The Eighty-eighth Key (60.3)

88th key cover image

And the beat goes on. Or something like that, anyway.

Music? Of course. Wait! That one doesn’t work for you? Well then, try this instead. Or take two and call the doctor in the morning. Still not there yet? Feel like dancin’ a little? Well, if this one doesn’t float your boat you better go check your pulse.

Chapter 60.3

Callahan looked at the phone on the desk, then at his watch. It was early afternoon here, he reckoned, so just about time for DD to get to her office in the Cathouse. He took a long pull from the glass of iced Coca Cola that Ida had just carried out to him, then he closed his eyes and sighed as the cold bubbles played their subtle notes on the roof of his mouth.

“Ready for a sandwich?” Ida asked. “Or wait until after you make your call?”

“No…no…I could eat now. Will you join me?” Harry said easily.

“Sure!” Ida said brightly. “Pastrami today? Or chicken salad?”

“Pastrami, I think. With that really hot mustard you found last time.”

“Comin’ right up,” Ida said, but she watched as Callahan picked up the phone and dialed DDs office number in San Francisco. She apparently picked up on the first ring, too.

“DD? It’s Harry.”

“Harry? Where the Hell are you?”

“Tel Aviv.”

“No shit? Well, how the Hell are you?”

“Pissed. And basically, because I’m being held prisoner.”

“What?”

“No passport. Swiss police told me that it had been confiscated, and shortly after that the Israelis basically slipped me out of that hospital, and then out of the country, too.”

“Indeed. I haven’t heard anything about it, Harry. Let me look into it. Are you still in therapy for the leg…?”

“Not really. I’m still waiting for a working leg at this point.”

“But…it’s been how many weeks?”

“Months, DD. Now…you see the problem?”

“Why haven’t you called me?”

“Not allowed? How’s that sound?”

He heard DD take a deep breath, but he could also hear her pen racing across paper as she scribbled furious sounding notes. “Tel Aviv, you said? Got an address?”

“No, of course not.”

“Can you describe the building for me?”

“I guess I’m on about the twentieth floor. All I’ve seen is beige brick and light blue tile on support columns, and the front of the building is about a block from the beach.”

“…from the beach,” he heard DD muttering as she wrote. “Okay, Harry. Got a number I can reach you at?”

He gave her the number printed on the little white placard stuck to the base of the phone. “I assume that’s it, but I’m not sure. This is the first call I’ve been able to make, so if I don’t hear from you…”

“I’ll be back at you with an hour, Harry. If you don’t hear from me by then, you just call me again.”

“Will do. And DD. Thanks for being there for me.”

“Always, Harry. Always.”

He rang off just as Ida came in with their sandwiches.

“Did you get through to DD?”

“Yup.”

“Well then, that’s good news.”

“Is it, Ida?”

“Certainly it is, Harry. And the guys from the prosthetics lab are coming by again, in an hour or so. You feeling up to that again?”

“Maybe with some more Vicodin,” Callahan muttered. “Maybe two, as a matter of fact.”

“I’ll get them for you, but remember, you don’t want to take two on an empty stomach!” 

He sighed, then nodded before he took a huge bite from the sandwich she’d made, the roof of his mouth then his sinuses erupting as the horseradish in the spicy brown mustard slammed home. “Oh-dear-God-in-heaven-but-that-feels-so-o-o – good,” he just managed to say – as he broke out in a hot sweat. Even his upper lip began sweating, and he wiped first his forehead then his mouth as the fire spread. 

“You alright?” Ida asked.

“Oh yeah,” Harry said – as he downed the ice cold Coke. “Nothing finer.”

She shook her head. “You Americans never fail to amaze me, Harry.”

“Fuckin’-A,” he said as he took another huge bite from the sandwich. “Oh! Goddamn!” he screamed gleefully. “Fucking outrageous! I love it!!”

She rolled her eyes, hoping Didi would return soon.

+++++

“You sure this is the best way to handle him?” she asked her father.

“Am I sure? No, not really, but this whole thing is about to get more complicated than it ever needed to, and so, well, the decision has been made. Get him out of here, now. We’ll use the new cover story if and as we need to.”

“What about Ida…and me? Stick with him, or just turn him loose?”

Colonel Goodman chuckled at that. “I doubt he’ll let you anywhere near him, or his friends again. Try if you think you can pull it off, otherwise…”

She picked up the travel documents – three one way tickets on El Al from Tel Aviv to San Francisco, first class, leaving tomorrow morning. Then she picked up Callahan’s passport off her father’s desk and flipped through the pages. “Still no exit stamp from Switzerland,” she muttered. “Does that present any…?”

“I doubt there will be time enough for that to ever become an issue,” the Colonel sighed, his appreciation for the fluidity of Swiss customs and immigration officials never much in doubt. “Let me know what you – decide – to do with him.”

“Okay.”

“And good luck,” the latest director of the Mossad said to his daughter as she turned to leave. He watched her walk away, silently shaking his head at the danger she had taken on. Of course…he’d never intended things to unwind so suddenly – or as predictably – but Callahan and that bastard son of his had suddenly become too big a liability…and that was that. There was nothing else to be done now, was there?

No. All his attention was turning to Palo Alto, and yet he wondered what Avi would have done now. Would he take out Harry Callahan? Or…was there still some other way? Something he hadn’t considered yet.

He turned and looked out over the city, his fingers still steepled over his heart.

He missed his old friend.

+++++

The flight attendant pushed the wheelchair up to Callahan’s seat just ahead of the Number 1 door, and two of them helped lift him into the chair before they pushed him out of the aircraft door. A red cap took him from there, and this old man pushed Harry up the inclined Jetway and then all the way to Customs. No one, not one official nor anyone lurking in the shadows took even the slightest interest in his arrival, at least not until the Skycap pushed Callahan out into the Arrivals Hall.

DD and the Doc were there, waiting, and she was all over him in an instant.

Then she looked down and saw a blanket where a right leg had been and she finally knew. The Israelis hadn’t sent along his prosthesis after all their promises, so the appointment she’d made at the Stanford lab hadn’t been just a prescient overreaction on her part, and then she looked at the doc and saw his scowl. He was fuming now, too.

“You up for a drive up the coast tonight, Harry?” the Doc asked. “Or would you rather go up to Trader Vic’s and drown the world’s sorrows with a little rum and a couple of pineapples?”

“Rum and pineapples for me, Doc. Every time,” Callahan said, grinning.

“That’s our Harry,” the Doc said, grinning. “Off we go, faster than a herd of turtles!”

She’d rented a van with a motorized ramp for Harry’s wheelchair, but as soon as she saw his reaction she regretted the decision. “Sorry, Harry. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“No big deal,” Harry sighed. “I’d have done the same, I reckon.”

The Doc got behind the wheel and drove them to the restaurant, and a handful of pilots from CAT were on hand to welcome Callahan back onto firm ground. He struggled with jet lag for an hour or so, but the more he drank the better he felt, and after his second bowl of turtle soup Harry began to feel halfway human again.

“I don’t recognize anybody,” he said at one point, leaning over to whisper in DDs ear.

“Two big fires working right now, and it’s all hands on deck. Besides, we thought these new guys should get to know who the real boss is…”

“But…I signed everything over to you…”

“And I never executed the papers, Harry. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not while you’re alive. It wouldn’t be right, and besides, the Doc agreed with me…”

“Fuckin’ right I did,” the Doc added, slurring his words mightily now. “What’s wrong, Harry? You’ve only had three Bastards so far. Not feeling well?”

“I’ve never felt better, Doc. Never. Besides, if I have another I’ll probably lose my dinner, and I hate to waste good soup.”

“Well, don’t you worry about a thing! We’ve got your house all squared away and have the party to end all parties planned for Saturday night, and if I can’t get you bombed tonight I’ll get you then!” The Doc burped once, impressively loud, too, then his eyes crossed a little. “Uh…ya know…I think I better get to the head right about now…” he said as he made a dash for the WC.

“And another one bites the dust,” Harry said, grinning at DD.

“He’s been holding his breath all week, Harry…just waiting for you to get back here.”

“Me? Why?”

“Why? Well, for one…I think you’re the only real friend he’s got, and he hasn’t been right since you got shot. I think he feels like it was something he did…”

“Nonsense.”

“Well, let’s just say he’s happy you’re back and be done with it. And we have laid on one helluva party for Saturday night.”

“What about a leg?”

“Palo Alto. First thing in the morning.”

“God I’ve missed you,” Callahan said – and DD actually blushed a little. “You are truly one in a million.”

“So are you, Harry. So are you.” She took his hand and gave it a little squeeze, and she instantly regretted it. His skin was cold and clammy, the bones in his hand much more prominent now than she remembered. Fragile, she realized, and that wasn’t a word she’d ever associated with Harry Callahan. Not once. Not ever. Yet sitting beside him now that was the word that first came to mind. He looked very fragile, almost too fragile to be alive, like he’d lost about fifty pounds and not laughed in weeks. Skin sallow, almost gray. Eyes bloodshot, hands not quite steady anymore, like he’d been through an impossible ordeal and had not quite made it out intact.

No. Now she was well and truly worried. And not just about what had happened to him in Switzerland, or even in Israel, but about what was left of the man. Was he strong enough to meet the relatively simple physical challenges ahead? Of learning to walk again? And what about dealing with the rapidly changing business environment in California, let alone simply taking care of himself?

No, she could see now that everything was different. He had Changed. Big time – not just a little. And now she thought it more than likely that she would in fact have to step up and really take over not just the day to day operation of the airline, but guide it through an uncertain future. And  sitting there beside him, holding his fragile hand in her own, she hoped that her actions wouldn’t be the final act of betrayal that sent him over the edge.

Because she knew at least one thing in this world was true.

Her love for this man was absolute.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Gnews 9/11/2021

The last month or so has been memorable, and on so many levels. Terrible on so many levels, too. Memories of so many recent calamities resonate with unreal clarity if only because, perhaps, we are walking so close to the edge. And I mean We as in humanity. The edge of the abyss opened twenty years ago today and we have, all of us, been teetering there ever since – only now the gathering storm of unchecked climate driven catastrophes seems to be pushing us closer and closer to that edge with each new Twitterstorm. And as a species we seem completely incapable of rising to the challenges of the moment – because so many people have made it their business to prosper, politically or economically, by dividing us. Labels are tossed about with reckless abandon and love of and for our fellow man has fallen by the wayside. Hate has flourished along the edge.

