Elemental

Elemental

Standing in the glare of a dozen spotlights, Travis Glass stood with both arms stretched high – his right hand alternately waving and fist-pumping, an ancient Gibson Hummingbird still in his left hand – as ten thousand adoring fans roared with delight. The other members of the band came forward and took a quick bow before melting into the shadows that awaited backstage, leaving Glass alone in blazing colors of light and sound once again. He took a sip of ice water and wiped sweat from his forehead, then all the house lights dimmed  – save one.

Now, with the lone spot on his Gibson and as hushed waves of anticipation broke over the crowd, an ebb of faint, cool blue light just barely asserted a gentle presence on stage as he began humming the opening of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. With his eyes closed he turned to the stars once again and he slowly, almost too quietly began singing, the crowd lost in hopeful adoration as he made his way to the last refrain, then he looked up and waved once again – just as all the lights in the convention center went out.

Helping hands took his Gibson and then his stage manager, with red penlight in hand, guided him through the usual backstage chaos right out to a loading ramp, where she helped Travis into the white limo waiting there for him. His son was already inside – Coke in one hand and a book in the other – but so too was the reporter from Rolling Stone…and right then he realized he’d forgotten all about her. And another silly interview he’d been putting off for weeks had finally come home to roost.

The reporter smiled as he climbed inside – and as he made eye contact with the reporter he watched as her darting eyes roamed around the back of the limo, finally settling on his son, and she seemed to grin a little, assuming she was watching years of easy disdain the boy held for this lifestyle, and probably for his father.

Travis returned her smile and settled into his seat. “Do you need anything, something to drink maybe?” he asked the reporter as the limo pulled out into a heavily falling snow, but in his mind he was still on stage, still lost in the blinding light.

“No thanks,” Brenda Sykes replied, and he could tell she was trying her hardest not to appear starstruck, and that made him laugh just a little. “What’s so funny?” she added – perhaps a little too defensively.

“Oh, it would have to be snowing,” he grinned as the limo turned away from the SNHU Arena and towards Manchester Regional Airport. Pilots waiting in his new Gulfstream G700 would already be starting her engines and heating the cabin, while Carol, his long-time flight attendant, would be getting their evening meal ready to serve as soon as the gears were up. Four hours – give or take – and they’d be home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the reporter would have her interview “in the can” and be on her way back to New York City, or wherever the hell she called home…then maybe, just maybe he’d find enough time to break through the wall of silence he thought his son had put up between them since he’d dropped him off at school last August.

But…something had happened tonight, and Travis Glass was rattled.

While working his way through Stardust he’d felt weightless. Then, in a sudden flash of kaleidoscopic brightness, he’d been flying through trees. Snow covered trees. He’d heard impossible things, animals snarling, wounded creatures crying, then walls of snow covered in blood.

Now, sitting in the back of this limo riding in silence through a winter’s night in New Hampshire, he felt awash in the afterglow of these images. Lucid daydreams, perhaps?

But no, this was different, and he knew it. 

He’d seen these same things thirty years ago, during his first term away at school. That was when the dreams came for him, when the color and the light turned to stories, and then the stories into music. In another flash he realized that all those many years ago he’d been seeing into the recesses of his future, like echoes of words not yet spoken.

+++++

He finished packing his suitcase, the same silver Zero Halliburton he’d arrived with back in August – and that was now almost four months ago – then his roommate said ‘Bye!’ before he bounced down the stairs and out of the dorm to his parents’ waiting S-Class Mercedes. He decided he wanted his new ski boots along for the trip and slipped them into their dedicated boot bag, then Brandon Glass walked down the stairs and over to the visitor’s parking lot over by Chase Hall, and he was dismayed to find his limo hadn’t arrived yet. He pulled out his iPhone and opened Messages and found the latest note from Stephanie – his father’s longtime manager – relaying that the driver had run into some snow on the Mass Pike and would be there to pick him up by four. He checked the time – not quite four yet – so he dumped his suitcase and snarled at all life’s little indignities as he crossed his arms over his chest.

“Did you get the Spengler from the reserve desk, Brandon?” his History teacher, Dr. Phillips said, walking up the steps from the learning center.

“I did, sir,” he replied as his teacher walked up.

“I don’t think you’ll find it too difficult, but if you do just drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do to clear things up.”

“Thank you, Dr. Phillips, and Merry Christmas to you.”

“You too, Brandon. Off to Jackson Hole tonight, right?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, do Corbet’s for me, would you? At least once?” the old man said, grinning while he referred to a notoriously difficult ski run at the top of Rendezvous Mountain.

“Will do, sir!” Brandon wasn’t too surprised that Phillips knew about Corbet’s. Phillips seemed to know everything about just about any subject he confronted.

“Attaboy. Well then, take care and we’ll see you next year!”

“Yessir! Good day, sir!”

“Oh, do you have my number?”

“Will you be at Kravis, sir?”

“Yes, but you’d better take down my cell. I’ll not be answering the house line over the holiday.”

They exchanged numbers and Dr. Phillips strode off to Kravis House just as his limo pulled into the lot; twenty minutes later the big white Lincoln was eastbound on the Mass Pike, headed for the 495 and Manchester, New Hampshire.

+++++

The air-stair dropped down as the limo pulled up to the Gulfstream; Mike Butler – the Gulfstream’s captain – was still up in the cockpit, leaving Liz Carpenter – Travis’ co-pilot – to welcome them on board this evening. The driver carried Brandon’s suitcase and skis up the stairs – no doubt to take a look around – leaving him to carry his own ski boot bag up the stairs, and he did so as he followed the reporter and his father into the Gulfstream’s almost stiflingly hot passenger cabin.

“Carol!” his father barked. “Has Mike been back here? It’s like a sauna back here!”

“I told him, sir! I’ve got some Pellegrino chilling now; would you care for some while we start up?”

“Just bring bottles of the stuff, would you? And what about that smoked salmon?”

“From Duck Trap, sir, as requested,” Carol replied – with more than a little pride. It had taken her several hours on the phone to pull that minor miracle off.

“Excellent. Miss Sykes? Ready for something to drink now?”

“A Campari and soda?” the reporter said, causing both Brandon and Carol to roll their eyes. Ordering a summer drink in the dead of winter was one sure way to annoy his father, and even before the first inane question passed her prettily pouting lips. He looked at Carol, then to his father, who by that point had decided to visit the cockpit; Carol smiled politely and returned to the galley. “Did I say something wrong?” the reported asked, turning to speak to Brandon directly now.

He shrugged. “May I hang up your coat, Ma’am?” Brandon asked quietly.

“What’s with the ma’am thing, kid? You don’t have to talk like that around me.”

Brandon shrugged, again, only now holding out his hand, still waiting for her snow covered coat.

“I’ll get that, Brandon,” his father said as he walked back into the forward passenger cabin. “Why don’t you help Miss Sykes into her seat?”

“Yes, Father.”

Sykes watched this exchange with her reporter’s nose for a good story suddenly twitching, all while handing over her coat to Travis, then while this boy led her to a seat just ahead of the right wing.

“This is a good one,” the boy said. “It’s quiet and smooth up here.”

“And where do you sit?” she asked, feeling him out.

“Me? Oh, I’ll sit up by Carol in the front. That little cabin we passed when we boarded?”

“Carol?”

“The flight attendant?”

“Okay, here we are,” Carol said, as she gently placed Waterford crystal tumblers full of chilled Pellegrino on the folding mahogany table between the facing seats. Travis came and sat facing aft, facing the reporter, picking up his Pellegrino and squeezing fresh sliced lime into the water as he settled into his seat again. The air-stair closed just then and the cabin pressurization sequence began; less than a minute passed before the Gulfstream began taxiing  to the active runway, following a United 737 through the now almost blizzard-like conditions that had suddenly engulfed New England.

“Everyone back there…time to get buckled up,” Captain Mike Butler said over the intercom. “We’re number three to take-off right now, and we’ll be taking off on runway three-five, flying direct to Jackson Hole by way of Detroit and Minneapolis. Just as an aside, we’ll be flying at forty thousand tonight and so above most of this weather, however Jackson is currently anticipating light snow later this evening, but we’ll keep you updated as we get closer to arrival.”

“Miss Sykes?” Carol began as she handed over the Campari and soda to the reporter. “We have you flying out on American at zero eight thirty. We’ll taxi right up to the terminal so you won’t need to worry about ground transfers.”

“Oh? Well okay…that’s really great! Thanks!”

Travis still had his trademark red bandana tied around his forehead, and he yanked this off now, then, to the surprise of the reporter – not to mention Brandon – he pulled off the wig he was wearing on this tour when he performed in front of large audiences, smiling as he removed the soggy mop of hair.

“Surprised?” Travis asked as he took a long pull on his water.

Sykes shook her head. “No, not really. I’ve been at this long enough to realize that things are seldom what they appear to be, at least on first glance. Besides, everyone has been wondering…”

“Well put. A true cynic,” Travis replied. “Well, you’ve got about three hours or so, or until I pass out, so you better start asking your questions now.”

“Well, I know you explained the parameters of all this to my editor, but I wondered…may I ask a few questions about your son?”

“And I thought my manager made that clear. No questions about my family.”

“I was hoping you’d make an exception?”

“I won’t. Anything else, or are we done now?”

Brandon hardly listened to these things anymore. Barely literate reporters straining to find some morsel of scandal among a repeating litany of oft-repeated questions amidst all the mounting detritus left in the wake of all the foundering careers and the mediocre talents, hacks willing to break any and all rules – few of them ever coming face to face with people like his father. An Old School rocker who occasionally dabbled in both country ballads and even a few golden oldies from the forties, his father believed their personal life was strictly off limits – and he made no exceptions. Now, he looked at his father and saw the same opaque mask he’d seen so many times before, a mask that slipped into place when dealing with congenital idiots – this interview already effectively over, and with one more mediocre reporter doomed to return to her office empty handed. The trouble was she didn’t understand that just yet…and she’d keep trying to ask the same vapid questions over and over again for the next four hours.

