by Paul Lumsdaine
This is a story in progress, please be patient and visit back often. I will make updates periodically (no way to tell how often), and you will be able to see the story unfold completely online. Occasionally, you will see footnotes and links leading to sites that might be of interest to the story. This is an attempt to create some hypertext fiction in the very loose sense of the word. This story is to be accompanied with an album I am composing by the same title. I will be releasing songs occasionally and linking them up. I offer this story free to the public, use and abuse as you wish, just don’t pass it off as your own. Unless you can think of a clever way to alter it (changing all the verbs, like in mad libs) then please send it back to me so that I may laugh heartily. Thanks.
Theres nothing out there. It feels odd and the only thing I can compare it to is that song, “floating in a tin can.” I know thats not the name of it, but thats the feeling. There is the vacuum of space, a giant expanse of ether that I can’t breathe, can’t touch and I desperately want to be a part of it all. This is how it feels, to be floating, to be weightless. I’ve been trapped so long under the weight of my own skin. Its a nauseating pleasure, like doing somersaults under water (theres even the slight tingle of the nose). Thats most likely the oxygen pumping through this suit, the most uncomfortable contraption I’ve ever voluntarily stepped into. This is just about the dumbest thing I have ever planned to do.
And it took nearly two whole years of planning to achieve this uncomfortable state. Actually it was a lifetime of bad decisions and regrets that brought me here. I took retaliation on myself for all that wasted time. I sacrificed my health, gorged myself on wealth and came out far worse than I came into this world. And now I’m staring down at it through a small bubble window, looking at the lush green fields and gentle blue seas I once called home. It looks so damn nice from here. Too bad I’m never going back down there ever again.
They thought I was pretty crazy for wanting to do this. “Two billion dollars? Just to go up there and die?” Yes, I was that selfish, to spend nearly one-fifth of what I am worth to strap on this uncomfortable suit and propel myself onto that great big rock in the sky. It wasn’t like I had any other choice, I was not about to spend the few remaining years of my life sitting in some room, counting the dots on the ceiling while they poke and prod and prepare me for death. No, I’m taking control of my destiny. I always have. I’m not about to let anyone stand in the way of what I want to do, even if it is just to die alone. Damn. I’m going to die.
I cheated death. Not by getting treatment for my ailments, but by shooting my self so far into the sky that I could almost touch the moon. I’m sitting upon that crescent shape, feeling better with the lack of atmosphere. So far into the sky. He was up here, alone, preparing to die. He had been waiting his whole life for this moment only hoping it would be this beautiful. The last few breaths he had were better spent alone.
And thats when it really hit him. The feeling of loneliness he used to feel as a young child, sitting in his bed, at 9pm on a Sunday night. He would cry himself to sleep just thinking about it. What would it be like to die? He would ask himself this question over and over again. Sunday night was a particularly good time to think about this, considering it marked the end of the weekend; these thoughts would come immediately as he stepped out of Church, and continue for the rest of the day. His parents started to worry, they thought something was wrong with the boy. “George, whats wrong dear? Why are you crying?” The sound of mother’s voice only made the tears fall quicker. She would sigh, and sit next to him on the bed, gently caressing his head and give comfort that only a mother’s touch could provide.
I wonder what it would be like to give my mom a hug, just one last embrace. I stopped hugging her probably around age 30, as soon as I started really getting into drinking and politics. The two went hand in hand for me, somehow I managed to do both really well for a very long time. I was 42 when she died, and I wished I would have just hugged her one more time. To her how much it meant to me that she used to sit next to me, reassuring me that everything would be alright. I could really use that right now. Just to have someone next to me, holding my hand, telling me it was going to be okay knowing that it won’t be. God, the memories rush to my head like a jolt of caffeine, the family dinners, the holiday parties and all those times we went on vacation across country.