In a way it is kind of hard to imagine that most of these calamities can be traced back to the proxy conflicts of the Cold War. More to the point, real fissures surrounding the abyss began to appear soon after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The American policy of Containment was then the order of the day, and that policy simply stated that if the Soviets made a move on the board we had to counter, or contain that move with one or more of our own. We countered the Soviet’s move with the CIAs clandestine war in Afghanistan, whereby we trained and armed the Mujahideen for almost a decade, and after we (finally) armed these freedom fighters with Stinger missiles the writing was on the wall. And a point of fact is here in order: while the Soviets were loading up their Antonovs and Ilyushins in the dead of night, much the same writing appeared on the wall dividing East and West Berlin. The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of all their varied internal contradictions, and, no longer of any real use to the United States, the CIA simply left Afghanistan. Gee…does that have a familiar ring to it? And, oh, by the way, one of the people most angered at this abandonment was a Saudi national who had been fighting alongside the Mujahideen for years, a middle aged and ultra-religious millionaire named Usama Bin Laden.

The rest is, as the saying goes, History.

Historians are still coming to terms with the first rough draft of the history of that day, perhaps because historians, like everyone else, have grown more partisan. But do consider, please, that there is no such thing as a ‘partisan historian’ and you’ll understand why a ‘first rough draft’ remains incomplete, and at best incoherent. Riven with impossible conflict (re: the impossibly incoherent demands of political correctness vs the need for a wide variety of voices to challenge the intellectual development of students), teachers and professors have looked on in dismay as one red line in the sand after another has pushed historical and cultural literacy further and further out of reach – or closer and closer to the edge. College professor are startled by the apparent reality that often more than not half their incoming freshmen students can’t read or spell worth a damn and that their attention spans are, to put it mildly, brief. More troubling still, many new students in the Humanities come to class with a hard-wired set of beliefs – surprisingly, and more often than not, their parent’s beliefs – so those professors trying to teach History or Political Science or Sociology walk into classrooms full of closed minds. I think this is called inherent bias, but don’t quote me…okay?

Us and Them, ya know what I mean?

All I know with any certainty is that 9/11 and all the forever wars that followed were George W Bush’s wars. When W was campaigning for president in 1999 and 2000 he explicitly sided with Israel over any kind of just settlement of the Palestinian Conundrum and that one act more than any other caused Bin Laden to light the fuse. Again, even before the election. That disastrously contested election, the one Al Gore should have contested, the election AL Gore won.

The abyss started hissing and steaming one December evening after the Supreme Court tossed Gore v Florida. Please read Anthony Kennedy’s dissent again. Please. Permanent, deep fault lines appeared in America, fault lines readily enlarged by Newt Gingrich and the Fox News Noise Machine (great name for a heavy metal band, don’t you think?). Ws popularity began fading despite all kinds of disingenuous propaganda (Saddam has Weapons of Mass Destruction! “Start the duck and cover drills, Dick! Worked like a charm last time we ran that play, right?”

But truly, I don’t want to sit way up here in the cheap seats taking potshots at W. I would like for you to consider, however, that The Day of Atonement falls on the 15th-16th of this month, but that, just maybe, September 11th, 2021 was George W Bush’s Day of Atonement. Please, watch the speech he made today, out on a field in Pennsylvania:

Did you catch his comments regarding the January 6th 2021 Insurrection? And the forces that unleashed this event?

History is all about memory. The Memory of Place. Of Space and Time.

My memory of this day will forever be defined by Ws words as he stood out there beside our field of dreams and finally, resoundingly, spoke the truth. God Bless, indeed.

+++++

Work on The 88th Key. Yup. I’m trying. And I’m also very distracted. Erica is quite ill now, seriously so, and a best friend’s significant other is as well. I am being pulled in impossible directions with each new day, stuffing my own medical issues back inside the little anxiety closet I call my own, yet I am happiest when I consider that I am still here and able to help. But…writing is a way to consider the events of the day, to order those things that so often seem to exude disorder. I will write. It’s what I do now.

And oh, one more thing. I’m also working on a new short story I’ll post just before Halloween. Title is The Boo Angel (yeah, (c) 2021 Adrian Leverkühn | abw blah, blah, blah…). I think you’ll like it, but you’ll see a bunch of stuff on 88 before that one posts.

Later…and be safe.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 60.2

88th key cover image

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

And so, here we go again, back into the labyrinth of The Eighty-eighth Key, and yes, I know it’s been a while. Even longer since stories like Nightside and Asynchronous Mud were posted, but there you go. I’ve always said those two much older stories would lead into a new, much more varied landscape, and, well, here we are. Confused? You should be, but fear not. Clarity looms. I think.

Music matters? Indeed so, but don’t wait on me.

Ready?

Chapter 60.2

He’d never particularly liked Frank Sinatra or that peculiar brand of glitzy, Las Vegas-driven cabaret music Sinatra had perfected, but there was something to at least one of those songs that had just recently captured Harry Callahan’s imagination. Ever since Ida and Didi had started their tag-team assault on his senses, plying him with all his favorite foods throughout each and every day, and often into all his endless, pain saturated nights. Soon enough he’d instinctively known something wasn’t right, that he was really, in effect, nothing more or less than their prisoner. Or…a hostage.

But whose was he, really? Who was behind this charade, because surely these two girls weren’t capable of all this. No, it reeked of the colonel, but Harry felt lost when he thought about that.

Yet the notes of that music kept repeating in his mind like an echo fading in the distance, like words just out of reach and always beyond his grasp, perpetually shrouded in a fog that never lifted. He watched Ida in the kitchen, cheerfully whipping up a fresh hollandaise for his Eggs Benedict while she tended to her carefully poaching eggs, or while Didi was on her so-called cell-phone to the team working on his prosthesis, perhaps confirming another appointment for later that afternoon. Did it really matter anymore? Any of this?

Because they had him, he realized, right where they wanted him.

Only now, locked away up here in this ritzy high rise just off the beach in Tel Aviv, he’d lost all touch with his life back in San Francisco and Davos – indeed, with life everywhere. He had no phone of his own, no access to a computer, and, apparently, no passport. No wallet so no money, not even a credit card. And every time he asked about getting in touch with DD back at the Cat House his query was met with polite evasions about his health, or the state of his leg, or any one of an endless number of seemingly petty, even trivial excuses.

Yet still the music kept playing, the fading echoes tearing away at the air like windmills…until…

You see a pair of laughing eyes

And suddenly your sighing sighs

You’re thinking nothing’s wrong

You string along, boy, then snap!

Those eyes, those sighs, they’re part of the tender trap.

The words came to him – all of them – in a wild rush! He’d known he had those words locked away somewhere, but what had unlocked the door that had kept them away…?

He closed his eyes and started playing through the song on the keyboard in his mind, the words coming back to him in a sudden, furious wave now…and then he started humming.

“I haven’t heard you do that in ages,” Ida said as she came to the table, bringing over his eggs as well as a fresh half of grapefruit. “What are you so chipper about this morning?”

“Me?” Callahan sighed. “Chipper?”

“Yes, that sounds very bright and gay! What is it?”

“Oh, nothing much, really. An old Sinatra tune, The Tender Trap, and I’ve decided it’s going to be my declaration of independence.”

“Independence?” Didi said, joining them at the table. “Whatever do you need something like that for?”

“Well, because,” Harry sighed, looking first at Ida, then at Didi, “because if I don’t get a telephone up here, and I mean today, and by that I also mean a telephone that I can use to call the States, then I’m going to throw both of your stupid, skinny asses through that window right over there, and I’m going to laugh while they scrape up your guts off the sidewalk.”

Didi smiled and chuckled condescendingly. “But Harry…you can’t even walk to the bathroom…”

“And why is that, my friend? My dear, very good friend,” he added, his voice now dripping in hot, bloody sarcasm. “Why, after how many weeks, or is it months now, of being locked away in this little gilded prison you’ve whipped up for me, can I not even wipe my own ass, let alone walk across this room? Hm-m-m? Can you think of a reason, my closest, dearest friend?”

Didi looked away for a moment, her lips quivering, then – quite angrily – she threw back her chair and stood before she stomped over to Callahan’s. “Go ahead, Harry. Pick me up, right now. Pick me up and carry me over to that fucking window, Harry Callahan, then hold me up and throw me out that window! Go ahead, Harry. Try it, now. I beg you, please, try – now!” she screamed – then she pushed Harry’s chair back from the table. “You were a man once, weren’t you? What’s the matter with you, Harry? Cat got your balls and won’t give ‘em back? Oh, poor Harry! Poor little Harry!”

His eyes bulging, blood vessels in his temples throbbing, he put his hands out on the table and – he tried – to push himself up. His arms trembling, his remaining leg almost buckling under the pressure, he stood – on his own, finally using just the tips of his fingers on the tabletop to steady himself as he fought to remain upright.

“God damn!” Didi cried. “It’s about fucking time, Callahan! Is this what it’s gonna take to get you up off your ass and moving? Finally?”

Callahan turned and put his fingers around her neck, pure malice in his eyes. “The phone,” he gasped, his face red and his lips turning blue. “Today.”

“Sure, Harry,” she sighed, her victory over him now complete. She’d need to call her father – immediately! They’d finally had the breakthrough they’d been waiting, and hoping for.

+++++

Dr. Deborah Eisenstadt was a quick study, and she understood all too quickly the implications of this window in time that Imogen Schwarzwald had discovered. Implications this girl from Harvard had yet to even think of. Dangerous implications. Paradoxes in time, certainly, but other potential mishaps awaited the unwary traveler, events which, Eisenstadt feared, could simply undo the fabric of reality itself. Opening a new, unknown – let alone unknowable – dimension was a distinct possibility with such displacements of time, a possibility that included ending human existence as it was currently understood.

And the more she listened to the girl the more afraid she became.