Travis smiled at her before he took another pull from his glass, just as the Gulfstream turned onto the runway, but then Travis turned and looked out the broad oval window as his jet powered up and hurtled down the snow covered runway…but by then Brandon didn’t quite know what to think. This one was cute, he said to himself, cuter than the norm these days but nothing special, but something felt “off” in his father’s smile so he kind of sat up and thought maybe it was time to pay a little more attention to this reporter and her questions. After all, he’d not seen his father since August, and maybe things had changed – for the better. Even though he was just eleven years old, he was fairly well attuned to such things, though his father’s cancer had come at the worst possible time.

‘Or – maybe I’ve changed,’ the little boy thought.

This Christmas, after all, marked the end of a year marked by endless, painful change. First his mother leaving, just walking out on them with some other guy, then his father getting sick a few months after that. Still, his dad had gone to the Eaglebrook School back in the day and the plan all along had been for Brandon to go there too – when his sixth grade year rolled around, so he’d pretty much been counting on that happening for years. But then his mom had washed up on a beach south of Manzanillo, murdered, and rumors of cartel involvement had soon swirled around the hidden details of her death. Then her new boyfriend had simply disappeared, too, and then the reporters had shown up – in droves. Now the questions never seemed to stop, yet they all seemed to ask the very same questions, time after time.

And soon enough, with his father sick and his mother dead, his life had more or less fallen into the hands of others – to those who basically didn’t care for him in the slightest. They were caretakers being paid to handle him, so he did what came naturally: he rebelled. He’d skied seven days a week last spring, easily running away from the minders who’d been sent to keep an eye on him. He’d ignored his schoolwork. Maids came in to clean his room and he trashed their efforts as soon as they left, turning his part of the house into a sloppy, ransacked mess. He disrespected everyone who tried to “make a connection” with him, because when he realized no one really cared about him he just didn’t care about the world anymore.

But after months of chemotherapy his dad was pronounced cured, so their plans to send him back to school in Massachusetts remained on track, and if pressed he’d have admitted he was kind of excited about the whole thing. Following in his father’s footsteps, after all, seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe now more than ever, because even Brandon knew he’d gone off the rails, and that caring about nothing was a sure path to nothingness.

So they’d flown back to Massachusetts in August and his father had shown him all the places and things he remembered about his four years on the side of the mountain, and Brandon had soaked it all up like a sponge. Still, after his dad left he’d felt homesick for the first time in his life, and he’d cried himself to sleep his first two nights in Kravis House.

But that’s when he’d first met Dr. Phillips.

This was the old man’s second year teaching at the school, a quiet retirement after a long career working for the Department of State. Phillips had worked in Moscow almost his entire career, because, apparently, he had been some kind of wunderkind Russian History student at Dartmouth or Harvard, before heading off to the Fletcher School for graduate studies in diplomacy. Phillips spoke Russian and Latin and, of course, French, and when he wasn’t teaching he was working on a book about his time in Moscow.

Phillips was thin as a rail and not at all tall, but he seemed to have been fashioned from a block of solid steel. He was tough as nails, and one rumor had it that he’d worked with the CIA more than once over the years, but if that was true Dr. Phillips wasn’t talking. The old man had close-cropped steel gray hair, wore round steel rimmed glasses, and never left Kravis House without a bright red madras bow tie knotted smartly under a white button-downed oxford cloth shirt. And, of course, he wore khakis or gray flannel slacks above his old dusty white bucks. He was Ivy, through and through.

Yet perhaps Dr. Phillips had seen something in the boy, because he helped Brandon pick up the pieces and really get into his new life at Eaglebrook, and after the last nine months the boy doted on this new brand of attention. Not to make too fine a point about the matter, but the truth was far simpler than even that, because no one had ever paid so much attention to Brandon. Not his mother, not his father, nor even any of the dozens of musicians or managers who had coursed through their lives on an almost daily basis. Maybe because Dr. Phillips had never married and so had never had any kids of his own, or maybe because their lives were similar in other ways Brandon could only guess at, yet for some reason there was a real connection between the old diplomat and the singer’s spoiled son.

Dr. Phillips pushed the boy academically, of course, but he was around to push him to take responsibility for his personal spaces, too – something the boy had never had to do before. Sure, Phillips was one of the House “Masters” and that was part of his job, yet Dr. Phillips had a way of making Brandon want to succeed…or, to put it another, much more important way, from almost their very first day together Brandon didn’t want to let Dr. Phillips down. As a matter of fact, after a month in his new home he didn’t want to let anyone down. And so, for the first time in his life, Brandon buckled down and got to work.

Then the word was out. He heard about his dad’s latest tour – his return to the concert stage in support of a new studio album due to be released just in time for Christmas – but then he learned his dad wouldn’t be able to pick him up for Thanksgiving vacation in November – because of conflicts with new tour dates out west. He’d been disappointed, of course, but his roommate’s family had invited him to stay with them out on Martha’s Vineyard – and, by the way, he’d kissed his first girl out there on the dunes by the Head, so that part of the vacation wasn’t a total loss, was it?

Then it was back to school studying for end of term exams – and skiing when enough snow fell on the hill, always counting the days until Christmas break – because that was when his dad was coming to pick him up, and then he could go home again.

But where was home, really?

+++++

The Gulfstream gathered speed and lifted into the night; Carol brought plates of smoked salmon – hand delivered by a courier who had driven down from Maine and delivered it to her just minutes before the limo arrived – smiling despite the anxiety she’d felt for hours that day after her first attempts for a smooth delivery had fallen apart. The reporter sipped her Campari, realizing she’d overstepped her bounds and was now desperately trying to figure out a way to regroup.

Brandon looked out over the wing as it loaded and flexed, the strobes out there on the wingtips pulsing in blowing clouds of snow as the jet began a gradual turn to the northwest. There was, he soon realized, nothing to see out there so he pulled his book from his carryon and turned on the reading light.

“What are you reading?” the reporter asked – now a little too contritely.

Brandon held up the book so she could see the cover.

“The Decline of the West?” she read aloud. “What on earth is that about?”

“Miss Sykes?” his father sighed. “Please – ask me your questions, not my son…okay?”

“Right. So, tell me about your new album…”

Brandon pulled his AirPods out and slipped them in his ears, then he opened Music and found his favorite playlist. He took a bite of salmon and read a few pages, stopping to highlight a few dense passages he was having trouble with before eating a little more. Carol came by and refilled his glass and he thanked her – causing her to smile just a little – before he resumed reading. There was a screen on the forward bulkhead that was a rich moving map display, showing their position over the United States as well as their course, speed, altitude, and outside temperatures, both up here and at their destination, and Brandon looked up and noted they were already coming up on Montreal and almost at their cruising altitude. He looked at his father; he seemed perturbed one moment then easy going the next, and he thought it kind of looked like the reporter was trying to push all his father’s buttons…so he covertly pulled an AirPod out of one ear and began listening…

But wait! Dr. Phillips had told their class about just this kind of thing, hadn’t he? Always keep your opponent off balance, never let them get comfortable – unless that comfort is just an illusion, another part of your plan. Keep them guessing, never let your adversary know what your true objective really is…

So, was this reporter smart enough to play the long game?

He looked at her again and instantly knew the answer to that one. No…she was crossing and uncrossing her legs, flashing thigh and trying to distract his dad with casual references to illicit dalliances she’d recently covered. Little did she know…his old man was immune to that stuff – because he’d seen it all before, right? Wasn’t that what his father always said about people like this? They always take the easy way out? No integrity – and nothing more to them beyond simple laziness?

Yet he found that idea kind of funny right now. Before Dr. Phillips’ class he’d really had no idea what his father was talking about…but not now. Now…everything made sense…you just had to know what to look for – and you had to learn how to listen while you watched. To really listen. Not just to the words spoken, and not just to the way the words were spoken, but to the context of the conversation. Words without context produced illusion, Dr. Phillips had told them time and again, and only second-rate politicians – and tabloid reporters, apparently – routinely trafficked in such things. 

“So tell me what’s new about this latest tour,” the reporter continued. “When did you realize you’d be strong enough to pull something like this off?”

Brandon looked into the window, into his father’s reflection, the image he saw in glass as he listened. His father seemed to look at him for a moment, like he was gathering his thoughts.

“I’m still not sure I’m strong enough, Brenda, but I felt like I was losing my boy. Like I’d lost control after his mother left us, and then, after my diagnosis. Then all that crap down in Mexico went down and things just spiraled completely beyond my reach. I needed help, and I knew where my mother turned when she needed help. Eaglebrook.”

“That was after your father passed, right?”

“That’s right.”

“You had a reputation for being a hell raiser in college, didn’t you?”

“That’s probably true, but I’ll never admit it.”

“Do you think there’s something about being a musician that goes with the territory?” 

“Maybe for some people that’s true. It probably was for me in college, but not while I was at Eaglebrook.”

“Is your son a musician?”

“Nope. Zero interest, as it happens.”

“So…if it wasn’t your parents, who really got you into music?”

“A guy at Eaglebrook. Duncan Sheik, if you must know.”

“Really? You know him?”

“Yeah. He was a couple forms ahead of me but already a decent guitarist, and not so bad on the keys, as I recall. I started on the guitar after my dad passes, and while Duncan was around, and then I followed him to Andover. Bright guy.”

“You seem like the exact opposite of Duncan.”

“That’s because I am. I was the nasty, rebellious one, remember?”

“Do you still keep in touch?”

His father shook his head. “Nope. Two ships that passed in the night.”

Brandon slipped the AirPod back in and picked up his phone, pulling up Sheik’s music as he continued looking out the window. Big hits like Barely Breathing, Rubbed Out, and She Runs Away popped up, as well as some recent work on Broadway and Hollywood rounding out an interesting playlist, so he wondered why his dad had never mentioned this Sheik guy before. Maybe there was something there? Or not? Who knew, right? 

They were above the clouds now and at this altitude the stars were bright, almost elemental, and then he caught a glimpse of green and purple curtains slicing across the sky just above the horizon. An aurora? He cupped his hands over his eyes, trying to block stray light, then he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder.

“What’s up, Buddy?” his father asked, now close, now leaning over his shoulder.

