Normalni High: The Jock

Normalni High School has been the education site for the Town of Normalni for five generations. It’s a wide building which sits squat upon a hill in the center of town. Around seven thirty every weekday morning you can see students making their way to the whitewash brick walls. All of them carrying an assortment of bags and books and instruments. A wave of people marching to school, much too disorganized and mismatched to be a unified army. They all fly their own colors and cling to their own.

The season has been going on for a while now and we’re one game away from playoffs. Once playoffs start up the practices will ramp up and so will my school work. The last two years we didn’t get very far before a team of monsters clobbered us. Zloy Community High School always knocks us out of the playoffs. They have a massive team of at least sixty players and all of them must be at least six and a half feet tall. They look like a group of full-grown, heavily bearded lumberjacks all huddled onto three cold-steel benches. I’m the biggest guy on our team and I look like one of their sons. And I’m the QB! During games I can see clearly right over the top of our linemen. There’s always at least one receiver open and almost always enough time to get a pass off. Our defense is pretty strong, but our new left tackle, Sean Mattard, is nowhere near as good as Hank Quinton. He was our left tackle last year and I don’t think I ever got touched from the left. A senior; I heard he went to Notre Dame on a scholarship. I guess I can’t complain though. We haven’t lost a game yet, but it’s all gonna come down to the game against Zloy. Our next game is up against Malenka High School. We’ve beat them every year for at least six years and I’m not too worried about tomorrow.

The day’s almost over, just one more class to go. Ugh! Literature is the fucking worst. “Hey!” someone shouts to me in the hall. “Good luck at your game!” “Thanks.” A little bit of a dull response, but I have to suffer through literature before I can get psyched for the game. Too much reading. Too many fancy words to remember. It’s not like math where I can just get the answers; compare with friends or even cheat when time gets short. With literature you have to actually read. Either you know the story or not. Sure there’s SparkNotes and other summaries online. But teachers know when you haven’t read. They figure it out from our responses on stupid reading tests with super specific questions. I hate it so much. We read the oldest stories in the world, which have no use in real life. Plus the essays. How do they expect you to write so much about a stupid topic like how the American Dream is portrayed in The Great Gatsby or Shakespeare’s word use in Sonnet One Billion. Lately, we’ve been reading bible stories and other religious stuff in class. Each person takes turns reading paragraphs aloud and it might as well be another language. We stop every other word trying to figure out what we’re reading. “Are we all ready?” We’ve all shuffled into class now and sat down at our desks. I pick up the paper on my desk; 1 Samuel 17. “Today we’ll be reading David and Goliath. David, it seems appropriate that you start off our reading today.” Thank god it’s not me first. This is a fifty five minute long class and we’ve never finished a story earlier than twenty minutes into the class. That means a thirty minute discussion where the teachers tries to pry answers out of us about silly questions like, why was this word chosen over another? How does that qualify as teaching? She thinks we care?

“Thomas?” My focus immediately shifts. “Uhm…” I can hear students snickering and feel the blood rushing to my face. Where were we!? “As the Philistine…” The teacher starts, hinting me the location. Found it, the first paragraph on the second page.

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.” I can see that the teacher is satisfied even if she’s a little off-put by the monotone.

Raul starts the next paragraph and my face is starting to cool down. This is one of the reasons I hate literature.

Finally the day is over after the longest discussion ever held about a kid slinging rocks like some prankster. I head to the Junior lockers. Some more people wish me good luck as I put my stuff together. I put my books away and bring my backpack with me to the boy’s locker room. I’m the first one here and I start getting out of my clothes. The rest of the team is streaming in with their bags hanging from one strap off of their shoulders and a helmet or some pads in the other hand. As I switch into my pads I hear Sean ask if everyone’s ready for the game. “Are we ready to win or what!?” A collective “Hell Yeah!” rises up and echoes in the locker room. I can’t wait to play. Now all my gears on except for my helmet. The team colors are gray and a bluish purple just like our mascot, the Man O’ War. So, the helmets are gray and our home jerseys are mostly a light gray with two vertical purple stripes that line up with the shoulders. I don’t like the color combination that much, but no one else seems to mind. I like more colorful jerseys and a little bit of a difference between the helmets and jerseys. So, it’s pretty fortunate that I get a special helmet since I’m QB and all. Unlike all the others who have the plain gray helmets, I have a brownish gold colored helmet. It has a kind of brazen look to it, which is a nice contrast to the jerseys. Plus it helps my teammates pick me out in the heat of plays. I put my helmet on as we begin our pregame practice. I wear a mouth guard as well, but I save that for the actual game.