Because of some wild-ass cop out in San Francisco, and to make matters worse, this Neanderthal idiot was some sort of detective, and he had, apparently, stumbled onto, or into, this portal, yet – so far, at least – he’d done no real, lasting harm. But, Eisenstadt wondered, how long could this happy state of affairs continue?

Again, because if this detective was in fact being held against his will in Israel, why? Did the people holding him know what he was capable of? Were they planning on exploiting his knowledge? If so, could she and this almost illiterate musician from Harvard – or was she really a ‘cliffie? – do anything to stop these plans from reaching an unwanted conclusion?

Yet the more she listened to Elizabeth the more troubled she became.

Because, so far at least, all Liz could do was travel back in time and observe, yet Liz had told her about an Old Man who was not bound by such limitations. No, this Old Man was interacting with people in the past, his past, and if he was interacting then it was more than likely he was trying to shape, or reshape events within his timeline. And if this was the case, not knowing this Old Man’s motives might quickly become the most important consideration in all human history.

Or at least History – as Eisenstadt understood their current reality.

Yet…if this Old Man could physically slip through time why couldn’t she, too, or why couldn’t this Elizabeth Bullitt do so, as well? What was his secret?

Instinctively, Eisenstadt understood this Old Man might very well be their ultimate adversary, and if this was true she tried to think ahead a move or two. ‘If the Old Man knows Elizabeth is talking to me,’ she thought, ‘and assuming he understands my background, it’s more than likely he’ll soon make a move against us, or perhaps just me. So…how do I prepare?’

‘By staying one jump ahead of the bastard,’ the little voice in her head told her, though perhaps with a bit more certainty than she truly felt.

+++++

She stepped – quietly – into her father’s office, taking care not to disturb his train of thought. He was reading through a bound report just now, looking up from time to time at screens full of projections – and lists of looming cost overruns – all while, apparently, trying not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Wasn’t that the saying he always used when she was just a little girl?

‘Keep your eyes on the prize, but don’t forget about the bastard sneaking up on you from behind.’

She knew he was aware of her presence in the room, yet even so his continuing to ignore her was now almost unnerving – and growing more so with each passing minute. She looked up at the clock on the wall by the door from time to time, her anxiety percolating away now on a slow rolling boil.

“So? What brings you here today?” Colonel Goodman, her father, eventually said.

“A breakthrough, perhaps. Callahan stood today, in anger.”

The colonel shrugged. “So? What of it?”

“He is thinking of California again. Of his friends there, of the life he had…”

“We are not ready, Leibchen. And neither is he.”

“I know that, Father, yet this was an unexpected progress.”

He sighed as he turned and looked out the glass curtain wall over the Tel Aviv skyline in the near distance. “Perhaps this matters. Or perhaps we have been fooling ourselves.”

“Father? What has happened?”

“Oh, something. Or…perhaps nothing.”

She stared at him now, afraid. It wasn’t like him to express befuddlement, not in the least. “Can you tell me anything?”

“Elizabeth Bullitt. She has made contact with a physicist at MIT, no doubt with the idea of trying to get to Harry.”

“Can they…?”

“I doubt so – very much, as a matter of fact. Yet…the possibility still exists.”

“What about Richardson, in Palo Alto? Has he made any progress?”

“If he has, we have been unable to learn anything of value. Nothing, really, since events surrounding the crash in Los Angeles.”

“Any success on our human trials?”

The colonel shook his head and inhaled sharply through his nose. “No. Richardson’s route may turn out to present the only workable solution…”

“And we are too far behind to catch up, are we not?”

Colonel Goodman nodded. “Possibly.”

“Then Harry Callahan may be the only means we have to intercede.”

The colonel leaned back in his chair and steepled fingers over his chest. Then, looking over his reading glasses, he smiled at his daughter. “Perhaps,” he managed to say. “We will see.”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

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

Gnews (4 August 21)

LOWI 6

Who’s driving this thing, anyway?

If you live in Florida or Texas, or maybe even some other mismanaged state like any number in Europe or South America these days, this is a pertinent question, and becoming more so by the hour. These aren’t bumper sticker issues, either, as more than 200 million people have now been infected by this plague. No, these are matters of life and death…yet it’s kind of odd how little seriousness is attached to the whole Covid-denial thing. At least…in Red states here in America (which we can conveniently define as states ruled by authoritarian Trump-style wannabe dictators, whether they be found in Texas, Florida, or even Brazil) where this remains the case.

This is an interesting subject, but not one I want to focus on today – though, as we’ll see, it is an interesting, and interrelated, sub-topic.

No, what’s on the menu today is something far more distasteful, at least it is to me personally. And that would be the failure of an entire generation to live up to the ideas that inspired us most. That generation – my generation – is most often referred to as the Boomer generation, as in the post-WWII generation. Here in the US a generation was originally defined by TJ, aka Thomas Jefferson, when he theorized that the federal government should not entertain any debts that could not be paid off within a generation, which for practical purposes he stated would be 18 years, and that is the sort of official designation to this day. But back to Boomers: using the 18 year benchmark, let’s define a Boomer as one born from 1945 and 1963.

Or, to make an unnecessarily caustic observation, those dates would also be 1) when the first two cities were bombed with nuclear weapons and 2) when a bunch of people got together and decided to shoot John Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Funny how these things work out, ya know? Spurious, specious nonsense? Probably, but odd nevertheless.

Grok.

Grok?

Stranger in a Strange Land? Or, if into Seventh Sojourns and all things Moodies (thanks, Stephan) that would be Lost in a Lost World. Can you grok it? We’re talking alienation now. Disenfranchisement. Anomie. Being on the outside, looking in. Feeling like you’ve lost your voice and that you live in a society that really doesn’t care about you or your hopes and dreams. That you’re nothing but a small – and very expendable – cog in a vast machine, and should you decide to raise your voice in anger or despair the machine will simply obliterate you. If you step out of line or speak out of turn, you and all your hopes and dreams will simply disappear, and it will be as if you never existed at all.

And the operant words here are so time-worn as to fall to the level of cliché. The Establishment. The System. The Man, as in working for.

Yeah. There’s a song for that, too.

Hell, there’s a song for everything, ya know?

So okay, whatever, let’s meet the new boss, same as the old boss…because we are the champions…of the world.

Okay. Right. Whatever.

“Let’s switch channels now, okay? There’s got to be a football game on somewhere, right? And bring me another beer, wouldya?”

So…Boomers and betraying the ideas they stood for…once upon a time.

Interesting trivia question. Can you name any presidents since WWII who did NOT have a degree from an Ivy League college or university?

Think about it and we’ll circle back to that one in a little bit.

And…any idea who the first Boomer president was? Yeah, if you said Clinton you’d be spot on. W was the second, though both were born in the summer of ’46. But what about Trump? Well, yes, he was born in the summer of ’46 too, and ain’t that weird? All three are Boomers, and all three are the same age, born just weeks apart, as a matter of record. And Obama…while technically a Boomer he’s a child of the sixties, bless his heart – as he popped onto the scene in 1961. Biden? Nope, our latest president ain’t a Boomer at all, as he was born in the summer of ’42.

And Biden is a curious departure from the recent norm, I think. He’s not really a Boomer, and in fact he’s being compared most often these days to FDR, especially in foreign policy circles. Still, he has just enough “progressive” in there to be a quasi-Boomer – in that unique Uncle Joe way of his.

Still, this whole Boomer generation is a confusing thing, taken as a whole – or a donut hole, your choice. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? Boomers. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos? Not Boomers. Mitch McConnell is the same age as Biden, while Marjorie Taylor Greene is, like Musk and Bezos, a child of the 70s, yet it’s kind of hard not to think of these people as Boomers. Say? Is Boomeresque a word?

+++++

Being from Texas has major drawbacks. Whether you can appreciate this or not, I am a Texan. In point of fact, I hold a permanent (Advanced) Peace Officer’s Certification from the Great State of Texas, so whenever I go back there I am automatically, like it or not, a kind of cop. I have a duty, in other words, to respond to crimes committed in my presence. And that’s kind of strange, don’t you think? Strange, because to me, anyway, I’ve always assumed that every able bodied man or woman has a duty to intervene when observing a crime. Not so, however, and don’t even think about taking that attitude on the road unless you know a real good lawyer.

All of my good “cop” buddies are long gone now. My best was killed in the line of duty, another was killed in a meaningless accident while out riding on his Hawg (the two wheeled variety, sorry). I’m a badge number to be found only inside some computer located in a personnel office somewhere, maybe along with a few references to the Letters of Commendation I received once upon a time.

My first was for solving a homicide on my last night as a rookie. I’d responded to the scene of a supposed accident – a motorcycle lying off to the side of the road adjacent to a railroad crossing – and that’s all I had to go on. Long story, somewhat complicated, but all the pieces to that particular puzzle were all right out there in the open. Case closed.

I got my second letter a few years later, after a psychiatrist in the ER at Parkland wrote a letter to the chief about his observations of my dealings with a patient there. I talked this kid off a bridge one hot summer evening (he was going to jump down onto the local interstate highway) and rode my Hawg behind the ambulance to Parkland because I was still worried about him – and what he might do once he got there. The shrinks couldn’t get through to the kid – but for some reason I could (yeah, that undergrad degree in Psychobiology finally came in useful for something). I got him under control the good old fashioned way, too, by talking about pizza and beer. They cut him loose the next day – and he jumped later that day – killing himself and taking out the driver of a semi in the process – and it’s one of those things that sticks in my mind even now. Nightmares? You betcha.

Even when you know you’ve done everything you could, when the shit hits the fan like that there’s really nothing you can do. You just have to take it.

And that’s kind of the way it is now, too. Not just in the United States, and certainly not just in Texas, but everywhere. Because it feels like we did everything right and everything has turned pear-shaped even so. Nothing feels right. Everything seems to be falling apart, everywhere, and we’ve got the skyrocketing Deaths By Despair stats to prove it, too.

About 60 million Americans feel like the other 270 million are evil and many of these good honest Americans now want to kill the rest of us. If you listen to the evening pundits on Fox and One America or Newsmax the past couple of weeks you hear words like revolution and civil war being bandied about with careless abandon, like the Second Amendment applies only to them and that liberal don’t own guns too.