“I think I see an aurora out there, Dad.”

“No kidding? Carol, could you turn down the cabin lights, please?”

As the lights dimmed the three of them gathered by the windows, and as their eyes grew used to the cool glow of night a faint curtain of green appeared – faraway at first but then it seemed to explode, suddenly covering half their field of view.

“Whoa!” Travis sighed. “That was huge!”

“Look, Dad! The sky is turning purple!”

“Holy crap!” the reporter cried. “Is this right? I mean…it can’t hurt us, can it?”

“No,” Travis replied, “but if you like I’ll go ask the captain and see if there are any issues being reported.”

“Mind if I go with you?” she asked.

“No, not at all. Buddy, hold down the fort, would you? I think dinner is coming up in a minute.”

“Okay, Dad.” He watched them go forward before he turned back to the oval framed sky, now utterly amazed at the intensity of the ongoing display…

+++++

“Geesh…there it goes again!” Liz Carpenter said as she looked out the cockpit windshield to the north.

Captain Mike Buttler leaned forward and looked up into the dome of the sky, at first shaking his head – then looking at the NAV display. Nothing. No anomalies, not even a flicker on the huge central display, but then again all new Gulfstreams were hardened against EMP so there wasn’t much to worry about, was there? 

Then…a knock on the door…

“Come on in!” Liz said after she opened the cockpit door.

“Mike?” Travis said as he stepped into the cockpit. “You catching all this stuff in the sky?”

“Yessir. So far nothing to it, and remember, these birds are hardened so there’s not much to worry about.”

“But what about the GPS satellites?” the airhead reporter from Rolling Stone Magazine asked. “I thought big CMEs can take out anything in orbit.”

“And you know this how?” Travis asked, grinning.

“I interviewed some folks on the ISS last year. That’s their number one worry.”

“Check it out, Mike,” Travis commanded, his voice full of authority now.

“Yessir. Y’all take a seat and buckle up. If anything new comes along we’ll let you know ASAP.”

Travis turned to Carol; she was coming forward after dropping off dinner at Brandon’s seat. “Oh, good, let’s get dinner wrapped up, Carol. There’s some unusual activity up in the sky tonight.”

“Yessir. Ribeye steaks and lobster salad tonight, sir. Will that be alright, Miss Sykes? The lobster is fresh, came from Beale’s in Southwest Harbor this morning.”

“Yes, that sounds wonderful. Thanks so much…”

As Travis took his seat he noted that Brandon was still reading Spengler – while he ate, and for some reason this made him smile.

+++++

“We’ll be coming up on Minneapolis in a few minutes,” Butler said, “but we should be seeing more light beneath those clouds.”

Detroit Center had suddenly gone off the air ten minutes ago, and now they couldn’t raise Minneapolis Center, either.

“Try the tower at GRB,” Butler added. “One eighteen seven, I think.”

“Got it,” Carpenter said as she changed frequencies on the COMMs panel. “Green Bay Tower, Gulfstream two-two-niner on one-one-eight point seven? Green Bay Tower, Gulfstream two-two-niner on one-one-eight point seven, do you read?”

Nothing. Not even static.

“Okay,” Butler sighed. “Looks like COMMS are down along with the power…”

“What about backup generators?”

Butler shook his head. “Anything with a microchip will be down for the count.”

“Jesus, Mike, that means…”

“Yeah. Shit City. Try Green Bay’s ATIS…see if that’s up?”

Carpenter looked it up in her Jepps – because her iPad was now down, too. “Okay…124.1, got it,” she said as she entered the new frequency – but once again all they had now was pure, unbroken silence.

“Okay,” Butler sighed, “let’s go Old School. Enter the VOR for MSP, would you?”

“Seriously?”

“Yup. Most of ‘em were hardened back in the sixties, so they might still be up.”

“Okay, got it…entering one fifteen three.”

Butler changed the NAV screen from RNAV to VOR and he watched the familiar needle swing as he dialed in his estimated heading on the panel.

“It’s working!” Carpenter cried.

“Damn straight,” Butler replied, grinning as he pulled up the DME readout. “Old School is Best School. Hundred and thirty miles to go.”

“You wanna land there?”

“Hell, no. Every heavy in the area will be trying to put in there right now, and with no ATC I smell a clusterfuck.”

“So…?”

“We keep heading for Jackson Hole. If they’re socked in we’ll hop over the Tetons to Idaho Falls.”

“So I…”

“Need to line up all our VOR freqs and dig out the plates for both Jackson and Idaho Falls.”

“Got it.”

“And keep your fucking cool on, would you? You’re a fucking professional now. You reading me?”

“Loud and clear, sir.”

+++++

“Brandon, you look exhausted,” his father said, standing up after Carol had cleared away their meals. “Why don’t you head aft and catch a couple hours of sleep?”

Brandon caught the tone in his father’s voice – this wasn’t a question, it was a command – so he grabbed his phone and his book bag and followed his dad to the bedroom in the far aft cabin. 

“Get settled in here, in the big chair, and get strapped in – just in case.”

“What’s going on, Dad?”

“The aurora. It’s a storm of some kind…”

“A CME,” Brandon added helpfully.

“That’s right. Well, the power appears to be out in a bunch of cities and the GPS satellites are down, too, but older radio navigation systems are still working so we’re going to try for Jackson Hole.”

“Makes sense, but isn’t it supposed to be snowing there?”

“Yeah, but Mike says there are lots of options once we get in the area.”

“So…why do you want me back here?”

“Statistically, this is the safest place to be…if something happens.”

“Okay, so grab a pillow and come on back and stay with me.”

“I will, when we get closer. I don’t want Mike to have to come all the way back here unless he has to.”

“Okay,” Brandon said, trying his best not to sound disappointed. “How’s the interview going?”

“Decent. I wouldn’t have bothered but I need all the help I can get for the new album.”

“I understand, Dad.”

“I know. You’ve always been one step ahead of everyone, Buddy. I hope you know how proud I am of you. Those mid-term grades were something else.”

Brandon nodded. “I like it back there, Dad. Funny thing, though. I knew I would.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not really sure, Dad. It was like…kind of a feeling I had last spring, after all the stuff in Mexico. Like everything was going to be okay if I could just hang on.”

“And are things better now?”

“Yeah. You know, I think they are. I feel different. I have ever since I got to school.”

His father nodded. “Like turning the page and finding a whole new story waiting for you, right?”

“Yeah. How’d you know?”

“Been there, done that. After my dad died I felt like everything was going to fall apart, and your grandmother wasn’t exactly a big help.”

“She is kind of flaky, Dad.”

“Man, you got that right, Buddy.”

“She’s coming for Christmas, isn’t she?”

Travis nodded. “Yup.”

“I love her cinnamon rolls.”

“Can’t have Christmas without ‘em, Bud.”

“It’ll be great, Dad. You’ll see.”

“It’ll be great to be together again. All of us.”

They looked at one another for the longest time – as if each was afraid to be the first to say ‘Goodbye,’ then his father turned and made his way back up to the cockpit.

“I love you, Dad,” the boy said to the empty space where his father had just stood.

+++++

“Looks like the ceiling is at about twenty or so,” Liz Carpenter said as she eyed the cloud deck below the descending Gulfstream. “Dense air…so probably going to ice up pretty quick.”

“Go ahead and set bleed to the edges and the nacelles,” Butler said calmly.

“Leading edges and nacelles, set and checked to on.”

“NAV One to 115.4, NAV Two to 117.2. Hopefully we’ll get a localizer off the MLS.”

“One to fifteen four and two to seventeen two. Want me to try ATIS at JAX?”

“Won’t hurt. And try Idaho Falls again.”

“Got it. That’s 135.3?”

“135.325…”

“Jesus, Mike…how do you remember all those freqs?”

Butler just grinned, then looked at their airspeed and dialed it down to 270 kts before he extended the speed-brakes.

“Okay, still nothing at JAX, trying IDA now…”

“Okay. let’s set two-niner-niner-five now…speed to 2-7-0,” Butler said as the Gulfstream entered the cloud-deck…

+++++

“Whoa! Bumpy!” Brenda Sykes yelped as the jet entered the clouds.

Travis smiled. “Air gets pretty roiled the closer you get to the mountains.”

“So nothing unusual, right?”

“You don’t fly much, do you?”

“Only when it’s completely unavoidable.”

Travis chuckled. “Got it.”

The bottom dropped out for a moment and Sykes almost screamed, and that made Travis laugh out loud. 

“Think of it like a roller coaster ride,” Travis added. “Just hang on and grin through it!”

“Grin. Right. Why didn’t I think of that?!”

The strobes were pulsing now, the cabin lights dimmed in preparation for their approach into Jackson Hole, and suddenly the strobes were casting weird little shadows all over the cabin. Sykes thought they looked a little like Halloween goblins dancing on the ceiling…

Deep inside the starboard engine pylon, a microprocessor controlled valve failed. Hot air from the right engine’s high pressure turbine, hot “bleed air” meant to keep the right wing and engine nacelle free of ice, simply did not make it to the wing or the right nacelle, and as the Gulfstream dropped deeper into the marginally warmer yet much denser air just east of the Teton range, ice began to form along the leading edge of the jet’s right wing and horizontal stabilizer. A minute later ice began forming around the leading edge of the right engine’s nacelle, and by that point ice began forming on the top of the Gulfstream’s right wing. In the cockpit Mike Butler first notice this as a little heaviness in the aileron response.

“Turn on the ice lights,” he said quietly.

“Lights on. Looking.”

Butler turned and looked at the leading edge of the left wing. “I’m clear left.”

Carpenter could barely make out the ice now, but there was enough to make her instantly sick to her stomach. “Heavy ice right…repeat…heavy ice right.”

“Cycle the switch!”

“Cycling!”

The Master Caution light blinked yellow, and the audible alarm started beeping. “Kill the alarm,” Butler said, though again his voice still as calm as could be. “Losing aileron control.”

“Alarm off.”

“Set power to TOGA, clean the wing,” Butler said – just before the Master Warning alarms went off. “Okay, fire in two, pull the bottle.”