It’s getting dark out and the field lights have switched on. There’s four minutes left in the fourth quarter and the scoreboard reads; Home: 42, Away: 6. I’m on the bench waiting for Malenka to lose possession. To my left the cheerleaders are leading the crowd in a chant of “Dee Fense, Dee Fense, Dee Fense!” I look over my shoulder and I can see our mascot, Manny the Man O’ War, dancing along. Every move he makes causes the fat, purple tentacles to sway and jiggle. Good thing it’s a cold night I guess. I’d hate to have to wear that when it’s warm out. I wonder if that’s the same guy who fell over at the beginning of the season. I hear the referee’s shrill whistle and turn my head back to the game. “That’s a turnover for Normalni High!” says the announcer from up in the press box. The band starts up the fight song as I make my way to the field with our offensive line. Three minutes, seventeen seconds left on the clock. All I need to do is stall and waste away the clock. We’ve got a huge lead, this should be no problem. Can’t start celebrating yet though. I call hike and receive the snap. My left wide receiver is wide open and three quarters of the way down the field within seconds of the snap. An easy throw over the top and a well executed catch. He almost makes it all the way before he’s tackled. We’ve gone from the fifty all the way to five yards in just one down. “A wonderful throw by Thomas Jacobsen and a catch by Ryan Colton!” The announcer can just be heard above the cheer of parents and students in the stands and the lively, but slightly sour and flat, fanfare of the band. We should probably do a run play next, but I can see the Malenka line is being set up thick. Let’s go with another throw and catch them off guard. “HIKE” The ball is snapped my way, but it’s a little too high. I catch it right above my head. I try to regain some balance and scan the field. Ryan is making his way from right to left across the end zone. I need to hit him in his run. As my eyes follow Ryan I see a break in the line. Someone’s got past Sean on my left. He’s a short scrawny looking kid bolting straight for me. I quickly scoot to my right in order to gain some space to get off the throw. Ryan’s doubling back now; heading towards the right end of the field. I shift my right shoulder back to get the proper angle and put my full weight behind the ball as I send it into Ryan’s gut. As I turn my head left I catch the scrawny kid out of the corner of my eye. He’s airborne and before I can do anything I’m on the ground. My head bashes the dirt; forced down by all this kid’s weight. It hurts like the worst migraine ever. “Holy Shit!” I scream. I’m muffled by the kid’s  jersey and the mouth guard. I try to get him off me, but I can’t mouth my arm to push him off. In fact, I can’t feel anything below the neck. “God Dammit! NO! Fuck!” My team rips the scrawny kid off me with ease and asks me if I’m okay. “I can’t feel my lower half!” I’m nearly in tears now. The coach is calling 911 with his cell phone and the school nurse is asking me if I can see how many fingers she’s holding up. Next thing I know I’m on a gurney. The ambulance siren is blaring in the distance and then closer. Then very close before being very muffled.

