant breeze rising from the stream meandered through the forest and took pity on his dusty brow, but like the death of a star the brilliance of his smile faded into darkness. As desirous a moment as it was, none of these things could displace the heaviness of his heart.

The burden stemmed from the separation of brothers. Their paths would never cross and closed eyes should not see the paths wind in opposing directions. While Valdar prepared to take their father’s position as ruler, Althalo yearned for a destiny beyond the safety of castle walls. If roles reversed for but a single day Althalo’s heart should never forgive him.

A lone raven entered the field and lit near him; the sheen of his darkness accompanied by the beating hooves of a stead. It is unclear whether the burden of great sadness was carried upon the raven’s wings or in the messenger’s words, but in the serenity of the field he learned Valdar had succumbed to a fever and the king requested his immediate presence.

Young Althalo stood before his father while he spoke knowingly of a narrow gate, one hidden among the snares and undergrowth. Although many pass by it daily to enter through that which is wide, he insisted this gate was prepared for only one. The fear in his eyes spoke loudly of the danger that lurked there. It was not the fiery breath of dragons Althalo feared, but the responsibility of a kingdom that weighed heavier than plate armor.

When allowed to speak Althalo surprised the court with his response.

“Your majesty, I do not question your words, but suspect it wise to seek counsel with Warez before embarking on a mission of such great importance.”

You must forgive my harried state, but the most troubling thoughts have been swirling in my mind. Althalo did visit me that evening. Please, set those dusty magic books aside and have a seat. Ah, this is more like it—a cup of tea and biscuit should put an end to the unseemly growling of my entrails.

Oh dear, by now you must be convinced you’ve settled among pigs—please help yourself. I am truly grateful for your unexpected visit and perhaps sharing the tale that has me so rattled should be a better use of my time than pacing these small quarters.

My name is Warez, counseling wizard to the king. I believe Althalo’s tale may be greater than any other, but today it remains incomplete. As the rain and fog have settled on this kingdom a dark cloud has settled over my home. He has yet to return from his quest and my worst fear is that he may not return at all.

Sorcery can only take a wizard so far, when the sun sets low in the sky even a wizard cannot escape sleeping with his actions. As you well see, the dark circles shadowing my eyes are the result of wrestling with demons of great decision. I’m certain you will agree Althalo must succeed, for the survival of this kingdom depends on it.

Althalo arrived here as I was about turn in for the night. In fact he sat in the very chair you now occupy. With good manners as his guide, he nibbled at a biscuit. Yet in his hesitation for food I sensed a welling of trouble in his soul. The doubts he aired continue to ring in my head with the great clarity.

“I should never wish to bring shame to my father in front of counsel, but how should I find this path? Will it recognize me or I it? How should I be certain the path is mine? In my absence what words will bring comfort to the fair maiden I am eternally bound to? Will the people of this kingdom accept me as ruler when they have forever expected Valdar?”

Wise beyond his years, Althalo showed great courage by daring to question our ruler and my vision. Regretfully I could only provide a portion of what he sought, as much as the king’s orders would allow me to reveal.

Under the cover of darkness we left the familiar and ventured forth. We approached the tree that bears no fruit, which for centuries has stood guard over and obscures the narrow gate from view. A strange wind swirled overhead and I knew those wishing harm were aware of our movement. Quickly I grabbed Althalo and we took refuge in the shadows, where the remainder of our conversation consisted of hushed voices.

I reminded him of the name Quintara, and his first order of business was to locate her and enlist her services. I gave only a vague description of the three-headed demon that guarded the exit, but emphasized his importance. By whatever means necessary Althalo must sever each of the heads before retrieving the heart. Within the heart lay the answers to all questions; those he posed this evening as well as dilemmas that thwart a king.

I thrust into his trembling hand a fine sword provided by his father, and perhaps saying too much I confided the ruler’s preference for Althalo over Valdar as his successor. As my last words were swallowed by the howling wind and roar of thunder, I opened the gate. Fear of the unknown gripped me as I watched him melt into the darkness, as if I was releasing my own child into the dangers of the world.