Max Boot, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, writes that Republicans have become nihilists. Disillusioned in the extreme, these folks believe their view of America is the only valid view, and so now they feel betrayed by the rest of us. Steve Bannon was their talisman, and Bannon’s mantra – to burn the fucker down – has suddenly become there’s too. Question? How many will it take to reach critical mass? What will happen when it does? (see Republicans aren’t conservatives. They’re nihilists, by Max Boot, Washington Post, 3 August 21).

Oh, the answer to the question above? Both Ronald Reagan and Joe Biden never attended an Ivy League school, and a large piece of our puzzle lies hidden in that factoid. Why? I think the answer can be found in matters of fairness and trust, but there are bigger questions lingering out there.

And while my standard answer applies, that these people are living inside a delusion, and they’re by and large probably more than a little sick, we may have reached a point of no return in this country. Unfortunately, as Reagan closed most of the public mental health facilities in this country, privatizing the industry and turning it into a system of for profit “treatment centers” for those with the means to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, we have no good options for these people here in the United States. So with that in mind, right now I am putting forward my solution to the problem.

If you feel like America is doomed by multiculturalism, by gender ambiguity, by a fair rendering of history in the classroom, or if you know someone who feels this way, I would encourage you to hit this link (right here, you can’t miss it!) and begin to explore all the possibilities for your new life.

More to come. Stay tuned.

bill-the-cat

Gnews (1.8.21)

Sunday 10.8

We live in interesting times – there is no longer any doubt about it.

Not that there ever has been. Not really. At least, not since 22 November 1963, but I’m not going to digress today. No gnews is bad gnews, in case you didn’t know.

Yet…there’s something else going on these days, something worth talking about among friends. Because I feel, and regularly, too, that I belong to a threatened minority.

No, not because I am white, or even anglo, or (basically, as a matter of birth) a protestant. These are simply the things that I am, states of metaphysical reality that I can’t help because of the limitations of genetics and the continued, and irritating, lack of reliable time travel devices. A state of being then, I guess you could say. Rather, I am talking about being in a certain group of people in the United States that continues to read newspapers – albeit the online versions of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Some people can’t start their day without kickstarting their heart with a 16 ounce cup of French Roast, while others can’t function without the Times and/or the Post to jolt them back to reality. If you’re like me you need both, although there are some mornings I feel like I need an IV running wide open to satiate my early morning coffee lust. In a pinch I have been known to suck down cardamom tea with a little goat’s milk in it, yet oddly enough that only happens on days when I feel an insatiable desire to wear Birkenstocks with purple wool socks.

This weekend I read a humor piece regarding a restauranteur in California who has posted a sign on his door stating that he is requiring all patrons to provide proof of not being vaccinated before they will be seated and served. Putting aside the intrinsic lunacy that there is no currently accepted government ID that indicates proof of not being vaccinated, the proprietor told reporters that he was tired of the government telling people what to do. Of course, this enterprising Republican signed up for all kinds of pandemic relief programs, including the paycheck protection program, but what the hell…his reasoning for doing so was that the money was his to begin with. A final point, if I may. Said restauranteur advised that the real reason he had posted this sign was that he enjoys watching Liberals come up and read the notice because he likes “watching their heads explode” in the aftermath. His words, not mine.

And it seems to me that there is something to this.

That there is indeed something to the action of espousing utter lunacy just to get a rise out of people. You know, as in action – reaction?

Take the Flat Earthers. Or the Moon Landing Never Happened group. Or the people who are absolutely certain that taking the Covid-19 vaccine will make you either infertile or impotent, but probably both. People who deny the veracity of science backed propositions like climate change and then go hop in their car, turn on their air conditioners, sync their phones to the Apple CarPlay enabled car stereo on the tablet sized display in the center of their car’s dash – and they just don’t, can’t, or won’t see the inherent contradictions in their position.

You know…morons.

Of course, all you Fox News viewers out there already know all about this, but for the rest of us let’s take a peek inside the emerging schizophrenic mindset being propagated on right wing media. This weeks concerted propaganda spiel was that people who opt out of having children should be deprived of the right to vote. Yup, that’s not a typo. But why is that, you wonder? Because, well, you know, the birthrate is falling off a cliff…at least it is for white people, anyway. Seems like blacks and browns and yellows and reds are doing just fine with the whole hunka-chunka and nine months later out pops a baby thing, while, uh, whites just aren’t doing their fair share to overpopulate the planet anymore, yet the thing that strikes me here is that Fox’s pitch is just a little more overtly racist than their usual lob over home plate, and I wonder why…? Timing is everything, I assume you know, but consider that about 40% of white people are now too fat to see their feet, which means getting these people between the sheets and doing their duty for Uncle Sam is going to be a messy business, and probably not as productive as Tucker & Co hope it might be.

Of course the whole anti-vax movement is a figment of Fox’s overheated imagination, and they have the pending litigation to prove it, too, but amidst all the blather we rarely hear from those on the front lines about just that…the all too real impacts of disinformation campaigns. There was one this weekend, however, worth reading, and a couple of paragraphs are included herein for your amusement:

I am angry that the tragic scenes of prior surges are being played out yet again, but now with ICUs primarily filled with patients who have chosen not to be vaccinated. I am angry that it takes me over an hour to explain to an anti-vaxxer full of misinformation that intubation isn’t what “kills patients” and that their wish for chest compressions without intubation in the event of a respiratory arrest makes no sense. I am angry at those who refuse to wear “muzzles” when grocery shopping for half an hour a week, as I have been so-called “muzzled” for much of the past 18 months.
I cannot understand the simultaneous decision to not get vaccinated and the demand to end the restrictions imposed by a pandemic. I cannot help but recoil as if I’ve been slapped in the face when my ICU patient tells me they didn’t get vaccinated because they “just didn’t get around to it.” Although such individuals do not consider themselves anti-vaxxers, their inaction itself is a decision — a decision to not protect themselves or their families, to fill a precious ICU bed, to let new variants flourish, and to endanger the health care workers and immunosuppressed people around them. Their inaction is a decision to let this pandemic continue to rage.

This is quoted from an article reposted on Huffpost via AppleNews+, titled I’m An ICU Doctor And I Cannot Believe The Things Unvaccinated Patients Are Telling Me, byThanh Neville, M.D., M.S.H.S., 1.8.21. The article is worth reading.

The L.A. Times has an important story in today’s Sunday edition on the impact the drought is having on cattle ranchers in the Mexican State of Sonora. Herds have no grass, no water, and are dropping where they stand, and if you think this in no big deal, well, keep reading. Like most of us, Mexicans get a huge percentage of their daily protein from cattle in the form of meat and milk products, and tens of millions of people who live near the border with Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona could soon be facing starvation. You don’t have to be a Fox News presenter to see the human implications, but a way of life hundreds of years in the making is going up in dust right under our noses. (see LATimes, 8.1.21, In drought-plagued northern Mexico, tens of thousands of cows are starving to death, by KATE LINTHICUM.) In an aside, a regular reader sent an email recently describing how his family’s Montana wheat farm is experiencing the worst drought recorded in over 140 years. Gee, anyone know what wheat is used for? Think this might, just maybe, be a problem for more than a few people?

So, what’s the problem? I mean, what’s the underlying problem here? Gee, does too many people sound plausible? And by golly, didn’t Paul McCartney write a song about just that – almost fifty years ago? Of course he did, and here it is. Then again, Spirit came out with a song about many of the same issues about that time, too. But, oops, so did Three Dog Night. And film makers weren’t about to let that topic slip by without a bit of social commentary, even if on the sly. Take Soylent Green or Silent Running as the tops of the genre, but don’t forget to look at the dates these works came out.

Why? Well, because when it comes to climate change, there’s nothing new about denial.

There’s this whole off-shoot of truck culture here in the United States where owners buy diesel pickup trucks then remove ALL of the pollution control devices from the exhaust systems, re-routing all the resulting black soot up twin smoke stacks right behind each door, right and left. These owners love to drive their trucks in ways that produce the most soot, but what strikes me as the real “Ah-ha!” moment can be found in interviews of these owners. They get their biggest kicks when they can observe the effect of their display on some passing liberal in a Volvo.

Did you forget about the restauranteur in sunny southern California and the joy he feels when watching a liberal’s head explode? If so, you might want to read up on something called ODD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This, from Wikipedia: (ODD), is a pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviour, and is one of the most prevalent disorders from preschool age to adulthood.[10] ODD is marked by defiant and disobedient behavior towards authority figures. This can include: frequent temper tantrums, excessive arguing with adults, refusing to follow rules, acting in a way to purposely upset others, getting easily irked, having an angry attitude, and acting vindictive.

And just in case you forgot:

Come Alive (34.4.5)

come alive magma art-1.2

Three pieces of music today, a triptych of the soul. Nourishment, like a gentle rain. I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A HundredI Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million, and finally, Watching and Waiting, which takes us right up to the edge.

.A short bit today.

Chapter 34.4.5

They made it through the line with plenty of time to spare; Dina’s eyes kept darting about like a cornered animals, and the closer they got to the boarding area the more they darted – yet by the time they stepped into the front row of the little boat she could hardly breathe…

“Dina?” Tracy asked. “Are you alright?”

Dina shook her head. “Something’s not right. Something is going to happen.”

“Grandma-ma? What do you mean?”

“Can’t you feel it?” Dina hissed. “Like a black place…gravity is pulling and stretching us…” she just managed to say as she began weeping. “Time blowing up all around us…slipping away…we’re slipping away…like the wind, the wind all around us…” she said as the little boat took off into the twilit bayou – with moss draped trees on one side and a restaurant full of happy revelers on the other…and they drifted along, on the threshold of forever, just before they fell into a maelstrom of dancing fireflies lost inside the wind…

“What the hell is going on?” Tracy cried. “There’s something going on alright, and something is most definitely not right…” she whispered as their little boat began falling away through windblown fireflies into complete darkness…

Then in an instant the sensation of speed, of an immense stretch of time passing in the blink of an eye, inflated as new, discordant feelings grew beyond gut-wrenching – but by that point Dina had been screaming for hours.