I wake up to a bright white ceiling. “Please be a dream” I think hopefully. I know it’s not. I try to look around but my head is braced in place. I manage to see in my peripherals that I’m definitely in a hospital room. A monitor is beeping next to me and I can hear an announcement over the speaker in the hallway. I bring my chin to my chest as close as it will get and I see a remote sitting there. I instinctively try to grab it. “Shit.” My arm doesn’t budge an inch. I sit there for a while, thirty minutes perhaps, before my parents and a doctor show up. My parents look sad; my mom much more than my dad. The doctor asks me what limbs I can and can’t feel. He pokes at my feet with a pin. Eventually he tells me that I probably won’t be able to walk for a while. “At least six months. Maybe longer.” He seems so nonchalant about it all. I absorb his apathy a little. The only part of my body I can feel, my face, is blank. After the doctor leaves my parents talk to me. “We were so worried. We were so scared you were dead. It’s our worst fear in the world. Be strong sweety, we’ll help you all along the way. At least it’s not worse.” My mom cries a little and my dad wraps his arm around hers. “Here’s a get well card the team made for you.” My dad says as he holds it up so I can read. It’s got all their names there. Ryan, Sean, and even the JV team. After I read the card my parents kiss me on the forehead. It’s still a little soar. “We’re going to lunch real quick. We’ll be back as soon as we’re done.” My parents leave to go eat lunch and I sit there thinking about the card. “Dammit Sean.” “God Dammit. I’ll never play football again.” I start to cry. Thick, salty tears that irritate my eyes. They collect on the edges of my eyes and roll down the side of my head, leaving warm trails on my temples. I don’t stop crying until just a few minutes before my parents get back. For the rest of the term I’m unable to work or really do anything. I mostly watch TV. I don’t return to Normalni High until midway through second semester.

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Normalni High: The Mascot

Normalni High School has been the education site for the Town of Normalni for five generations. It’s a wide building which sits squat upon a hill in the center of town. Around seven thirty every weekday morning you can see students making their way to the whitewash brick walls. All of them carrying an assortment of bags and books and instruments. A wave of people marching to school, much too disorganized and mismatched to be a unified army. They all fly their own colors and cling to their own.

The school football season’s starting up and I’ve heard that our team’s looking pretty good for this year. I’m a freshman so I haven’t seen what they can do just yet, but I’ve heard from some upperclassmen that we have a good chance to win our conference this year. I’ve always loved watching football. My dad and I watch it every Sunday during the NFL season. He sits in his recliner with his legs out and a magazine in his left hand for during the commercials. I sit on our old couch. It has splotches and stains, and a tough spot right in the middle where you can see the spring pressing up against the fabric. I eat cheese puffs as we rant and rave over the game. “Flag! There was nothing there!” Or, “Touchdown!!! Let’s go Boys, that’s how it’s done!” When it gets really late in the season and the games get more and more intense my dad gets way more involved. He turns into a complete stereotype of a fan. Thick polyester football jersey, face-paint under the eyes, can of Miller Lite in hand and everything. I’m almost as devoted to the character; covered from head to toe in my football attire and any good luck charm that might just make the game. The only thing I’m missing is the beer, except for once. I was ten or eleven and it was the Superbowl and we’d made it. My dad was psyched. Our team had come this far and now all that stood between us and eternal glory was a single game. There was no way that we would ever actually get tickets to the game, but we did set up our living room for optimum viewing comfort. This was essentially setting our chairs as close to the TV as possible. The game was a real nail-biter, but we came out on top with a field goal in the last minute of the game that pushed us just one point ahead. So, the celebration began, we stuffed our faces with a bunch of food until my dad offered me a single beer. In hindsight, he was definitely drunk at this point, hence this decision to give me the beer. But I was young and I was full of excitement from our win, so I trusted him and took the Miller Light. I popped the tab and heard the shrill fizz that sent a slight tingling up my spine. I took a big swig. Bad decision; I hacked and coughed trying to rid my mouth of the bitter taste and my throat of the burning sensation. Once it faded I tried again, this time more slowly sipping it down. It didn’t taste good, but I did feel a warmness inside. It wasn’t until a hour later when I was upturning my stomach into the toilet that I began to regret my decision. That and the hangover the next morning all because of one beer.