Ice that had built up on the right engine’s nacelle was breaking off now; large chunks of heavy ice crashed through the high bypass blades and into the “hot box” – causing an immediate, and catastrophic, engine failure. Molten fragments of fan blades ripped through aft cabin, severing hydraulic lines and fiber optic cables, including the engine control cables controlling the undamaged left engine.

“Okay, we’re dead stick now. Deploy the RAT,” Butler said, his voice beginning to crack a little. The Ram Air Turbine was a small propeller like probe that could be deployed to provide a little power to the batteries, and so help keep vital systems up and running, so at least the cockpit instruments were still functioning – for now, anyway – but the ship was now losing altitude…rapidly. “We’ll ice up pretty quick now, but at least we won’t be asymmetric much longer.”

“We’re over the east side of Yellowstone now…maybe we can make the highway.”

“Man…I hope so. Lot of fucking bears down there.”

“A lot of trees too, Mike…”

“Yeah? Well, there are rocks in these clouds, and with GPS out we’ve lost GPWS.”

Carpenter nodded and looked at her sectional. “12-6 on the east side of Yellowstone Lake, 10-7 around the south shore,” she said, noting their altitude was now fifteen thousand and dropping at eleven hundred feet per minute. “We might clear the eastern rim, but…”

“Yeah Liz, I hear you. You better head aft and stay with Travis.”

“I’m not leaving you alone up here, Mike.”

“That wasn’t a request, Liz. Get back there, now.”

“No.”

Butler picked up the intercom and thought of what he needed to say. “Travis, we’re going down somewhere in the area around Yellowstone Lake, maybe a little east of that area, but we may go down in the trees. In case we do, y’all need to get in the brace position, and Carol…go ahead and arm and cross check then get strapped in. We’ll be on the ground in about three minutes…maybe four…”

+++++

“Are we going to crash?” the reporter from Rolling Stone cried.

“Sure sounds like it to me,” Travis Glass said, standing to go aft and check on his son.

But Carol stopped him. “Sir, you need to get in your seat and strap in really tight…”

“But…”

“I’ll go check on Brandon, sir.”

“Okay.”

Carol made her way through the darkened cabin and got to Brandon just in time to check that his seatbelt was secure…

“Trees outside now, maybe a couple hundred feet down,” he said, his eyes apparently fixed on the world beyond this little insulated cocoon. “You better get strapped-in.”

She sat down across the aisle from the precocious eleven year old boy she’d known for most of his life, and not knowing what else to do she reached out and took his hand, then she turned and looked at him.

“It’ll be okay,” the boy said as he turned to meet her eyes – and she basked inside the warmth of his oddly reassuring smile, and the kindest eyes she’d ever seen in her life. “Don’t worry. No matter what happens, I’ll be around to take care of you.”

+++++

He was on top of Rendezvous Mountain, not far from the upper gondola terminal and skating over to the top of Corbet’s Couloir on a beautiful, sunshiny day – then he was over the lip and falling…falling…always falling…

…then – and quite suddenly – he was very cold…

He opened his eyes and nothing made sense. This wasn’t Jackson Hole, and this sure wasn’t Corbet’s! He looked around, recognizing some things – but not others.

Like the oval window by his side. That was recognizable, but nothing else was.

Then he heard someone moaning, then softly crying.

Carol? Was that Carol?

He reached for his seatbelt but realized – too late – that he was hanging almost upside down in his seat, because when he released the buckle he fell into the bulkhead at the forward end of the cabin, then he tumbled to the other side of the aft cabin.

“Are you alright?” Carol asked – between gasps.

“I think so. What happened?”

“We’re down…somewhere in the trees.”

“Geesh. How are you?” he asked.

“Something’s wrong with my legs,” Carol said, “so maybe I hurt my my spine. Anyway, I can move my arms a little, but that’s about it.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Just a minute or two, I think. I hate to ask, but could you check on your father, and see if Mike and Liz are okay?”

Brandon tried to stand and a sharp stabbing burn almost made him double over when he took a deep breath. “Oh, shit…something’s not right…”

“Like what?”

“It hurts to breath, for one thing.”

“Don’t move your torso if you can help it. Probably a broken rib.”

“Shit.” He stood upright and took another, shallower breath and nodded. “Okay. That wasn’t so bad.” He sniffed the air, his nose reacting to the pungent smell of something like gasoline. “What is that smell?” he asked.

“Jet fuel,” Carol said. “If there’s a fire outside you may need to get out of here in a hurry.”

He turned and looked at her, their eyes holding onto the moment for quite some time, then he nodded once and turned for the bulkhead, suddenly realizing that he was, more or less, walking one the ceiling. “I’ll go check on Dad.”

The bulkhead door was jammed shut, and he had to ram into it with his shoulder a couple of times to get it to budge even a little, then he remembered his skis. They were in the aft baggage hold, and he could get to that area through the little door behind the shower compartment.

“Be careful,” Carol said as he walked up the ceiling.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Okay.”

He made it to the aft bulkhead in the dim, battery powered light and opened the door to the aft baggage hold, only to find the entire tail section had been ripped clean away – and now there was nothing to be seen other than snow falling through towering pines. It was, however, about a ten foot drop down to the snow, so if he went down this route he’d not be able to get back in – at least not this way. There was, however, a large orange case mounted to the wall – and the case was clearly marked “EMERGENCY” in bold, black stenciling, and he smiled. He nodded once and released the case from its webbing, then carried it back into the relative warmth of the cabin, taking care to close the aft bulkhead door on his way back to Carol.

“The tail’s gone,” he said as he put the case down, “but I found this.”

Carol smiled hopefully. “Good. There are two small EPIRBs in there; they should be right on top.”

“EPIRBs? You mean those locator beacon thingys?”

“Right.”

“But…don’t those rely on satellites?”

“Oh, shit…you’re right,” she said, just as quickly looking more than a little depressed.

“Oh well, it won’t hurt to fire one up, will it?” 

“I don’t know. The batteries last around five days, so maybe we’ve got ten days total.”

“What else is in here?” Brandon asked as he opened the case and took out the small locator beacons, setting them aside for later.

“Survival food, two tents, an axe, a stove…all kinds of stuff like that. There should be two life rafts back there, too, but they won’t do us much good.”

“They have inflatable canopies?”

“I don’t know, why?”

He nodded as he picked up a small, titanium axe from inside the orange the case. The edge, he noted as he removed it, was razor sharp, so he carefully put the axe back in its scabbard, then he saw a pry bar and pulled it out.

“Et voila!” he shouted as he held up the tool like it was the first prize ribbon he’d just won at a science fair. “Perfect!” he said as he turned to the jammed door on the forward bulkhead. It took about a minute to pry the door free, but he soon found this entire end of the fuselage was buried deep in snow so he turned back to the case.

It was almost too dark to see things but he felt some plastic wrapped sticks and pulled one free. “Good. A light stick,” he said absentmindedly as he snapped the stick, starting the chemical reaction that would produce light for about four hours, and soon the cabin was suffused in a cool blueish-green glow.

“You look like a mad scientist,” Carol said, smiling, “or maybe a vampire!”

“Bwah-ha-ha,” Brandon said, doing his best Bela Lugosi. “I vant to suck your blood!”

“I see you’ve had practice at this,” she added as he pulled a little collapsable camping shovel from his new goody bag.

“Time to get to work,” he said as he expanded the shovel’s handle.

“Do you know what time it is?” she asked.

“I dunno. Best guess…maybe one or two in the morning?” he said before he turned to wall of snow. At least, he said to himself, it wasn’t too cold in here. Yet.

+++++

The sun had been up for a couple of hours when he took his first real break, but by then he’d set up both tents as well as both life rafts. He moved what supplies he could into one raft because that space looked more secure – in case grizzlies came looking for food. He gathered all the blankets and pillows he could find and put them in the other raft, then he helped Carol out of her seat. She could stand – a little – so maybe her back was okay, and he helped her make her way out onto the snow.

“Wow, Brandon! This is amazing!” she said as she took in his camp. He’d made a stairway up out of the cave he’d hollowed out when he’d cleared snow away from the bulkhead, and he’d somehow flattened the snow – by stomping it with his feet, she guessed – in order to set up the tents and rafts on level ground. Then she looked at his shoes. “Brandon! Your feet are soaked! We need to get your feet dry and warmed-up or you’ll have frostbite in no time at all.”

“If I can find my boot bag, I’ve got some Smartwools stuffed in my ski boots.”

“It was up by the air stair last time I saw it, Brandon. Have you seen any other signs or parts of anything else around here?”

He shook his head, but he pointed to the trees. “It won’t be hard to find,” he said, his voice trembling with fear. “There’s a debris trail over that way.”

“What size shoes do you wear?” she said, quickly realizing she needed to change the subject.

“About a nine, nine and a half. Why?”

“Back in the coat closet, down on the floor. See if my blue Rossignol bag is still there. I’ve got my Merrills and some socks in there, and one of those North Face parkas. You know, the kind that stuffs down into its own pocket?”

He climbed up the steep incline and found her bag, then carried it down to her. “Here you go. Need a hand?”

“No, I got it. You take the parka. It’ll fit you good enough, and see if you can get into those Merrills. They’re Gore-Tex, so your feet will warm up fast in there.”

“Okay, but let’s get you into a raft first. It’s got an insulated floor so it ought to be warmer than those tents. You need help getting in?”

She nodded. “Yeah, I think so. Everything feels stiff, and my belly hurts, too.”

“Lift up your shirt,” he asked, and he looked her over front to back then nodded. “Looks like the seat belt burned you a little. I don’t see any bleeding, so you should be okay. Your hands and arms feel better now?”

“Yeah. Just stiff.”

“Okay, let’s get you inside now…”

+++++

He found the remnants of the cockpit first, several hundred feet away in the trees.

And he could tell no one could have possibly survived such a devastating impact.

He made his way into the crumpled aft section of this part of the fuselage and pushed his way through the wreckage to the cockpit door – which was wedged firmly in place though about halfway open. He stuck his head in and immediately pushed back, trying not to get sick as he fought for breath. After a few minutes he turned and found his boot bag, then he found his skis wedged inside the coat closet and he grabbed those too, then he stopped in the galley.