+++++

He was aware of them, of course. How the chill waters of the Pacific grew warm as they surrounded him. How, with his head just out of the water, their huge black faces seemed to tower over his own. Yet – he was just barely aware of their presence – as music seemed to be flooding through the fabric of the universe – pushing everything else aside. A strange piece, classical, almost a dirge, and as he bobbed on the waves he felt an endless sorrow unfolding around them all – this pod of orcas and himself.

Then…a new feeling, and this latest impression was unmistakable…that the music was coming from…his orca…this new friend of his.

The orca came close and leaned-in to meet Henry halfway, and instinctively Henry turned to meet his friend. He placed the side of his face on the orca’s, right beside the whale’s huge brown eye, and the music exploded – literally exploded into his mind.

Then the visions came. Of strangers. Of people he had never known. Yet. 

‘How do I know that?’ he asked the orca.

‘Listen. See with your heart.’

Then he saw Edith with two men, men he must’ve known once, or would know someday.

And then that music again…the dirge…surrounding him, filling his soul with despair.

Then another explosion of light.

A boy. The eyes of a child. Seeing the world again, through the eyes of a child…

Sitting between two women? ‘Why? Do I know them? Is that his mother? His grandmother? Who are these people?’

Then the orca pulled away, contact broken. Images like sand falling to the bottom of an hourglass, because his life was passing too quickly now, the last sands slipping through his fingers. 

He opened his eyes and looked around.

The orcas were gone. Nowhere to be seen.

But the boat was gone, too. Rupert. Pete. All of them. Everything gone.

Then…another orca. A female. Very old, almost ancient.

A grandmother. The real leader of the pod.

She came up to him and looked him in the eye.

Understanding. Empathy. 

No…that’s sympathy I see, isn’t it? 

“Why do you feel sorry for me?” he asked.

She leaned close, her meaning clear. He leaned into her.

“Come with me. It is time.”

“Time? What do you mean?”

“Your time. It is at an end. Come with me.”

She moved away and began to swim off, then he saw she was turning, circling him, waiting for him to join her, but only when he was ready. 

Henry Taggart went to her, he reached out to her, and when he had hold of her she started down into the darkness.

‘This is so easy,’ he thought as his mind gave up on the idea of taking another breath.

Pinpricks. Like starshine on his naked soul. Pinpricks and light. Cold light. Light wiping away the darkness. Then that vision again, of the boy with two women by his side.

And music. 

‘I know that music,’ Henry Taggart sighed. ‘How many times was I there? Yo-ho, yo-ho…’

He thought he felt Edith just before he felt Claire standing there inside the blinding light – and now she was like the wind, the wind with her arms all around him.

Come Alive is at an end, and I hope you have enjoyed the trip. In the not too distant future look for a coda, and look to The Eighty-Eighth Key for all your unanswered questions. This work © 2020-21 adrian leverkühn | abw | this was a work of fiction, pure and simple. All music herein quoted under the Creative Commons, including lines from Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me) © 1967 by the Walt Disney Music Co. Ltd., music by George Bruns, lyrics by Xavier Atencio.

One last piece, one last fragment of music to carry you on your way. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

Come Alive (34.4.4)

Come Alive Sirens art

Oh so close! I thought I could wrap the story up with this bit, but we’re not there yet. So sorry! Still, a little music might help see you on your way.

Chapter 34.4.4

He was holding onto the orca’s dorsal fin now, trying to streamline his body as they sliced through the sea, but seemingly within minutes they were in the debris field, surrounded by thrashing bodies and shredded tatters of sail. They surfaced next to a pale girl in a yellow jacket and Henry reached for her; too stunned to comprehend the sight of a man riding a killer whale, she grabbed his hand and they turned to the next closest human.

And then he noticed that his orca’s pod was with them, too. And that without being told a thing all the other orcas were swimming up to the humans in the sea and offering their dorsals. Too stunned to know what else to do, the drowning sailors clung to the whales while Henry’s orca appeared to orchestrate the pod’s movements, and when Rupert drove the Swan into the scene, everyone – in the sea and on the Swan – seemed to realize what was going on out there in this dark madness.

“Don’t just stand there, goddammit!” Henry screamed to the people on deck. “Get back to the swim platform and start getting people out of the water!”

There were eleven humans in all, but with their help it didn’t take all that long to get everyone safe and situated. Soon all the survivors of the doomed boat were below, drying off and being fed warm soup, while Henry returned to the cockpit. A friend of Ruperts along for the race, a retired emergency room physician, started IVs on the sickest, while Pete made contact with the Coast Guard and informed them that there there were eleven survivors aboard and everyone was accounted for. The Coast Guard advised that a cutter was outbound from Pearl Harbor to take the survivors from them, and to keep them updated with position fixes.

“You wanna tell me what the fuck just happened out there?” Rupert said as he handed Henry an oversized beach towel to wrap himself in.

“If I knew, Amigo, I’d be happy to tell you.”

“Henry? Has that whale been following us?”

“Yup.”

“For how long?”

“Since we left The Empress, I think.”

“Henry…this is insane…”

“Like you’re telling me something I don’t already know, Rupert? Look, you tell me what the fuck’s going on, ‘cause really, man, I got no clue!”

“But Henry! You dove in like you knew exactly what you were doing!”

Henry looked down at the wheel, then he looked back into the sea, into the orca’s eyes. “It was you, wasn’t it?” he said quietly a moment later. “You were telling me what to do, weren’t you? Just like you were telling all the other members of your pod…”

“Henry? Do you know what you’re saying?”

But Henry wasn’t listening now. His eyes were locked on the orca’s – and Rupert thought it looked just like they were communing again – until Henry threw off his towel and dove back into the sea. 

Only now it didn’t take long before everyone on deck was standing at the rails, gaping in disbelief – and then all the sailors on the Swan gathered and watched a pod of killer whales surround their friend in the sea, at least until they saw what happened next. 

+++++

As he settled into the little boat-like ride, and now with Edith by his side and Mike just climbing in, the incessantly playing music kept rattling through Anton’s mind –

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We pillage and plunder, we rifle and loot.

Stand up me hearties, yo ho.

Sitting in the front row of the little boat, the ride launched them into a twilit bayou, with fireflies dancing among drooping Spanish moss off to their left and a restaurant to their right, and yet still the music played –

We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot.

Stand up me hearties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

Then they were plunging down a darkened chute, water roaring all around them – until they were adrift once again, floating through another world…

+++++

Rolf looked at the envelope once again; it was tucked inside the front cover of the three-ringed binder Henry had left on his bunk, and it was marked “do not open until noon on 28 December” in handwriting that was clearly NOT Henry’s.

Only – now it was time.

“Granma-ma? Tracy? Could you come here please?” he called out, and when they had joined him he showed them the envelope, and read aloud the instructions as well, taking time to note that the handwriting on the envelope was not, as best he could remember, Henry’s.

“Well? Go ahead. Open it,” his grandmother sighed, now even more exasperated with Henry Taggart’s never-ending and nonsensical dramas…

Rolf pulled the envelope free of the binder and opened it.

There was a letter inside. Typed. And three passes – to Disneyland Paris – but Rolf handed these to Tracy while he started reading the letter aloud.

“Hi all,” the writer of this missive began, “sorry to drag you out of the boat on such a warm winter’s day, but I need you to head out to Disneyland now, and make sure you board the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at exactly six this evening. Thanks, Henry.”

“What?” Dina cried. “Are you kidding me, Rolf?”

But Rolf shook his head as he passed over the letter, and as she yanked the paper from his hand Tracy held up the three Annual Passes and read aloud “Disneyland Paris, Pass Begins on Date Indicated Below.” And there at the bottom of the ticket was the date: 28.12.24. She scanned the ticket for more clues and found the tickets had been purchased more than a month ago by one Taggart, H. at the concierge desk inside the Hotel Crillon, and right away she knew Henry was behind all this.

“It’s legit,” she said as she read off the last four digits of the credit card he’d used. “He bought the passes almost a month ago, too.”

“Alright,” Rolf said, “let’s get our coats and go.”

“You do so if you want, but I’ll not be joining you,” Dina hissed.

“There are three passes, Granma-ma. Henry wanted all of us to go or else he wouldn’t have…”

“And I don’t give a damn what Henry Taggart wants – or wanted! I’m done with all his endless games, and so I’ll be flying back to Bergen tonight.”

Tracy clinched her jaw and ground her teeth, and after both Dina and Rolf took note of the change that had come over her, Dina backed away a little.

“Actually,” Tracy growled, “you’re coming with us right now. Grab a coat if you like, but we’re leaving now; you can get back on your fucking broomstick and go wherever the hell you like after we get back…”

+++++

The orcas surrounded Henry, forming a perfect circle around him while he tread water in the space between them, in the center of this new circle…

+++++

 They were sitting in some kind of Captain Jack Sparrow themed restaurant, spooning little mouthfuls of fish soup while they looked at people floating by on this peculiarly French version of Pirates of the Caribbean. Rolf looked at his phone and saw they still had almost a half hour before they needed to board the ride, but already he was a little excited about the ride, because, he hated to admit, he’d always wanted to come here. Still, his mother had told him a gazillion times that they just didn’t have enough money for a trip like this.

Yet, now, here he was. But while he had some vague idea where his mother was, she was so inaccessible now as to be…what? Gone. Like Henry, perhaps? Now dead and gone? Because if she really was living fifteen million years in the future…

“I detest this music,” Dina groused. “Over and over…yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirates life for me. How nauseatingly American! Such mindless barbarism masquerading as hedonistic materialism!”

Tracy shook her head. “Gee. Ever here of just cutting loose and having a little fun with your grandson, Dina? Or is that simply beneath you?”

Yet Dina ignored the question and turned to Rolf. “What about you? Have you ever wanted to come here?”

“Only all my life!”

“What? Why on earth…?”

“Because, Granma-ma, this is a playground of the imagination, and I grew up with these movies. This place is very special to me…”

“And that,” Tracy added, “is why we’re here, Dina. But I can understand why you’d be upset that a total stranger knew more about your grandson than you do…”

“Do you know what is worse?” Rolf asked. “Listening to you two bickering at one another. God! Look around you! Let your mind run free for a while but please, please, let go of all this hate for just one stinking, miserable minute!”