In the short time we were together I developed a particular fondness for Althalo. I suspect there will be no resistance once he returns and I shall have no reservation in following our new king.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Scathing Review for ‘The Waiting Room’

OK, so my wife was right about The Waiting Room—I hate it when she’s right. She did confide in me that the story sucked, which was what I had hoped someone would say if they didn’t catch the subtleties I intended, but what she did not do was to ask herself why someone would write such a story and let others read it, which does nothing for my self-esteem, by the way. I’ve re-read the story without the perspective of knowing the subtleties around which I wrapped it. I find that I cannot separate myself from it completely, but feel confident in saying I missed the mark substantially.

Let me explain and perhaps you can suggest where I went astray. The story hinges upon the doctor’s names, which in hindsight is probably one of my mistakes. In Greek, Poneros is defined as ‘evil’; not simply someone who acts to cause pain, but a state of evil that perpetuates itself (the devil) and conversely Soter is defined as savior. If I had been able to plant that seed I think the story would have taken on a different meaning, the one I intended.

In the interest of better writing, and more clearly conveying concepts within a story, perhaps you can suggest improvements.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Waiting Room

Amy Walden could not explain what it was that followed her, only that she was powerless against it. Its presence was undeniable; here in this waiting room and within those that waited. She sensed this place had not suffered forever—only since her arrival. The breath of yesterday had been choked from it. The room exuded bleakness, as if the walls had been painted in reverse; the brush swallowing color and life with every stroke.

She was simply another dark decoration, matching the motif perfectly. Although the consequences had been unintended they were no less inevitable. Everything and everyone Amy Walden touched withered and died. She and the room were one, beaten and broken left to drown in their own sterility while tones of nothingness screeched a chorus of lament.

Amy had been in his care for more than two years. During that time there had been no marked improvement in her condition, but yet his invitation remained open. Dr. Poneros was careful never to claim he could cure her, only that he understood and shared in her misery, and what a wretched existence it was. There was no refuge from the ubiquitous voices that streaked from their hiding places stabbing at the very core of her soul.

To this point Amy had refused their invitation, but perhaps today was made for dance. Although the performance would be anticlimactic it was what the voices demanded. If she gave them what they wanted would they not allow a moments rest?

In something resembling more of a guttural growl than voice, she shrieked.

“Your fucking decorator should be fired!”

She ignored the terse glances of other patients who waited; especially the woman scowling in her direction as she covered her young child’s ears. Without further outburst Amy fished around in her purse momentarily before rising to her feet. In a calm manner she raised her arms overhead and twirled like a ballerina. Open slashes on her wrists lay wide and deep, but she continued to twirl pausing only long enough to render a disconcerting laugh. Only she found the splashes of color against the white pallet pleasing. Amy continued this dance of forfeiture until the nurses rushed to her aid.

That was all she could recall of the disturbance even though it had transpired only hours ago. Dr. Poneros had quickly administered another syringe full of Haldol before bandaging her wrists and placing her in a padded room. If he had spoken to her at all the words were insignificant, but she had remembered the sting of the injection. The doctor claimed they were necessary, but for what she was unsure. The drugs did nothing to inhibit the voices and only incapacitated her so that fleeing was not an option.

Although she could no longer feel the warmth of tears on her cheeks she could hear them as they dripped steadily to the floor. Despite the terrible walls that were required to separate her from the world, she cried out in desperation.

Dr. Poneros smoothed the wrinkles in his lab coat before casually grabbing another patient’s chart, though his nurse stared indignantly at him.

“Dr., aren’t you going to do anything more for Amy?”

He smiled briefly.

“What would you have me to do? She made the decision to come to me and I’ve accepted her. What else is there more to say? Can’t you see there’s a waiting room full of prospective patients? Let’s not lose our objective, nurse. If you have cause to think otherwise, remember that I’m in charge here.”

The receptionist hesitantly poked her head through the door.

“Dr., there’s someone here to see you.”

With a heavy sigh, he asked. “Who is it, now?”

“It’s Dr. Soter.”

He tossed the chart back into the bin and rolled his eyes.

“I don’t suppose I have much of a choice do I? Send him in.”

As the familiar face entered the room Dr. Poneros bristled.

“To what do I owe this unscheduled visit?”

“I’m here to see Amy Walden.”