The fridge was still on! Battery power, maybe? He opened the door and found racks of smoked salmon and three lobsters all in individually sealed bags, as well as a dozen ribeye steaks, again, all perfectly sealed so for all intents and purposes odor free – until opened, that is. He closed the fridge door quickly, doing everything possible to preserve the contents, then he grabbed his bags and trudged back to the camp.

He found Carol fiddling with the Iridium sat-phone stuffed in the emergency case, but he could tell by the look on her face she’d come up empty, at least so far.

“I wonder if they’ll have to replace all the satellites taken out by the storm?” she said to no one in particular, as he clambered into the raft.

“No clue,” he said, “but I found all that salmon and stuff in the fridge, and for some reason the thing is still on.”

“Yeah. Separate battery bank under the galley floor, in case the APU goes out. It’ll keep things cold for forty eight hours, maybe longer in this cold.”

“Okay, well, then we got food,” Brandon said, smiling just a little, “and lots of it!”

“Did you find anyone?”

He nodded. “The guys up front…they didn’t make it,” Brandon sighed, and he was stunned by Carol’s reaction. She burst out in tears and fell over against the side of the raft, obviously taking this loss quite personally.

“Oh…God, no…not Mike,” she sighed. “His wife is sick and she doesn’t have anyone else…”

Brandon leaned over and placed a hand on Carol’s shoulder. “Sure she does,” he said gently. “She’s got us.”

She nodded. “Did you find your father…or that reporter?”

“No, not yet. I wanted to come back and check on you, see if you need anything. I’ll head back out if you’re okay.”

“There’s some bottled water…you know, the plain stuff in plastic bottles…in the cabinet under the microwave. You might bring a couple of those when you come back.”

“Okay. Steak and lobster sound good for dinner?”

She laughed, and that caused him to feel like smiling for the first time since he’d seen the last crumpled bits of fuselage wedged deep inside a rocky gully. He knew he’d have to find a way down there in order to find his dad, but deep inside he already knew what he was going to find there. He swallowed the bile rising in his throat as he climbed out of the raft and put his ski boots on, then he grabbed his poles and stepped into his skis before skating off into the trees.

+++++

He eventually made it down into the gully, but he’d had to change back into Carol’s Merrill hiking boots to do it. He trudged through waist deep snow to finally gain this grated fragment of the Gulfstream’s fuselage, and once he pushed his way through the packed snow he looked through the dim, tree-filtered sunlight to his father’s seat. Everything he saw was shattered…the fabric covered ceiling, the wood paneled walls and light sconces – and the four facing chairs – and when he climbed up to his father’s seat he eventually found the body under shards of aluminum and carpet.

“Oh…God…no,” he sighed, without realizing he’d just repeated Carol’s words as she’d come to terms with Mike Butler’s death, and if only because ‘oh, God’ wasn’t something he said with any regularly, or ever, he caught himself. Why had he said that? He wasn’t religious, and neither was his father – or at least he hadn’t been. Now, however, beseeching a divine creator seemed like a wholly appropriate thing to do, at least, given the circumstances he thought it might be.

He stepped closer still and saw that the reporter’s body was unrecognizable – even her face was a wreck – so he turned back to his dad. Blue skin about his face and neck, coagulated bits of blood and flesh everywhere, one leg bent under the body at an impossible angle – all of it, everything he saw filling him with a sadness he simply couldn’t find words for.

He leaned against the jumbled remnants of one of the seats with a hand, then kind of sat there for a while trying to think of all the things he’d wanted to talk to his father about over the holiday…and then it hit him. He’d never talk to his old man – not ever again – and an enormous emptiness filled his chest, an inrushing gush of energy that left him feeling almost breathless and suddenly quite alone. 

He looked down at his watch and thought he saw a shadow move somewhere while he thought about his father and Mike and Carol, then he remembered – ‘Ah…oh, yes, Carol wanted me to bring back some bottled water…’ he reminded himself before he turned to make his way back out of the wreckage into the snow.

The wolf was huge, it’s impressive face massive – and it was way too close. Amber eyes were locked on his, and in the shadow of his next heartbeat Brandon Glass knew his life was over. Just as simple as grinding canines ripping into the soft flesh of his neck, he might have time to take another breath – or he might not…because the wolf had him dead to rights, cornered and with no way out, because the only weapons he happened to have handy were a bad attitude and some harsh language.

Then, not knowing what else to do, he turned around and walked back to his father.

“Well, fuck,” he sighed, “I might as well die with you, father…” 

He sat down as close to his father as he could and looked at the wolf, watching and waiting for the inevitable.

Then the wolf looked down and made his way toward Brandon, slowly, carefully, and obviously limping, as the wolf’s left hand had been, apparently, recently injured. It walked up to Brandon and stopped, then the massive animal looked down at the shattered remains of the humans sprawled out down there in pools of drying blood before it looked at the boy again. The wolf took one more step towards Brandon and sniffed the boy’s face, then it leaned down and sniffed all around Travis Glass, then around the reporter’s body.

It stepped back and sniffed the boy again, then it whimpered once – before it licked the side of Brandon’s face.

The boy broke down and began crying, really crying, because for some reason this creature knew what he was feeling.

He looked up a moment later and saw the wolf had moved back to the opening, but it was waiting there. Waiting, apparently…for him.

“What is it, fella?” Brandon asked.

The wolf looked at him, then looked to some faraway place out in the trees.

“Okay, I’m coming.”

He made his forward and the wolf stepped out onto the snow, though obviously still waiting for him, and when he stepped out into the sunlight the wolf resumed walking again, though it was still limping a little. He followed the animal through a thick stand of trees, and he saw first one dead wolf, then two more – crushed by parts of the aircraft as it had broken apart, at least by the look of things – until they came to one of the Gulfstream’s severed wings. The wolf led him around the bent and folded metal until they came to a female pinned to the snow under the wing…

…and then he heard them…

Several very small pups, now slowly freezing to death in the snow while they tried to gain their mother’s milk.

He bent down and checked the mother. She was alive, but barely. He turned and looked at the other wolf and nodded. “Okay. I know what to do.”

The wolf, if it heard him at all, was now looking at the female – and at nothing else.

He slipped under the wing and began clearing a hollow in the snow all the way up to the female’s belly, then he took off his jacket and placed it there on the snow before going back and carrying the three cubs back to their mother’s breast. When they were latched on and sucking away he backed out from under the wing and turned to the big male wolf. 

“You’re the dad, right? That’s your wife?”

The wolf looked at him for a split second, then returned his gaze to the female.

“Well, she needs food and water right now. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes, okay?”

He walked back to the forward remnants of the jet and pushed his way back to the galley; he found a large plastic salad bowl and stuffed a half dozen bottles of water into a trash bag, then he grabbed a slab of his father’s favorite smoked salmon and tossed that into the plastic bag, as well. “Bet that fella would like some steak,” he said as he reached into the fridge, pulling out a huge ribeye steak and tossing that into his bag just for good measure.

When he stepped back into the daylight the wolf was right there, waiting.

“Okay, I got some grub for your wife, okay? Let’s go.”

The wolf led the way back to the wrecked wing and Brandon got back to work. He made a fresh hollow in the packed snow for the salad bowl, and then he filled it with water. Next, he unwrapped the salmon and held a strip under the female’s nose.

Her eyes opened and she lifted her head, her lips curled into a fierce snarl – then the male came close and she grew calm again. Brandon held the fish to her lips and she took the slice – gently – then he fed her another, and another.

“You want some too?” he said to the big male, holding out a slice for him now, but he refused. “No? Well, I hope you don’t mind but I haven’t eaten since last night and I’m hungry.” The boy ate a couple of slices then resumed feeding the female a few more slices before dipping his fingers in the water and letting her lick them. “That’s right, girl. Water, right here,” he continued, now splashing his fingers in the salad bowl.

She sat up and began lapping up the water, slowly at first then with real enthusiasm, but then the male came over and began drinking, too. Brandon opened two more bottles and poured them into the bowl, and both wolfs continued drinking until the bowl was dry. He reached into the bag and pulled out the ribeye and pulled it into two almost equal sized chunks, then he began feeding the female again.

And then the male decided, apparently, that steak was more to his liking so he came over and nudged Brandon with his nose.

“Ready to join the party now, huh?” the boy said as he tore off a couple of smaller chunks, handing them to the big male with a knowing smile. 

He looked up at the sky as the sun slipped behind a wall of dark gray cloud, then he took a deep breath. “Looks like more snow,” he said as he stood and tried to get his bearings.

“I think it’s about a hundred yards back to the galley – that way,” he said, pointing up to the top of the gully and to the shattered stand of trees beyond, “but I wonder…? If I walk out this creek bed to the west, won’t that take me to the campsite?”

He looked around, deciding what to do next – but then the big male stepped up and blocked his way.

But then Brandon knelt and put his hand on the wolf’s head. “I’ve got to get your wife to one of our tents. It’s going to snow tonight and I need to keep your babies warm. Understand?”

The wolf was staring at him now, his upper lip beginning to curl a little.

“No? Well, come on, then. We need more supplies, and if you won’t let me move her I’ll just have to bring a tent here.” And with that he stood and took off for the campsite, climbing back up to the top of the gully. He put his ski boots back on, the wolf looking at first one foot, then the other, apparently quite sure that this new creature was stark raving mad, yet when the strange creature stomped back into his skis and skated off he took off after him.

When he got to the campsite Carol stuck her head out of the raft and she did her best not to scream when she saw a wolf running alongside Brandon, but he waved as he skated by on his way to one of the orange tents, saying something life “Oh, don’t mind him…” as he passed. “Oh, there are a couple of bottles of water and some smoked salmon in the bag,” he said as he got out of his skis, handing her the bag.

“What the fucking hell are you doing, Brandon?” she stammered.

“His mate was injured by parts when we hit, and I found a bunch of pups, too. I’ve got to get the mother in a tent now. Gonna snow tonight, and those pups will need to nurse.”