My parents bought an RV when I was 12, and we rode everywhere in that thing. The second I stepped out of school, we would take off and be gone the whole summer. It was wonderful and exciting. I used to not be able to sleep the night before, just thinking about the places we would go. That first summer we all piled into the sparkling white Winnebago and headed north to Canada. It was somewhere in Nebraska, we stopped at a rest stop to goto the bathroom. I told them I was going to stay inside, but after they all left I slipped out. I wanted to go look at trucks. I was beginning to think it was a bad idea when I lost sight of the RV, but I continued through the parking lot. These trucks were gigantic, and I dodged quickly past the cabs to avoid being detected by a half-awake driver. What would it be like to always be on the road? Pretty lonely, I supposed, and I remember telling myself that I never wanted to be a truck driver. I started walking back and noticed that the RV was gone. I started to panic a little, and my chest felt heavy. I drank some water that tasted like lead and chlorine. I calmed down a bit. They would come back, right? They had to.
I sat there for about a half an hour and then began to really worry. I saw about ten families come and go, all stopping off to relieve themselves or stretch their legs. They must have really forgotten about me. Or maybe they were teaching me a lesson. I couldnt decided. I grew very angry at them, either way, I wasn’t that special to them. Fuck them. I’ll do it myself, I’ll find a damn ride or hop in the back of one those trucks and go wherever I fucking want. I started crying a little bit. “Crying never does any good.” Thats what my Dad told me after my baseball team lost their final game. But thinking of it always made me cry even more.
My eyes eventually dried. The sun started sinking and I became scared of the people pulling into the rest stop. All those people looking like they were in a hurry made me want to retreat into the trees that lined the parking lot. I walked past the trucks, my pace quickening as the sun was setting in my eyes. I walked into the grove of trees, and immediately it was dark. I kept walking deeper into the forest, and when I looked behind myself, all I could see was trees. No trucks, no rest rooms, no family forgetting you. Fuck them. I found my place. I’m gonna live here. Right in the middle of all these trees.
Soon I came upon a clearing. That sight nearly took my breath away. The trees receded into small brush and there was a giant field that stretched as far as I could see. The sun was setting on the far end of it, and I knew I was facing somewhat westward. It was so damn beautiful I began crying again. I guess I cried a lot when I was young. Crying for no reason, and most of it never did any good. My eyes dried again and I enjoyed the last few moments of a picture perfect sunset. I told myself that day, that it was alright to cry for happiness, to weep for beauty. I promised not to cry unless I was moved by something so deeply that it could not be described through words and needed tears for expression.
They eventually came back, and I heard them yelling my name and ran running back to my mothers arms because I knew she would comfort me. I was mildly scolded by my father who said something about “going off and trying to run away”. But my mom just held me close and rocked back and forth. I fell asleep in her arms and when I woke up, I was in another state.
We stopped off in Montana to visit Aunt Janice and Uncle Ted. They lived on a farm, and were proud to be in the middle of nowhere. They were happy to be free from the bustle of the city, the burdens of “modern life”. They had no TV, only a small radio. There was only one bathroom for a four bedroom house, and no electric appliances (even though they had electricity). My parents thought they were insane, and I learned quickly that eventhough they were related to us, we had no obligation to think highly of them.
When you looked into Uncle John’s grey eyes, you would feel yourself slipping into a tempest of thoughts. He hardly spoke, but he read constantly. Mom told me that when he was 7, he stopped speaking until the day he turned 12. Grandpa thought it was strange, but never questioned it since he always scored high on any tests he took in school. All of my Uncles and Aunts were home schooled, except for Uncle John, who they sent away to boarding school when he was 13. When he came back home after four years, he met my Aunt Janice at the town diner where she worked as a waitress. They married within a year. Soon after they they had Joey, then a year or so later Bobby followed. My Uncle John then started to work in Alaska for two whole years without seeing his family once. He must have worked very hard and was able to make enough to move back and retire. After he came back, they quickly had their last child and the one who was closest to me in age whom everyone affectionately called “Lizzie” (short for Elizabeth).
These three kids were very smart even though they were home schooled. My Uncle had one of the largest collections of books I have ever seen and they had read a good majority of them growing up. They were definitely smart, but seemed to be withdrawn from the “real world”. I could never imagine them living a normal life, where they would go to baseball practice after school and have pizza parties for their friends’ birthdays. They were their own friends. They looked after each other better than any family I’ve ever seen. The three of them were inseparable, until that time we visited them, when I saw something I will never be able to forget. Even now as I stare into the darkness of space riddled with pinhole lights from distant stars, I can still see clearly in my mind that night on Uncle John and Aunt Janice’s farm. I can hear Lizzie whispering into my ear, “Don’t be afraid, it will be over soon.”