Then Rolf threw back his chair and walked away.

“Nicely said,” Tracy muttered.

“I had no idea…” Dina sighed, wiping away a tear – but she caught herself and sat upright as she sucked in a deep breath. “For his sake, we must find a truce between us,” Dina added, her voice just barely above a whisper.

“Oh really? Why?”

“You are insufferable, you do know that, don’t you?”

“Listen close, Dina. I don’t know why you’re here, other than to get some work done on Rolf’s boats while we’re away…”

“Away? Away? What does this even mean, this away? First there is this vanishing priest, then all these mysteries surrounding my daughter and that other girl…”

“You can’t even say her name, can you? Henry loved her and yet you can’t even…”

But Dina broke out in laughter. “Oh, you poor fool! Haven’t you figured out yet that our dear Henry loved absolutely everyone? – but that when you love everyone, you in effect love no one at all?”

Tracy sat back and sighed, now more than angry. “You were with him, what? Five months, or was it six? And in that time, in all that vast amount of time,” she continued, her voice suddenly dripping with overwrought sarcasm, “you never once saw past your own worldview. Your own take on love. You never once, Dina, saw into Henry’s heart, saw just how much love was waiting in there, just waiting to reach out. Waiting – maybe even for you. For you to reach out and embrace what he had to offer?”

Dina nodded. “And what did he have to offer us, Tracy? Nothing more than an illusion, just like this place…all an illusion. Worse, really; his love was more like a delusion, a blind alley…a place that felt oh so comfortable until you discovered that his love was leading us nowhere…”

“Love is love, Dina. Love doesn’t take you places, it won’t lead you to bliss or nirvana. Love simply allows us to find what is locked away in our own hearts, and then, and maybe only then, can we share our gifts with others.”

“You speak the language of delusions, Tracy.”

“I speak the language of empathy, Dina. A language you know nothing about.”

“Maybe that’s why he was attracted to you.”

“God, I hope so.”

Rolf walked up to the table, his hands stuffed inside his coat pockets. “I have paid the bill. It is time. We must go get in the line to be there at the correct time.”

Dina growled then, her patience at an end. “That infernal music! Won’t someone please make it stop?!”

© 2020-21 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates. Bits of music quoted under the Creative Commons: Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me) © 1967 by the Walt Disney Music Co. Ltd., music by George Bruns, lyrics by Xavier Atencio. The original work can be heard here.

Come Alive (34.4.3)

Come Alive Sirens art

Okay, so if you missed it there was a major addition to the flow, and if you haven’t already, head back to the previous chapter (34.4.1 & 34.4.2) to get caught up. Again, sorry for the snafu.

And a little music to lead the way through this very short snippet.

Chapter 34.4.3

The wind tore into the Swan, pushing her bow to port despite Henry’s trying to keep her dead into the wind. Yet even as she fell off the wind he began to feel her rolling – and he saw that sudden, all-consuming panic in Rupert’s eyes. He ignored all fear now as he looked at the apparent wind speed gauge – which was pegged at 110 knots, the maximum the gauge could display, and his intuition said to turn back into the wind, yet he knew that as the boat rolled the rudder would become less and less effective, so he turned to port, hard to the left, and the Swan began to settle down on her lines again – and to pick up boat speed, too.

Fifteen seconds later the wind speed dropped to 30 knots, then to 25, and he pinched up as best he could, turning back to their baseline course – and into a very confused sea…

…the he saw the other boat, still about a half mile away…

Her keel had snapped off and she was sinking, her crew was flailing in the water surrounded by debris.

It was against race rules to use the engine for anything but battery charging, but right now the rules didn’t matter. He reached for the ignition switch and preheated the engine, then hit the starter.

“Henry!” Rupert cried. “What the hell are you doing!”

“Pete!” Henry called out, ignoring Rupert. “Get on the SSB and put out a Mayday, advise we are coming to the aid of a sinking vessel and that their are people in the water!”

“Got it, Hank.”

“Sheesh. Test pilots. Nothing seems to excite them,” Henry muttered. “Rupert, stand-by the Life-Slings and get somebody on the bow to point out people in the water.”

“Right!”

He waited for the engine to warm a little then pushed it to the redline, but even so he guesstimated it would take the Swan about 20 minutes to get to the debris field…and to all the people there.

“Rupert! Get the main up, one reef, and the high-clewed yankee…get that up too…!”

“Got it! Come on, people! Let’s MOVE!”

Henry saw the other boat’s hull slip under the waves and he checked his boat speed against the ten foot waves she was powering through, and he immediately realized it was gonna be a close thing…probably too close.

Then he saw a tall black dorsal fin slicing through the water, and then the eye of his friend looking up at him from the sea right beneath the cockpit.

“Rupert! Get back here and take the wheel!” Henry called out to the foredeck – just before he set the autopilot and jumped into the sea…

+++++

Edith met them in the lobby of the Grand Californian and they walked directly into the park from the hotel, then she took them over to the 33 Club for lunch – Monte Cristo sandwiches and mint juleps were the order of the day – and Mike was astonished by the change that had come over this fire-breathing hell-bitch. Unabashedly genteel and genuinely helpful now, she now apparently wanted nothing more than to see to it that Anton had the time of his life.

And Anton, for his part, was more than happy to go right along for the ride.

It hadn’t even been four months since he’d been piloting a Sukhoi over the North Sea, locked in mortal combat with an American F-15…and then, in an instant…his entire world had disappeared…vanishing inside the heartbeat of the last world war the earth would ever know.

Then he’d been drifting towards the sea, a little boat fleeing Rotterdam below his dangling feet, then a surreal rescue by Henry Taggart – and that whale of his.

And now here he was, inside one of the most exclusive reserves of the American über-wealthy, with a most attractive American female while enjoying food that had heretofore been something beyond his wildest imaginings. And because of Henry Taggart, he was himself now more than a little wealthy, too.

“What strange world,” Anton sighed as his mind roamed.

“Oh?” Edith said. “How so?”

“I think of Genry. How he save me with whale, how whale was friend. And now here with most amazing beautiful American girl, in place where grandchildren dream of come – of coming to. I am sad, but happy also. Sad for grandchildren. All the grandchildren who never know this place. Happy see this with own eyes so tell when see in heaven.”

“They call this the happiest place on earth,” Edith added. “Maybe there’s a reason for that happiness, Anton?”

Anton nodded. Mike, however, looked out over New Orleans Square and tried to imagine the cash flow.

“When was the last time you and Henry came here, Edith?” Mike asked.

She fell into the trap, she was quite helpless not to, really. “Henry and I? Oh, that was many, many years ago – so many I can’t remember when exactly,” she lied – but despite the evasion she thought back to the last time they’d sat up here in this very dining room, her emotions now, as then, framed by the very same elegant French hardwood paneling on the walls, and all the doors open to the same square below…to that afternoon when she had told him about all her little murders – and how he had run away from her then…and how he had never really stopped running from her, not once – and certainly not even now.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive ( 34.4.1 & 34.4.2)

Come Alive Sirens art

Okay, a major issue yesterday, because it turns out I screwed the pooch big time. I posted 34.5 before 34.4 so now nothing makes sense, or at least less sense than is usual for me. Typical behavior for old farts, I nevertheless apologize. So, after the music selection below you’ll find yourself reading 34.4, but 34.5 is now incorporated into this snippet. Again, endless apologies, and I hope you understand. So, once again, a little music – for the storm in the story ahead. Going to draw this out a little, probably two more snippets after all is said and done…but gee, didn’t I say that last time?

Chapter 34.4.1

The big, blue Swan 65 was berthed in Victoria, British Columbia, at a small marina located deep inside the inner harbor a stone’s throw from The Empress Hotel, and Henry Taggart had just finished stowing supplies for three weeks down below. They’d probably only need ten days for the crossing to Maui, but better safe than sorry, right? At least his dad had always said that, and the idea still made perfect sense today.

This was the second time Rupert and Henry were taking the Swan on the Victoria to Maui Race, and they were taking this second effort more seriously than the first time they’d made the run. They’d placed tenth in class on that first effort and Rupert had been pissed – because there’d only been ten boats in their class, but now that he and Henry understood this would be their last race, period, they’d both decided to take the whole thing more seriously this time out.

So…it had been decided early on that they’d bring only one case of rum on this race, instead of the three cases they’d carried on the first race. Sacrifices had to be made, right? Racing while shit-faced tended to lead to predictable outcomes.

And this time Rupert had insisted on a proper crew, and besides Henry all were from Boeing. Test pilots, including a retired shuttle pilot, were making this trip, and as they’d been practicing together for several weeks now everyone was hopped up and ready to go. Visions of trophies danced in Rupert’s mind…

“What say we take a break and head up to the hotel for tea?” Rupert said as he came up the aft companionway.

“Tea?” Henry sighed. “We’re going to be locked up on a boat for ten days with a bunch of pilots – and you want to go get tea?”

Rupert shrugged. “Ain’t no decent hookers in this town far as I can tell,” he snarled, “and anyway, I ain’t real sure I’d like to get down with one of those hairy legged Canadian girls.”

“Oh, really? Well, after a week at sea, Rupert, those hairy legs are gonna start to look real good.”

Rupert shook his head and shivered. “Never!”

“Well, anyway, I’m glad we have those rooms up there. I’m going to get in that shower tonight and stand under the water for an hour – just so I don’t forget what it feels like.”

“Taggart…you’re a wuss.”

“Damn straight,” Henry said as he hopped down to the dock. Once Rupert was down they started the short walk up to the hotel and, as no shorts and t-shirts were allowed in the Lobby Lounge, where tea was being served this afternoon, they needed to hit the showers and change first. They paused at the crosswalk and waited for traffic, then made their way up to the main lobby.

“I’ll meet you back here,” Rupert said as they waited for an elevator.

“Right,” Henry replied. 

And so Henry went on to his room, not at all expecting to find Pinky already there and waiting impatiently for him.

“Well, this is a surprise,” he said as he walked into his room. “To what do I owe…”

“Henry! I am with child!”