Through clenched teeth Dr. Poneros responded quickly.

“Amy’s my patient. What do you want with her?”

“She called for me, of course. She has tired of your wicked games and wishes a second opinion.”

Dr. Soter picked up Amy’s chart and reviewed the history for several moments. Although he was troubled at what he saw, he was no stranger to hope. He frowned slightly before drawing near his adversary.

“Dr. Poneros, it’s again obvious why so many years ago I cut you from my team. You’re a renegade and the world would be a far better place without you. Yet we both know that’s not possible and sadly you still serve a need for many, but even you cannot deny her this request. Step aside, and let me see her.”

The heavy door squeaked in protest as it was opened and a stream of light entered the room. Huddled in the corner Amy shuddered in fear, anticipating another injection. The doctor knelt beside her and without introduction began to speak.

“Right now I know you’re suffering intensely and are consumed only with escape. Yet the offer here for escape comes at a very high price; the door you open may bring another lion down upon you.

Amy, give me your hand.”

She placed her hands beneath her legs and adamantly shook her head from side to side.

“You don’t know what you’re asking me to do, Dr.”

He looked at her with compassion filled eyes before extending his hand once again.

“Amy, I know all about your precious child and how terrible it must feel to believe you caused his death. When you held him in your arms and his crying finally stopped, but then his tiny chest failed to rise. I know what a burden that must be, but my dearest Amy, you were not the cause of his death. In fact your love sustained him for as long as he clung to life. That loss, as great as it was, must remain in the past. As you can see I have no fear of you. In my sight you are but a gentle lamb. Prove to yourself that nothing will happen and place your hand in mine.”

Moments later Dr. Poneros could do little but glare as the intruder emerged carried Amy in his arms. It was never more evident that this man represented everything he was not.

“I will be caring for Amy Walden from this day forward. Strike her name from your registry and I will gladly add her to mine.”

Saturday, January 17, 2009


He whisked his laptop from the counter and without even a sideways glance rushed out of the house. Lawrence brushed by his wife’s puckered lips and his son’s outstretched hand. Each of them only required a small slice of time, but as of late his presence came and went like a cold winter breeze.

The bills were piling, his aging home was in need of repair, and his boss routinely barked about prioritizing and productivity. In fact Mr. Sorely had flatly stated that if Larry failed to bring the Gockenour account back with him, he just as well save them both a difficult meeting. He assured Larry his final paycheck would be mailed to his home and if he had any specific questions to contact Human Resources.

He had spent half the night preparing for the presentation, rehearsing the opposition the board might present. He felt confident in his abilities to counter them all. At 1:30 am he noticed his wife had turned out the lamp that sat on the nightstand next to their bed. At 2:03 he suddenly remembered his promise to Lawrence Jr. All the little man had asked was to be tucked-in by daddy and if time allowed a bedtime story. Larry could feel his life slipping away an inch at a time, but once this multi-million dollar account closed the chaos would end. Plenty of time would remain to right all of the wrong turns.

He tapped the face of his GPS repeatedly as the irritating voice insisted he had traveled past his turn. Pulling the car to the shoulder he verified the destination a second time, while it displayed the headquarters for Gockenour Manufacturing it continued to give false directions. “Please make a U-turn to get back on course.” Frustrated, Larry muted the voice and continued to follow the visible route. As he turned on to U.S 30 headed south the voice returned. “Please make a U-turn when allowed—Please make a U-turn now.”

Larry was confounded that the audio had somehow re-enabled itself, and despite logic each time the message was repeated the computerized voice seemed more urgent. The screen flickered and went blank. A not-so gentle thump brought the display back, but instead of the destination being Gokenour his home address flashed on the screen.

Larry turned the unit off and reached for his phone. He would contact Mr. Gockenour’s secretary for directions. The quiet voice on the other ended confirmed he had reached the correct number, but before he had time to identify himself a million pieces of shattered glass pelted him.

His body churned uncontrollably inside the vehicle and nothing could block out the awful sound of crunching metal. Momentarily as the car rolled he could see other vehicles skidded to avoid him. As quickly as it had begun his car rolled one last time and teetered on the roof.