“Brandon…are you out of your mind?”

“No. Are you?”

She shook her head like he’d just slapped her senseless. “That’s a fucking wolf, Brandon, not a German Shepherd. It can, you know, like kill you.”

“Yeah? Well, he’s a dad and his wife is going to die if I don’t help, and so are all his kids, and there’s something I can do about it so I’m going to,” he said as he packed up one of the tents, bringing a sleeping bag along for good measure, thinking to bring a flashlight along – just in case. “Besides, he came to me and asked.”

“What? He asked?”

“He asked. Yes. Is that enough water to hold you for a while?”

She looked at him like he’d suddenly grown two heads, but she nodded. “Yeah. Thanks. Did you find your father?”

He looked away for a moment, then he turned and looked at the wolf. “Yes, we did,” he said, making eye contact with the big male – who just then decided to walk over to the boy, stand up on his hind legs and lick him on the forehead.

“Fuck me,” Carol whispered.

After the wolf hopped back down, Brandon turned and looked at Carol. “All you need is love, Carol,” he said as he skated off towards the gully. “Really.”

“Fuck me,” she whispered once again as she watched the wolf running by Brandon’s side.

+++++

He had a ski propped up on a small boulder, using the ski as a lever to lift the wing – and the big male was sitting a few yards away, staring at him as he moved items into place. “Okay, fella, this is it. I’m going to try and lift the wing, then prop up that ski long up enough to pull her out, then I’ll get her into the tent with the pups. And don’t worry, they’re wrapped up in the sleeping bag, snug as bugs in a rug…!”

The big male’s head canted a little – maybe as he tried to sniff fear or hesitation in the boy’s voice, but then the boy started pushing up on the ski…and the wing started to lift. Just inches, but it was lifting.

Brandon looked at her rear legs; one of them was bleeding so maybe the wing had been putting pressure on an unseen wound? If so, he didn’t have any time to waste! He grabbed a splintered fragment of pine he’d pre-positioned and propped up the ski he was using for leverage, then he went over and looked the female in the eye before he took her hands and pulled her free.

And she barely reacted. Not to his touch, and not even to the movement.

‘Not good,’ he sighed to himself. He turned to the first aid kit he’d brought from the campsite and found a foil pouch full of some kind of powder that was supposed to stop bleeding if poured into a wound, so he pulled the pouch open and poured the contents all over and around her blood-soaked, matted fur. He dangled more salmon before her nose and she licked at it once then opened her eyes and took it down. He gave her several more slices, as well as some more steak, before he sort of picked her up and carried her inside the tent. He placed her on the sleeping bag and put a blanket over her, then he placed all the pups on nipples and watched the suckle. When he was finished he turned to the big male and looked him in the eye.

“I’m going to put some antibiotic ointment around the edges of that wound now. It shouldn’t hurt, but I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t bite my head off if it does.” When he finished he turned to the female and helped her drink more water, then he gave the big male another big portion of ribeye. “You like that, don’t you?”

Again, the big male came up to him and licked him once on the forehead, then he turned and disappeared into the forest.

+++++

He got back to the campsite just as the last of the day’s sun slipped behind the mountains to the west, and as he skated up and took off his skis Carol’s head popped out of the raft.

“Where’s your friend?” she asked, more than a little nervously now.

Brandon shrugged. “I’m not sure. A bunch of his pack was killed by debris in the crash, but there could be more of ‘em out there…”

“Oh, gee, that sounds great.”

“They won’t hurt us, Carol. We’re not a threat and I’m feeding him…”

“You’re what?”

“I’m feeding him. Well, them, he and his wife, or mate, or whatever you want to call her.”

“Oh, that’s awfully nice of you,” Carol said sarcastically. “I sure hope we don’t run out of food out here…”

“We won’t. There’s enough steak and lobster back there to last a week, maybe more, and I don’t know how much salmon you ordered…”

“Ten pounds!”

“Well, that’ll be enough to last ’til sometime next summer,” he said, chuckling a little, trying to lift her spirits a little. “There’s got to be at least a months worth of bottled water, and I can boil snow for now and save the good stuff…”

“Where’d you learn all this stuff, Brandon?”

“Oh…Dad and I used to go up on week long trips with some NOLS students…”

“NOLS?”

“Oh, right…National Outdoor Leadership School. Kind of like Outward Bound, only on steroids. At least…that’s what Dad used to say.” He looked away but pushed those faraway feeling back down again.

“How old are you?” she asked, her voice lost in wonder.

“Eleven. Twelve next week.”

“Next week?”

“Yeah. Dad and I were both born on Christmas Day.”

“Not the best Christmas is it, I guess?”

He turned and looked at her, smiling from ear to ear. “So, what’ll it be? Steak, or lobster? Or…what do you say – both?”

“You know what, kid?” she replied. “When I grow up I want to be just like you.”

He grinned, but then he pulled out a bottle of Krug and he started laughing when a huge grin split her face.

+++++

He heard wolves howling in what felt like had to be the middle of the night, but he looked at his phone just to check…then remembered the time function might not work as it was probably satellite dependent, so he slipped his watch on and checked again. He saw he’d only been down a couple of hours, but he got a Surefire headlamp strapped to his forehead and a another ribeye from the bag he’d buried in the snow, then he went out and strapped on his skis and started skating for the tent in the gully.

The big male met him about halfway there, then ran along by his side until they arrived at the tent by the shattered wing. Another wolf, a small female he guessed, was waiting there too, but she remained curled up under a dense pine bough – never taking her eyes off him as he took off his skis and ducked inside the tent.

It was hot as a pistol inside, and the female was panting like crazy! He got the salad bowl and refilled it with water, and with no hesitation at all she lifted her head and downed about 40 ounces of ice cold water.

Then she started trembling.

He pulled out a few more slices of salmon and helped her eat them, then he let her have half the ribeye he’d brought along…but this time she kept her head up and looked the boy in the eye.

“It’s okay. You’re going to be just fine, alright? You just take care of the pups, okay?”

But she kept staring at him, still trembling just a bit but her eyes were locked on like a heat-seeking missile’s. Then she leaned over and took his hand in her mouth – but oh-so-gently – and she just kept it there. 

So soft, he thought. Why?

“Okay. I’ll trust you if you trust me. But I think I understand.”

She raised her face again and let his hand slip free; he looked into her eyes now, unafraid.

“I’ll be back in the morning,” he added as he backed out of the tent, and when he stood he saw the big male was still there, waiting – for him – nevertheless it went and stuck it’s head inside the tent for a moment. Brandon pulled the rest of the ribeye from his bag and pulled it into bite-sized pieces, and when the male pulled out of the tent he tried to give him a piece…

But no, the male took this bite over to the other female and dropped it at her hands. She sniffed once and ate it, then looked up, waiting for more.

Brandon turned to walk her way but the big male stood between them, blocking his way, and when he looked at this other female he immediately knew why. Her lips were curled, her teeth bared, and the growling sound she made now was truly terrifying.

“Okay,” he said, turning back to the big male, “I get it. Here…you take it to her,” he added, opening the bag and letting the male feed the other female while he got back into his skis. He started skating away and soon realized the male – and the other female – were trotting by his side, looking very much in there element.

‘And what about me?’ he thought as he pushed along through the gently falling snow. ‘Am I in my element…or am I just fooling myself?’

He found Carol squatting a few yards away from the raft, apparently needing to pee despite her fear of venturing outside now, and the big male ran right up to her – sniffing her pee then licking her on the chin…

And that was, apparently, too much for her. She started laughing, gently at first as the male kept licking her face, then louder and louder until she fell backwards into the snow, and, of course, into her still-puddling urine…

Then the other wolf, the little female, came over to Brandon and took his sleeve in her mouth – and pulled him down to the snow. She licked his face once, then she stood over him and pissed on his legs.

“Hey, ya know, whatever floats your boat. We friends now, right?” he asked as he sat up and held out a hand for her to accept, or reject.

She stepped close and took his hand in her mouth, very gently now, even more softly than the other female had, and he met her gaze unflinchingly. 

“Okay. Friends it is. I’ll bring you some fish in the morning…”

He looked over and found the big male was rolling in Carol’s pee, and when he was finished the two wolves ran off into the woods.

“What the fuck was that all about?” Carol asked, still giggling.

“Checking you out, I guess.”

“I may still be drunker than shit, Brandon, but did that other wolf just piss all over your feet?”

“Yup, she got me pretty good. Scenting me, I think…marking me as her territory, or the packs.”

“Shit…why does that not sound so good?”

He shrugged, then realized it was too dark out for her to see gestures like that out here. “I don’t know, but maybe they’ve accepted us now, and that just might be a good thing, ya know?”

“I’ll take your word for it, kid.”

“How’s your back feeling?”

“Better. Those pills did the trick.”

“Okay. Need any help getting the pee off your clothes?”

“Oh, shit. Probably…yeah…if you don’t mind.”

He pulled a pouch of sanitary wipes from the case and helped her out of her pants and underwear, then he toweled the backs of her thighs before patting them dry with a paper towel. “I think I got the worst of it; you better get inside and into that sleeping bag before you get too cold. I’ll stay in the other tent.”

“Would you stay with me, please?”

“Yeah, you sure?”

“To tell the truth, Brandon, I’m really scared as shit out here.”

He nodded. “Understood. This is their world; we’re just visitors, I guess.”

“Well, whatever…I’m glad you’re here. I’m not sure I could do this without you.”

He felt an odd stirring in his belly…a tingle like the lightest touch he’d ever known…only for some reason much nicer – like deep inside his soul. “I told you, Carol,” he said within this unsettled moment and as he looked into her eyes again, “I’ll take care of you. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

She came to him and hugged him for the longest time, then she kissed him on the forehead – right where the wolves had – and he wondered, perhaps for the very first time, if girls and wolves were really all that different…?

+++++

He found a stump at first light and fired up a tiny propane stove. He found coffee and creamer and, though he really didn’t like the stuff, he followed the directions and made two cups, reaching in the raft and handing Carol a cup of the stuff.

“First time you’ve made coffee, I take it?” she asked a few minutes later.