“Excuse me?”

“I am with child. You are the father.”

“And you’re not funny. In fact…”

“I am not trying to be funny, Henry. I am with child.”

“But how is this even possible? I’m no geneticist, but the last time I checked the DNA from two distinct species couldn’t…” 

But then it hit him and Henry stopped talking; now he looked at Pinky once again, only like he was looking at her for the very first time. Five fingers, horizontally opposed thumb. Bilateral symmetry. Structural anatomy of her arms and legs – all identical to our own, from her toes to her nose, and so what was the chance her species had developed just like us – in some faraway galaxy?

So when he looked her now she turned and looked away, and for the first time now he knew, he really knew, that she was being well and truly evasive. ‘Human after all,’ he sighed.

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” he said.

She turned back to face him once again, only now she spoke softly. “We were from earth. The earth of your distant past.”

“Distant? Like…how distant?”

She shrugged. “That is not important.”

“Okay. So, what is important?”

“This child. This is important.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I do not know. My – superiors – are not at all pleased.”

“Well, I’m not too sure I’m all that happy about this myself.”

Which caused Pinky to fall to the bed – in tears.

“Ah, estrogen,” Henry sighed. “Can’t live with it…can’t live without it.”

“What?”

“Oh…nothing, dear.”

“I don’t know what to do!”

“You…and about 42,000 other teenage girls.”

“What?”

“Nothing. So tell me, what are your options?”

“I have none. I am to report to our laboratory for observation and monitoring of fetal development.”

“You won’t be able to visit me while this is going on?”

“I do not know.”

“How long will you…”

“I do not know.”

“Right.” He went to the bed and laid down next to her, then he caressed her face as he looked into her eyes. 

“Is this the love you spoke of, Henry? This thing I see in your eyes?”

“I don’t know? What do you see?”

“It is almost like sadness, but not quite. It is more like a willingness to share good things as well as bad. Is that it?”

“Maybe a part of it, but there’s more to it than that.”

“When this race is over, will you come visit me?”

“Of course.”

“I love what I see in your eyes right now, Henry Taggart.”

He smiled. A little smile at first, but soon it grew and grew…

“What is so funny, Henry?”

“Did you hear to what you just said? You said ‘I love what I see…’ Don’t you get it? You’re there, Pink. You’re feeling love!”

Her eyes went wide just before she sat up on the bed, then she winked out and was gone.

“Damn. Must’ve been something I said,” Henry said as he ambled into the bathroom. Then, as he scrambled out of his clothes, he looked at the shower and sighed.

+++++

Rolf was shaking with rage; Tracy helped the boy stand and brushed snow off his jacket, and when they turned to go back to Time Bandits she saw Dina standing under the cockpit dodger, scowling – as if the weight of all the world’s problems had suddenly landed squarely on her shoulders.

Yet Dina came to the rail and helped them back aboard, and she held Rolf’s hand as she led him to the cockpit. “What is it?” she asked when she saw the anger on her grandson’s face. “What has happened?”

“Nothing,” Tracy said.

“Oh, right,” Dina snarled. “Just like nothing happened when you got yourself shot in the shoulder! When are you going to start trusting me, Tracy! I loved him too, you know!”

“And you left him, Dina,” Tracy sighed. “You left him when he was at his most vulnerable.”

“So that’s it, is it? I am never to be trusted again? One mistake and…”

But then Rolf stood, his eyes clear, his mood resilient. “Granma-ma,” he began, “I need you to stay here, with the boat. Henry has left directions and contacts for all the work he thought might need to be completed before we can go to sea again, and it is most important that these things be done while we are away…”

“Away!” Dina cried. “You’re going away again?”

“As soon as Anton returns next week, yes, we will leave. I will be counting on you to get both boats ready to leave at a moments notice…”

“That’s preposterous!” Dina growled, her hands slashing about like a bouquet of rusty scalpels. “Where will you be? When will you return? How am I to function without knowing even the basics of where you are, or even who you are with…?”

“Granma-ma? If you want to see Britt again, or even Eva, you must trust me.”

“Trust you? My God, Rolf! You are just a boy!”

“And that,” Tracy whispered, her words trailing away on a snow-filled breeze, “is why we can’t trust you…”

+++++

With two minutes to go before the start, Henry held the Swan back a little, hoping to maneuver behind an ultra-lightweight design and slip into a better, or windward, position when the starting gun sounded. He checked the apparent wind angle and the apparent wind speed indicators as he tried to read eddies on the almost calm surface of the sea off Victoria, then he turned and looked over his right shoulder – and saw another boat now had the same idea and was going to slide in and push his Swan down towards the ultralight, at the same time blanketing his sails and stalling his start.  He pushed the Swan closer to the wind, hoping to stall the overtaking boat while maintaining his momentum towards the starting line, but he was beginning to doubt this updated Frers design had the upwind chops to hold his line in this light air.

Rupert had their lightest, biggest genoa up, and they was making almost 4 knots over the ground, but the overtaking boat was doing just a little better. Still, if he could push the other boat too far into the wind he might still just pull this off. He looked at the telltales up and down the gennie and sighed…

“Let her out a little, Dave,” Henry said to Dave Mason, a Boeing test pilot along for the ride.

“Got it.”

Henry watched their boat speed pick up two tenths of a knot before he fell off the wind a little, looking for the perfect ‘slot’ of airflow between the main and genoa, then he saw another eddy on the water and began to time his next turn into the wind.

“Okay Dave, get ready to bring her in again on three – two – one…now!”

Henry caught the header and the Swan’s speed jumped to five knots, then five point two, and the overtaking boat began to fall behind with only fifty yards – or less than fifteen-seconds – to go to the start. He looked at his countdown timer and then at the imaginary line between the committee boat and an inflatable marker buoy set out a hundred yards or so from the power boat, and he grinned. Rupert gave him a fist-pump as the cannon fired, as the Swan crossed the start – in the lead!

Now, one by one, boats started falling off as tacticians on each boat began maneuvering for the next tactical advantage, their job to exploit long range weather forecasts, not just the local winds and current. Knowing exactly where the North Pacific High was located would become the most important bit of information each skipper had as they neared the halfway point to Maui, but first they’d have to clear Race Rocks and then set a course for Tatoosh Island, all while each boats skipper kept close eyes on the other boats in their class.

Alston, their tactician, called up a new course and Henry turned to starboard 30 degrees; Dave let out the gennie while Karen Grimes, another Boeing test pilot, handled the main – both without being told to do so, always a good sign they were paying attention. The big gennie was pulling well in this light air so Rupert came back to the cockpit and settled down next to Henry.

“Man, I thought I was gonna stroke out when Pyewacket began squeezing us…” Rupert snarled.

“So that’s who that was,” Henry said. “Aggressive move. Too bad for them.”

“You did great, Henry. That was a bad-ass move. I bet Roy is cussing you out right about now.”

Henry smiled, if only because his dad would have been proud. If you lost tactical awareness in the start you were doomed, and as many skippers never recover from a botched start a lot of practical emphasis is placed on winning the race at the very beginning. Crew morale can rise or crash depending on the outcome at the starting line, so Henry had given his strategy a lot of thought. Now he wanted to beat as many boats as he could to Tatoosh, though the bigger boats had the decided advantage of greater boat speed. Still, there were only three boats bigger than the Swan, so Henry knew they had a shot a Class honors on corrected time.

The wind piped up a little and Henry looked at Rupert. 

“One point five knots and we’ll have to drop that light air sail. Better rig the twin-stay and get ready.”

Rupert nodded and went forward, then a shadow off to port caught his eye.

It was an orca – his orca – he saw, dancing down there beneath the sun dappled surface of the sea. Shadowing the Swan, playing with him out here under the dome of the sky.

+++++

“So,” Rupert said, “you’re really gonna do it? Sell out and sail away?”

It was 0200 and they were in the middle of their watch, and tonight, their third night at sea, the Swan was more than a third of the way to Maui.

Henry nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, since dad died, anyway.”

“Yeah, I miss the old guy. Helluva sailor, too. He made a difference on our first race, ya know?”

“I miss him too,” Henry said, looking away for a while.

“The man did love his rum,” Rupert added.

“That he did. I think it kept him running.”

“So? What are you gonna do?”

“Not really sure yet. I ran across a bunch of books when I was packing up the house, books about cruising the canals in Sweden and the Netherlands, and I think he wanted to do that. I guess, what is that saying? He ran out the clock?”

“Don’t we all,” Rupert sighed. “No one complains about having too much time, do they?”

“Probably not.”

“You got anyone in mind to go with you?”

“No, not really, but I was halfway thinking I’d like to make the crossing by myself.”

“Oh,” Rupert said, but Henry could hear the disappointment in his friend’s voice.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Watch Madeline curl her hair, for all I know,” the retired general snarled. “Hell, I don’t know, Taggart. This whole retirement thing has me beat.”

“Why don’t you load up the Swan when we get to Maui and just keep on going. Go to Tahiti, New Zealand, stop when you get tired…”

“Or have to go home to sign the divorce papers.”

“There is that.”

“Interesting idea, but I can’t handle a tub like this by myself.”

“You won’t have any problem finding a couple of wahinis to make that trip with you. Not with a boat like this.” 

“You think?”

“I know.”

“My boy would shit a brick…”

“So invite him along. Get to know him. Might be the only chance you get, ya know?”

“I’d have to leave Boeing,” Rupert muttered, but Henry could already see the wheels turning. Add a little imagination and Rupert would be off on the adventure of a lifetime…

Pete Mitchell came halfway up the companionway steps and passed up some iced tea and tuna salad sandwiches before he came fully out into the cockpit.

“Thanks, Pete,” Rupert said. “I was getting hungry.”

“Me too,” Henry said as he snagged a sandwich and took a bite.

“Hank, there’s a band on the radar when I set the range out to 48…”

Henry nodded. “I thought I saw a little flicker a few minutes back. Little to the right of our current heading, right?”

“Yeah, but I think it’s headed our way.”

“Got a velocity vector?”

“Yeah, if my math is right it’ll be here in an hour, maybe fifty minutes.”

“Pete,” Rupert asked, “has your math ever been wrong?”