When he opened his eyes he was face to face with oncoming traffic and knew his car must still be on the highway. Larry tried to crawl to the broken window, but his legs were not strong enough. Instead of another failed attempt at escape he fumbled through the debris until he located his phone. With trembling fingers he entered the digits of his own cell number.

His wife had already left for work and was unreachable. In an effort to make her husband less accessible she had the voicemail removed from the home phone and Cheryl had vehemently refused to be tied to a cell phone.

Larry didn’t know the extent of his injuries or what the future held, but the choices were slim. There might be a possibility they would find his cell phone and his wife could retrieve the voicemail he was about to leave.

Each time the raising of his head required more effort. He peered out the window and watched as the onslaught of cars sped towards him and at the last second peeled to one side or the other.

“Cheryl, it’s me baby, I’ve got to be quick. God willing I’ll be able to apologize in person, but if something—something bad should happen, please make room in your heart for forgiveness. I honestly intended on making things up to you, but my time may have run out.”

Larry paused for a moment as the heaviness in his chest grew. Not more than a thousand feet away a large truck crested the horizon.

“In spite of himself, Mr. Sorely is right—I have lost the ability to prioritize. Not my accounts, but my life.”

Nervously he divided his attention between the on coming truck and his important message.

“Please tell Jr. that daddy was a good man, but that he simply screwed up. Make sure he understands there’s no point in forging on when you’re on the wrong path. There’s never any shame in making a U-turn.”

Smoke was pouring from each of the eighteen wheels of the truck, but the proceeding shadow continued to gobble up huge tracks of the road. With all of his might Larry tossed the phone as far as he could. There was nothing left to do but close his eyes tightly and brace for the shock.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Vintage 1990

Sara abandoned her wine, carelessly plopping the glass on the sun-warmed deck, while she watched an unforgettable drama play out on the lake. One of the boats peeled from the others and turned towards the cove. As the driver trimmed the throttle and idled into the no-wake zone, Sara responded to an eerie sense calling her to the railing.

The ragged idling of the engine gave way to voices. The male’s forceful cadence was only occasional interrupted by a nervous giggle from the girl. They remained too far to make out distinct facial features, but Sara knew they were young, likely still in high school. Even the gap separating her from them could not disguise the young girl’s beauty, and despite that distance every detail of the young man appeared menacing as his shadow swallowed hers completely.

Like a threatening sky gives way to lightning his elevated tone and abusive words gained strength. One ugly and unnecessary blow laid the groundwork for his unconscionable desire. Each violating thrust of his pelvis caused more precious blood to trickle from the gash on her forehead. Her golden curls soon turned crimson, but locks can eventually be washed clean. Sara knew the staining of a soul was forever.

Several days passed but vivid details continued to torment. She had mulled them over a million times yet they remained intangible concepts, resistant to grasp and impervious to answers. Even something as innocuous as the wind had also sided with him. Without conscience it carried his victim’s cries of protest to the back of the inlet where they melted hopelessly into the dark woods of the shoreline.

Sara had remained at the railing, frozen like a statue in a painting; cold, lifeless, and fixed. As much as she wished, leaving the canvas was not an option. She simply couldn’t afford the energy to engage another beast. Although she had prayed for them, there were no columns of support flanking her side. The blade of her sword had become thick and her armor had worn thin.

Like the others, this sanctuary had become tainted; the home on the lake, the view, and the deck which rarely spoke, but listened so well. Tomorrow would be a packing day and she would move on once again, but for now Sara turned to the comfort of her wine glass. In the reflection of what remained she saw his face with startling clarity. As if tasting poison she jerked the glass from her lips and shuddered at the stare of his cold grey eyes. Eighteen years removed and she still felt the perpetrator hovering inches above her own broken and partially clothed body. In a dark alley between Brewster Ave and Main, a stranger had stolen all that was good and familiar and left in its place emptiness and despair.

As the sun sank low and the shadows grew long she glanced at the empty glass. In the wine cellar she brushed back the dust and allowed her hand to hover over one section then another. Sara recalled a time when she enjoyed wine and for a moment pretended it made a difference which bottle she selected. The racks contained bottles of the same shape, size, and color. Each a 1990 vintage; the year she disconnected with the hope of feeling nothing at all.