“Uh. Yes.”

“Uh-huh. I’ll be right out.”

They boiled snow for a fresh batch and she made two cups, adding some sugar to his – which he immediately liked – and then he poured the balance of the water into a foil pouch that promised to yield some kind of vegetarian frittata – after steeping for a few minutes. He divvied up the resulting goop and ate his in silence; Carol got hers down as fast as possible, then she turned to him after they finished this first, less than appetizing, breakfast together.

“Garbage in, garbage out, ya know?” she added. “I think we’re going to need some kind of latrine pretty soon, I guess…” she said as he listened to her growling bowels.

“Can you hold it long?” he replied.

“A couple of minutes, maybe.”

He got the folding shovel out and dug a ditch in the snow behind a tree a few meters away, then he found her some ‘boom-wad’ – what his father had always called toilet paper – and handed her the precious roll as she hopped her way over to the trench. He washed-up their forks and knives and put the rest of the rubbish away in a large black trash bag, then he sipped the rest of his coffee until she came back to the raft.

“Your friends are back,” she said, pointing to a tree-line about thirty meters away. 

He turned and saw the big male and the little female standing there, and when he smiled and waved they sauntered over. He knelt as the big male approached and they touched foreheads first, then the little girl came over and they repeated this greeting, then both of them turned and stared at Carol – who immediately knelt and opened her arms. The male came to her, but the little girl walked over and stood behind Brandon, where she looked at Carol from behind his legs. When this ritual was over Brandon got back into his ski boots and onto his skis, then he turned to Carol. “More water?” he asked. “Anything else?”

“Might as well bring some more fish, too. Takes the snow a long time to melt that snow down…might want to hold onto the propane for as long as we can.”

“There’s plenty of salmon left, and tons more lobster, too.”

“Okay. Whatever you think.”

He nodded. “Okay, see you in a couple of hours.”

Brandon skated off through the pines, following his well worn trail to the gully – and to the nursing mom. He stuck his head in the tent and saw she was sleeping fitfully, so he zipped up the doorway and took off for the galley remnant to pick up supplies for the day. He loaded his bag with more water, another smoked salmon filet and a gallon-sized ziplock bag fulled of lobster salad. There were six more ribeyes and he looked at these carefully, deciding, in the end, to hold off feeding one of these to the wolves until later in the afternoon. He skated back to the gully, taking the long way around so he could keep his skis on and so avoid the steep climb down through the rocks.

The nursing mom was up when he got back to the tent, her head up and her amber eyes bright this morning. He wiped out the salad bowl with fresh snow then refilled it with bottled water, and while she drank he opened the salmon and began peeling off fresh slices for her, the male and the little girl looking on with expectant stares framing their smiling faces.

Then he saw it.

One of the pups lying very still under his mother’s arm. He gently lifted it up and groaned when he felt its lifeless head fall away, but then he realized the body was still warm. He shook his head and placed his mouth around the little pups snout and gently blew air into the lungs, and when he felt the pup’s chest expand he compressed the belly while he re-inflated the lungs again and again. At one point he felt the big male standing by his side.

And when the little pup coughed once the big male started licking its face, gently at first, but then more vigorously, until at last the little pup lifted its head and jerkily started moving around again. The big male turned his massive head and stared at Brandon, then started licking the side of his face too, and for several minutes.

When this display ended Brandon returned the pup to a free nipple, the mother never once taking her eyes off the boy as he moved with practiced ease around her future.

+++++

The day passed. He fed the wolves and they in their turn kept an eye on him while he slept. One night a small grizzly came by the campsite and the two wolves chased the sow away, and neither Brandon nor Carol were any the wiser. Until he found the tracks in the snow later the next morning, that is.

‘All you need is love,’ he kept repeating to himself, believing it more with each passing day.

The next day passed like day before, and then another passed, and another. Snow stopped falling and the sun returned for a while, then more snow came, this next storm quite fierce. He carried a heavy tarp to the gully and set it out, making a shelter for the male and the little girl, and he lined the floor with soft green boughs so they could sleep off the snow. He fed all of them smaller portions of steak that night, but he added salmon to the mix, and on their fifth afternoon together the mother wolf came out of the tent and walked around a little, looking through squinted eyes at broken clouds, hoping to see traces of the sun and the warmth that must surely follow. She came and sat beside Brandon on the snow, putting her head in his lap.

He had never known such peace, nor so much happiness. He rubbed the top of her head with his eyes closed, then ran his hands down her back, gently rubbing his way through the otherworldly sensations that came cascading from somewhere within his mind’s eye. Then he felt hot breath on his face and opened his eyes.

The little girl was standing just inches from his face now, her huge canines bared and a deep snarling growl rumbling up from deep within her chest. 

“Oh, right. I’m yours now, right? I’m sorry,” he said. “I forgot.”

She pissed all over his snow pants before she turned and walked away in disgust.

“Jesus,” Brandon sighed as he turned and looked at the big male, “are all girls like this?”

The mother took his hand in her mouth again, and he sighed as an explosion of light filled his mind.

+++++

After he made it back to the campsite he found the solar charger in his book bag and hooked it up to his iPhone, topping off the battery to his watch after that was done…then he caught a glint of bright light in the sky and turned in time to see a jet leaving a fluffy white contrail crossing the sky from west to east. Excited, he turned on his phone.

“No service.”

He shook his head, then remembered the Iridium phone in the emergency case. He pulled it out and powered it up, and the green Ready light beeped and flashed at him. He called the only number he had with him: Dr. Phillips private line, not the number at Kravis House.

“Hello?”

“Dr. Phillips? It’s me…Brandon.”

“Brandon? You’re alive!?”

“Yup. I’m calling from a SatPhone, we just got service again today.”

“Where are you…do you have any idea?”

“There’s a latitude and longitude on the display. Will that help?”

“Give it to me, quick, in case we lose the connection!”

He read out the numbers and Dr. Phillips repeated them back to him. “Yup, you got it!”

“Okay. I’ve got some calls to make, but don’t turn off your unit unless you really have to. There should be a red SOS button on the row of main menu buttons? See it?”

“Yessir?”

“Okay, go ahead and hit that and hold it down for three seconds. You should get a dialogue asking you to confirm the SOS entry. Do it now, would you?”

“Got it,” Brandon said a few moments later. “SOS confirmed.”

“Okay, it looks like you’re up in Yellowstone, southeast of the big lake. I got into Jackson Hole last night so I’ll call the State Police and the NTSB. There’s another big storm headed in tonight, but maybe we can head up this afternoon. I’ll call you as soon as I know something, okay?”

“You’re in Jackson Hole, sir? Really?”

“Yes, with your grandmother. She’s crying right now, by the way. Would you like to speak to her?”

“Uh, maybe, but first you need to tell her that dad didn’t make it. Only Carol and I made it, okay.”

There was a long pause, then Phillips continued. “Are you doing okay, son?”

“Yessir, we’re doing okay. Lots of food and water, and we’ve made a few friends out here, too.”

“Friends? Really?”

“A bunch of wolves, sir.”

“Wolves?”

“Yessir.”

“You’re not kidding, are you?”

“No sir, not at all.”

“Okay, here’s your grandmother. I think she’s figured out the basics already, so just say hello and tell her you’re doing fine, then you and I will need to talk before we hang up, okay?”

“Yessir.”

 “Brandon?” he heard his grandmother say, though her reedy voice sounded almost defeated and very fragile over this strained, tenuous connection. “Are you really okay?”

“I’m fine, Grams, really. In fact, I think I’m gaining weight out here…”

“Did I hear that doctor say something about wolves? Are you in danger?”

“Oh no, not at all. They’re great, as a matter of fact.”

“What happened to your father…?”

“He didn’t make it, Grams. Neither did the reporter he was with, or the pilots. Carol, the flight attendant, was in the back of the plane with me when it happened.”

“I see. Does it look like my boy suffered?”

“I don’t think so.”

“This Carol…is she doing well?”

“I think so, Grams, but I think she’s hiding something from me?”

“Something?”

“Some kind of pain, I think.”

“I see. Well, here’s that nice Dr. Phillips. I think he wants to speak with you again. I’ll see you when you arrive, Brandon.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

There was a brief, fumbling transfer, then Dr. Phillips was back on again. “Brandon? It looks like it’s going to take a little bit to get things organized here, but we have your position nailed down. You’re too far off the highway for snowmobiles so we’ll have to get some helicopters ready. You say it’s just you and this flight attendant?”

“Yessir. Carol.”

“How far away are the rest of…you know…your father and the pilots?”

“Scattered about three to five football fields away, in a deep forest.”

“What about where you are? Is there room to land a helicopter?”

“Pretty much, yessir. There’s one area close to here, but I may need to chop down a couple of small trees.”

“Okay, you get on that right away before this storm rolls in, then you call me again at four this afternoon. Can you do that?”

“Yessir. Battery power is still above three quarters.”

“Okay. Better power down now, but power up and call me at four, okay?”

“Got it, sir.”

“Okay, son. Good to hear your voice, and we’ll see you soon.”

He turned and found Carol staring at the trees, and when he turned and followed her gaze he found an immense grizzly standing there just inside the tree line – nose up and loudly sniffing the air while he stared them down. And Brandon thought the bear looked hungry. Very, very hungry. 

Then it charged.

+++++

He remembered crying out when he felt the bear’s claws ripping through the flesh on his back, and his left arm felt odd, like it was no longer attached to his body. He turned and saw Carol talking on the Iridium sat phone and thought that was nice, and probably a good idea – given the circumstances.

He turned and saw the bear circling the raft, slowly. Circling Carol now.

‘I promised I’d take care of her,’ he remembered, as he forced himself up on his hands and knees. He remembered there was a big knife in the emergency case, and he thought he’d put the case in the small tent, at least he thought he remembered putting it there, so there was nothing left to do now but get to the tent and go for the knife while he still could.

When the bear saw Brandon kneel it stood and let slip and heart rending roar – and Brandon wanted more than anything else in the world for the fucking bastard to just walk back into the woods. But no, it turned and stood tall again, looking first at Carol then at him – as if sizing up which one of them would put up the biggest fight before deciding which one of them to kill…first.