“I made a mistake once,” Pete replied, “back in 1973, I think.”

“Good sandwiches, Pete,” Henry groaned, though smiling calmly. “Better go below and wake everyone up. Better tell ‘em we’re gonna be in for a little shit-show.”

Rupert looked at Henry when he heard that, and right then and there he knew he couldn’t sail anywhere without Taggart. It was plain as day now, and just as simple as that. He caught a flicker of lightning on the horizon and as his stomach tightened he turned and looked at Henry Taggart.

He was standing behind the wheel now, and smiling like some kind of possessed fiend – like he was getting ready to spit in Satan’s eye – because to Rupert it seemed that Henry Taggart was finding the prospect of a big storm more than a little amusing.

Chapter 34.4.2

Sitting next to Edith for ten hours hadn’t been the worst thing he’d ever endured, but Anton thought the experience would make his top ten list of most uncomfortable times. First she wanted the window seat, then the aisle, and when their flight attendant brought champagne it was too warm. Their was too much salt on her salmon, her salad dressing too much vinegar and on and on it went.

Mike Lacy was sitting across the aisle from them so was spared most of her irritating display, but every now and then he leaned over and made eye contact with Anton. They’d share a brief nod – a kind of soggy commiseration, given the circumstances – before Mike would lean back again and try to refocus on the in-flight entertainment screen. ‘What a wicked wretch,’ he thought as he tried to ignore her nonstop screeching litany of misery, and more than once he thought everyone would have been better served if they’d just dumped her face down in a ditch somewhere out in the sticks.

She got up to go to the head about every half hour, too, and Mike handled these chores, following her up to the entry/cockpit alcove up front and making sure she didn’t try to bang on the cockpit door or otherwise try to create some kind of a stink with airline personnel. She’d glower at Mike as she came out of the little toilet compartment, then he’d follow her back to her seat and make sure she got buckled-in, again, then sit down and wait for the next trip.

So when the fasten seat belt lights chimed and the pilots announced their flight was on final approach into LAX, Mike was more than a little relieved. So was Anton. But Mike had just noticed a little quirk on their tickets, and though he had to assume Henry had done this on purpose, he was a little surprised. Henry had scheduled a five day layover for them. Five days in LA, and vouchers for a four-night stay at the Grand Californian at Disneyland, and when Mike leaned over and pointed this out to Anton, the Russian had gone ballistic – and just about out of his mind.

“Mountains of Space?” Anton shouted. “Really! Caribbean Pirates? Oh my God! Thanks you, Genry!”

“So,” Mike sighed, “I take it this means you want to go to Disneyland?”

“YES, I want wery much go Disneylands.”

“Well, shit,” Mike sighed – just under his breath, “this will be real fun.”

But Edith heard this exchange and leaned over to speak to Mike. “Would you two like me to join you? I’d be happy to show you around.”

And just like that…like someone had flipped a switch…Edith became the genteel hostess once again, but Mike simply couldn’t resist the impulse to see how far she’d take this latest ploy to get back to Time Bandits, and what her ultimate motive might be. Besides money, he sighed.

“Why certainly, Edith. That would be just lovely,” Mike said, smiling as sincerely as he dared.

“Wonderful,” she said as she clapped her hands excitedly, kind of like a five year old might.

“You go Disneyland with Genry many times. This right?” Anton asked.

“Many times, Anton. Many, many times.”

“My grandchildren dream to ride Caribbean Pirates, so this I must do.”

“And I’d love to go with you, Anton,” Edith cooed, now putting on her best prom queen aires.

‘And I’d love to go pick some lint out of my belly button,’ Mike sighed – as he leaned back and closed his eyes…

+++++

Rolf and Dina were sitting at the big table in the saloon, each reading through the dense notes that Henry had left each of them on their laptops. There were three-ring-binders too, crammed with warranty data and other vital papers necessary for an easy transfer of ownership to Rolf. Tracy sat at the chart table reading her notebook, and as these were Henry’s last words to her she was taking everything kind of hard.

Then, a ping from a timer in the galley and Dina’s cinnamon rolls were finally ready; she iced them then fixed coffee, carrying bowls of fresh melon to the table when everything was ready. And there sat little Clyde, beside Rolf now – as he always was since Christmas day, sitting close to Rolf while quietly taking everything in.

Yet the funny thing about this quiet attentiveness was that, if Rolf or Dina, or even Tracy had cared enough to look over this strange little pup, to look him over a little more closely than they had, perhaps one of them might have noticed the pinkish tinge deep within the pups eyes. 

+++++

“Pete?” Henry said to his tactician as he muscled the Swan over another eight foot growler. “I think I see a steaming light between us and that squall line. Pull up the radar and see if you can get a range and bearing for me, would you?”

“Got it, Hank.”

“Rupert,” Henry added, “where’d my binoculars run off to?”

“Oh, sorry, I’ll get ‘em.”

Once Henry had his Steiner’s up to his eyes he scanned the flickering horizon but quickly spotted the other sailboat’s mid-mast steaming light, the single light casting a feeble glow on the other boat’s spinnaker. He pushed a button and illuminated the binos internal compass and took a bearing, then waited for Pete…

“Intermittent contact at 243 degrees, range 3.2 miles, but it’s a sketchy contact at best, like they aren’t flying a radar reflector…”

Henry nodded. “Some idiots take ‘em down after the start to decrease windage. You got a distance to the leading edge of the squall line?”

“It’s indistinct, Hank, but call it 12 to 15 miles, so call it 20 minutes max until contact.”

“Okay. Rupert, rig the little storm trysail in the slot, and let’s get ready to douse the main, at least until we know how deep this cell is, but tie in a deep reef for now…”

“Right!” Rupert got his deck-apes forward and it took four of them to bring in the heavy air gennie, but they wrestled it down below while Rupert and another ape reefed the main. Then Rupert looked ahead and now he could just see the sailboat up ahead – and he saw they were still flying a huge tri-radial spinnaker, one designed for sailing on a close reach…but if that squall line hit them while flying such a huge sail, well, he wasn’t a pro at this whole sailing thing but he knew there would be some real trouble on that boat tonight. “Henry? See that spinnaker?” he yelled back to Taggart.

“Everyone must be asleep,” Henry replied, shaking his head. “Pete? Give ‘em a shout on VHF and see if anyone’s awake over there?” He looked at their own boat speed, falling rapidly now that the sails were changed, then he looked at their apparent wind speed – 24 to 28 knots while still on this close reach – but the seas were still modest – and he guessed wave heights were four to seven or eight feet – but that would change fast if this was a deep cell…

He flipped on the loud-hailer and hit five short blasts, then he looked through his Steiner’s to see if there was any reaction…

Nothing. At all…

He hit the horn again, and five short blasts of the sharp piercing sound split the night, but still he saw no reaction, so he altered course a little to starboard to close on the other sailboat…

Rupert came down into the aft cockpit, while the other deck apes huddled in the midships cockpit. “Okay, I checked everyone has got their harness on and everyone’s hooked-in…”

Henry nodded. “They must be on autopilot. That sail is luffing like crazy now, too, but if the wind hits while that fucker is up they’re gonna lose their mast when they roll…”

“Hank!” Pete yelled up from the chart table. “I got someone. Everyone’s racked-out below, some kind of dysentery, everyone’s sick as shit…”

“Tell ‘em to get their sails down – NOW,” Henry cried, “or they’re going to end up swimming the rest of the way to Maui!”

“Jesus, Henry…what the fuck…” Rupert began saying…

…just as lightning slammed into the sea a few hundred yards ahead of the other sailboat.

“Pete!” Henry said, still calmly. “Lightning ahead! Isolate the electronics – and do it right NOW!”

He could see two people on the other boat now, running forward to get the spinnaker down, one of them stopping suddenly before falling to the deck and getting sick, and then lightning slammed into the sea again – but this time between his Swan and the other boat…

“Oh fucking hell,” he moaned inwardly. There was nothing, nothing at all more terrifying than being on a sailboat at sea during a lightning storm, and that bolt had been close…

Then the thunder hit – a sharp splitting of the air within the scudding clouds just overhead, and everyone instinctively ducked…

And now Rupert looked at Henry, still amazed that his friend was showing no outward signs of fear – at all. Well, Henry was the de facto captain on this trip, and like any well trained pilot understands after one day of training, showing outward signs of panic just burns energy and keeps you from focusing on all the things that need attention…

“FUCK!” someone screamed, just after lightning slammed into the water a hundred yards off their starboard beam, and a couple of the deck apes ducked down the forward companionway and slammed the hatch shut behind them. Then – CRACK! – as another ripping wave of thunder tore through the scudding clouds…

“You know all that shit you were saying about sailing to Tahiti?” Rupert growled. “Well, fuck that shit, Amigo. Once this fucking tub gets to Maui I’m getting on an airplane and as far away from this goddamn death-trap as I can get! We’re in the middle of the goddamn ocean, Henry, riding on a fucking lightning rod!”

Henry grinned. “Yeah, ain’t life grand?”

“You mean…you’re enjoying this shit?”

Henry nodded. “We’re alive, Rupert, out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a sailboat. Would you really rather be sitting at a desk in an air conditioned office somewhere? Really?”

Rupert nodded. “I hear you, but…”

“Oh, fuck-a-doodle-do…” Henry sighed, now looking at a wall of white spume engulfing the sailboat ahead of them, still about a mile away, and still with their spinnaker flying.

As Rupert turned to see what had captured Taggart’s attention, he too saw the other boat swallowed up by the advancing storm. “Oh dear God in Heaven,” he mumbled. 

“About two minutes!” Henry called out to everyone left on deck. “Double check your harnesses and grab onto to something solid like a grab rail before this thing hits!” Henry looked at Rupert before he spoke next. “Come over here and clip onto the binnacle, get ready to help with the wheel in case something happens to me.”

“Something happens?” Rupert cried. “Like what?!”

“Get the main all the way down now!” Henry called out to the last two deck apes standing-by at the mast, and they wrestled the remaining sail down and got it lashed to the boom just as Henry turned the Swan almost directly into the wind.

Thirty seconds after the last deck ape jumped back down into the midship’s cockpit, the white squall hit.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.