I can feel the fire, burning away, the heat of the fireplace they tend to each night. Its warming my cold leg. My Dad is prodding at it with the poker and most likely he’s just trying to look busy. This night is just like any other, dull as their wooden floors and stale like the summertime air. Bobby comes over to me and taps me on my shoulder.
“We’re going to play hide and seek in the barn, want to come?”
“Sure, anything.” And I mean that because I am really bored. Lizzie and Joey are already waiting outside when we step onto the front porch. “Alright”, he says with his hands spread wide in front of him, “now here are the rules.” We all stare at him captivated by his presence. He is the eldest kid and carries that air of sophistication that an older sibling has be default. “There’s no hiding in or around the house, and no going into the neighbor’s fields.” He pauses for a moment, most likely trying to think of more rules. “The safety is the barn door, if you reach there before I find you then you’re safe for this round. If ma and pa call us in and you didn’t reach the barn door, you are it. Understand me?”
We all nod in serious agreement with Joey’s instructions like soldiers taking commands from their general.
“Ok, I’ll be it first. You have thirty seconds to hide.” He begins to look very serious as if he is preparing us for battle.
“Get ready, set…”
He pauses for what seems like a decade and we prepare to make a dash.
Joey starts counting and we scatter across the farm like our lives depend on it. Lizzie grabs my shoulder as I start heading towards the barn. “He always finds you in there, follow me.” She clasps my hand tightly and drags me towards the opposite direction.
I look back and watch as Bobby heads towards the barn. I wonder why he doesn’t follow us and go where Lizzie is taking me. I guess Joey will find him first, probably because he’ll be guarding the barn door. It makes sense now why Bobby would head that way, yet somehow it didn’t when Lizzie first dragged me away.
Lizzie grabs my hand so tight, and leads me through the rows of corn. She starts running, almost at full speed, and I want to turn back now, but somehow I can’t let go of her hand. I look back and there is no sight of the house or barn, just darkness. I look up and I can’t see the moon or any stars, just stalks of corn. I begin to worry and I want to cry. Then I remind myself of my promise and I feel Lizzie grab my hand even tighter. “We’re almost there, hold on.”
And she dives downward, somewhere I can’t see. I’m still holding on and I tumble down with her. I fall on her. She stops breathing.
Is she dead? I don’t think so. She is still moving her eyes from side to side in a panic. I realize that I just knocked the wind out of her. Its dark in this hole and I only can see her silhouette. I shift my weight off of her and roll over onto my side. It hurts. After a few moments, she starts to breathe normally. She draws her face closer to mine. “Its a lightning storm,” she whispers.
I can feel her hand, still clasped to mine, now shaking. It must have scared her to fall in, as much as it scared me to follow and fall on top of her. I can hear the roar of the storm overhead, and every few seconds see brief flashes of her face. Her hands strat to tremble. She hugged me and it felt good to have that comfort of her embrace. “This is where I come to get away from my brothers.” I don’t know what she means by this. I’m confused and distracted by the lightning and thunder simultaneously going off in short bursts above our heads. I feel drops of rain kiss my cheek. I want to get out of this hole. I want to get out of this. I want to get out.
We work our way out of the hole and the rain seems to stop. The clouds begin to part a little and you can see the stars peeking out from the reddish gray sky. We hear crackling in the distance where a faint red glow begins to pulsate and grow. We can barely see past the tops of the corn crops as we quickly make our way towards it. We try to run, though are impeded by the slightly damp soil which is causing us to lose our footing every three or four steps. At one point Lizzie almost falls but I pull her up. Our hands never separate.
We are about to reach a clearing and can begin to see an intense burning through a thick veil of smoke and ash. I then realize exactly what is going on. The family barn is completely engulfed in flames.
Lizzie stops at the edge of the clearing. Without turning around, she begins to backpedal back towards the rows of corn, pulling me with her. I fight back but do not dare to let go of her hand. She begins to fight more and more and I turn around to pull her towards me. I start to panic and want to get back to the house.