So Brandon stood tall too, and he faced the bear, staring it down…challenging the bear to try and take him first. He balled his fists and steeled every nerve in his body to get ready for the onslaught, then he turned his face to the sky and he howled – like a wolf.

And within seconds three gray streaks crossed the little meadow, the big male latching onto the bear’s snout, the little girl sinking her teeth into the bear’s neck, and the recovering mother tearing into the bear’s groin. Their assault was over in seconds, the wounded bear retreating to the safety of the forest and not at all happy.

But the little girl was down. Down and bleeding badly. Dying, as a matter of fact.

Brandon went to her, ripped off his parka and wrapped it around her before he made his way back to the first aid kit in the emergency case, and he carried it back to her side and began dressing her wounds.

“Don’t worry,” the little boy said to the dying wolf, “I’ll take care of you. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you ever again.”

She looked up at him and swallowed hard, her eyes growing far away and distant. He found another bag of that powdery coagulant and poured the powder along all of her wounds, then he applied pressure to the worst until the flow stopped, then he moved on to the next wound, and the next. 

“You’re going to be okay,” he kept telling her, his voice full of a calm he dare not betray.

She turned and looked at him once, her amber eyes full of sadness, then her eyes turned to the sky. Her ears perked a little, and the big male came and stood by her side.

“It’s a helicopter,” the boy said at last, after he finally recognized the sound. “It’s okay, but you’d better go now. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of her, and when she’s better I’ll bring her back to you.”

The big male turned and looked at the sky and he recognized the immediate danger. He whimpered and licked the little girl’s face one more time before he turned and looked at the boy again.

Brandon lowered his forehead and the male came and placed its forehead on the boy’s, then he turned to the mother of his children and together the two of them ran back into the forest.

+++++

The boy returned to school two weeks late, two weeks into the new term. He returned to the school on the side of the mountain with Dr. Phillips and his grandmother, and a young woman named Carol who, for some reason, never seemed to leave the boy’s side now.

The school made an exception and allowed the boy to return to his house – with the wolf that never left his side. She walked with the boy wherever he went…to classes, to the dining hall, or even skiing on the school’s private ski slopes. She slept on his bed at night with her face draped over his neck.

Soon after he returned to school the dreams began. Dreams like stories, stories that made little sense, but dreams that felt so very real they left him feeling exhausted when he woke after each one.

Then inside his dreams he felt music. Then wonder came for him. Music as color, and Dr. Phillips called this synesthesia, and more colors followed and soon enough the boy was seeing music everywhere he went. He’d never expressed an interest in music, not even once, but as the wolf came into his life music took on an ever growing presence inside his dreams. No one understood why, not even his grandmother.

But his father would have.

Brandon had never taken even one music lesson, but one day he sat at a piano and he started to play to the colors he’d seen inside his dreams…but still, something wasn’t right.

He asked his grandmother if he could have one of his father’s guitars and all the cosmic tumblers in the universe simply slipped into place when he picked up one of his father’s Gibsons. He sat on his bed in the house, the bed with the wolf on it, and he started playing simple notes. He found his way to simple cords, then more complex colors came to him.

A few days later he started picking his way through Paul Simon’s Take Me To The Mardi Gras, notes like racing kaleidoscopes of color flooding his mind as he played. The wolf stared at the boy, then at the guitar – before she lifted her voice in song.

Had this happened to his father, he wondered? What awakening had started his Old Man on this peculiar journey? What colors had love taken for his father to see so clearly the road he’d have to take to the truth of their existence…?

Winter’s song gave way to spring’s dancing walls of color and still they sang, the wolf and her boy, always together. Some students at the school on the side of the mountain even said that the boy was beginning to look a little like a wolf. Others thought the wolf was beginning to act more and more like the boy. Still, the two never separated for more than a few minutes a day, when she had to, well, you know…

Then in mid-May the term ended and Carol came to pick him up and accompany him on the flight back to Wyoming. They rode to Boston in a white limo, the wolf sitting by his side, and while the gate agents hesitated to let the boy and the wolf board the flight they relented when they saw the look in their eyes. The wolf sat by the window and watched the world float by, and the boy fed her slices of smoked salmon and little pieces of steak all the way to Wyoming. 

They went to his father’s house out by the ski area. His grandmother was living there now, and she was waiting for Dr. Phillips to arrive. Sparks were flying, or so it seemed, and he was planning on spending the summer out in Wyoming. Taking pictures of the Tetons, he said, was something he wanted to do before the colors came for him, too.

When the snow finally cleared, it was in early June that year, the boy and his wolf went out to the airport. A helicopter waited for them that morning, and all he carried with him that day was his father’s guitar. They flew to that place in his heart where the real colors came from, to the meadow where the bear had come for them all.

Everything had been cleared away by that time. The NTSB had collected all the evidence they needed to piece together the events of that night, then they had cleared the remains of the people and their machines and now it was as if none of it had ever happened. Even the rafts and the tents were gone now, and all the packets of salmon, too.

A storm had erupted once upon a time and had sent pulsing energy to the earth. A ten dollar chip on a five dollar circuit board had failed and caused a valve to remain closed when it should have opened, and one more machine fell out of the sky that night. One of many, as it happened, but lessons were learned – or so some people said.

They boy walked to the gully and he found the tarp still tied to the surrounding trees, the soft boughs of pine had turned brittle and orange but he could see that someone still slept here from time to time.

He closed his eyes and the colors came.

He played to the sight, to the colors as they came, then he began to sing.

And she sang with him.

When he finished their song he put his guitar down on the rusty colored boughs and he waited, listening for their colors on the wind. 

Because the wind carried their song to him, a gentle wind that caressed his face, and hers.  This wind had never stopped, even after he left this place. Maybe, he often thought, it was the same wind that had carried the same music to his father – once upon a time. He waited, the music coming closer, always closer – until the world filled with light and colors he had never known, his song complete.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | this was a work of fiction, pure and simple.

+++++

AL-1

A bad month here. Vision finally failed completely, surgery on the left eye was needed, more work on the right to follow later this month. Began to regain some sight last week and started on this story…and a word about that is in order here.

Waiting in the pre-op room the outlines of this one just came to me in a rush. I was awake for the surgery and continued to think about the ideas while the doc worked away, but I didn’t have a way to get the ideas, as words, down on paper. Somehow I kept them in memory, and when I had enough vision to get words to paper (yes, I know, a screen is not exactly paper but you get the idea…) I started to write. That was last Monday.

I kept thinking of the old Tears for Fears song Elemental as I thought about this story, hence the title.

Hope you enjoy.

AL | abw 5 september 2021

13 thoughts on “Elemental

  1. My introduction to your oeuvre was “The Eighty-eighth Key” which I came across elsewhere. This led me here and to “Come Alive”. It might not be the case that these are unfinished in your mind but I’m sure that most of your readership feel that it is. So I maintain a watching brief on your website. It is astounding that you are so driven to express yourself in the written word that you manage to do so despite the physical adversities that you are struggling with. I suspect this has more importance to you than merely satisfying your readership but thank you anyway. On one level your works could be considered “escapist” but as the problems of our times, both real and uncomfortably possible in the near future feature so prominently this isn’t really correct (apart from the alien involvement of course!). Good to read stories that keep one pondering after the laptop is shut. And so to “Elemental”. Again an enjoyable tale that was well worth the effort in writing, stretching ones credulity and making one think of possibilities beyond the mundane. Wishing you the best possible recovery from your present circumstances. As I said in my only other response to your works, I have lot of time for an author who is aware of Patrick O’Brian.
    From a reader in England.

    Like

    • O’Brian carried me through a long, very rough patch. Laid up after a bad fall, I started in on the first book in the series and never once looked back. Six weeks later it was a done deal and I have never enjoyed any book or books as much. Period.
      Come Alive is “complete” in a sense, yet far from over. Work towards a conclusion for the 88th Key is underway, and after the next few chapters ‘come alive’ I think you’ll understand the why and the how of that. Too, 88 may prove to be a little more ‘open-ended’ – leading to fragments of other stories already out there. Lots to come.

      Like

  2. Hey AL, another good one. Get well soon. Btw have you tried Dragon Naturally Speaking, spoken word to text PC prog? Would/Could be a save on your eyes.

    Like

    • Difficult for MacOS users like me, but that’s an old story. Very little out there for us Mac users.
      More difficult still is the writing process that I know. I write a sentence and read it over several times, often in context with sentences before and after. Do I overuse a particular word? Does one sentence flow into the next? Does a paragraph work as a whole? Does it support the paragraphs in the section or chapter?
      In short, going blind isn’t really an option for my kind of writing. As I’m now completely deaf in the left ear and have only fair hearing in the right (and that is worsening), going deaf and being blind represents a kind of dead-end for me as a human being. Bottom line? I’m doing everything possible to hold on to what I have left. And wasting time is no longer an option.

      Like

      • Sorry to read you’re not too good. Is this a degenerative illness. I guess the writing keeps you going. Let’s keep all digits crossed for your improvement. I wish you well mate.

        Like

      • Degenerative, yes. Rate of decay is relatively slow, and so far interventions have been successful, so I am more than hopeful at this point. Yet it’s worth noting that I am an old fart and these things tend to happen to smelly old people… On the plus side of this equation…I try hard to take care of myself, as I really have NO desire to ‘check out of this hotel’ until absolutely necessary…

        Like

  3. Welll from one old fart to another. Get Well. I Am 74, live in SthWest West Australia, am a sound therapist, and Really enjoy your work. I do distance healing, if you think that would help. I especially enjoy your thoughts on end of world scenarios and feel that ETS such as the pink one are among us. If we became stupid enough to critically damage our planet, I personally feel they would step in and assist those working for the highest good of all. Politically, I believe that people get the govt they deserve and it seems that as a race we just don’t get it. Our blind stupidity at times staggers me. Oh well, we can only hope and stay positive that humanity as a whole will wake up before it’s too late.
    I wish you the Very best in your recovery. Keep well amigo.

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