Despite my football fandom I’ve never played. I’ve always been too scrawny and weak to do something like that. Plus I can’t catch for the life of me and my throwing accuracy is as poor as a mute bat’s. But I can’t let that stop me from contributing to the team somehow. Fortunately, the old mascot graduated last year, so there’s an opening. We’re the Man O Wars. I don’t know who decided to pick a jellyfish as our mascot or why they decided on a slimy marine creature over the classics; Bulldogs, Mustangs, Panthers, and Eagles, but I do know the costume is a hot, suffocating hassle. Classes were over and it was the day of tryouts so I made my way down the cluttered halls toward the gymnasium. As I moved through the Freshman’s lockers, I waved goodbye to some of my friends and answered Tom that I was headed to the mascot tryouts. He was heading to a soccer game so I wished him luck and he wished me luck as well. I finally arrived at the green double doors that open to the gym. So, I meet with the leader of the cheer squad and he asks me if I was here for cheerleading or mascot tryouts. He seems very surely and a little too heavy and hairy to be a cheer coach. I simply say “Mascot” and he points to the costume sitting against the edge of table just behind him. It’s massive. At least three times my size and with thick bluish-purplish tentacles reaching out in all directions grasping at things that aren’t there. It looks more like a colorful beanbag chair than a jellyfish; something I’d lay on while watching TV. It’d probably be more comfortable than the couch. Put this on and report back to me, he says. So, I grab the costume and lug it to the locker rooms just across the hall. It weighs a ton and barely fits through the door on the right, the men’s locker room. I get into the locker room and it smells like pure, concentrated sweat. The football team must have just gotten ready for practice. There are bags, shoes, and pants strewn all across the benches and floor. I pick the first clear spot I can find and sit down on the hardwood bench. I take off my shoes, then socks, then pants and shirt. The costume is weirdly segmented so that the top and bottom are connected at the front of the costume, but I can also step into the pants of the costume from the back before finally pulling the top of the costume over my head. The costume smells worse than the locker room, but at least I’m the right height to see through the eye-holes. Now that I’m in the costume it’s time to make my way back to the gym. The first few steps are very awkward, but now I’m finally moving at a slow walking pace. I can see the walls around me and I skillfully fit just between the narrow space.I’m about five feet away from the door. Suddenly I feel something beneath my foot and all I can see is the ground rushing towards me as my feet fly into the air. I’m now lying face first on the rough, grey concrete floor. I instinctively reach to the ground with my hands, but they don’t move more than a few inches rubbing against the soft plushy inside of the suit. My hands are trapped! The suit has no arm holes and I hadn’t even noticed. I try as hard as I can to wiggle them free, but they’re good and stuck under my body weight. My blood is fiercely pumping and I can feel the thud of my heart. Maybe I can kick my legs and get a little closer to freedom? As I’m frantically kicking my legs I notice just how sweaty I am. It’s getting real hot in this thick suit. Even without my shirt and pants I feel like I’m in an oven. This is not good. I stop kicking; it’s just tiring. Can I tilt myself over? I try to turn and I start to get closer to lying on my side, but then I feel the wall on my back. “Shit!” I can’t even flip onto my back? I’m fucked. All I can see is the floor through my tiny eye-holes. I’m overheating and my knees are scraped up from the concrete floor. There’s no way anyone’s here. “Is anyone there?” Of course, no reply.  “Help!” I guess I’m trapped till the coach comes to check were I am. How long has it been, 2 minutes, 3, 4, 5? I don’t know. It already feels like I’ve been laying here for hours. Why hasn’t he come to check on me yet. Did something happen? He couldn’t have forgotten about me, could he? I need to calm down. He’ll come back and I’ll be fine. Very embarrassed, but at least physically fine. I wonder if I even have a chance of being mascot now. Falling over and getting trapped just after putting it on doesn’t make the best first impression. Finally, I hear a voice. “What the hell? Is someone in there?” “Help me !” I replied. Thank god someone finally came. I feel hands grabbing at the top of the suit. As they pull up my legs gain traction on the ground and I’m finally back on my feet. I clumsily turn around to thank them and see a big guy with arms the size of my costume’s. He’s wearing padding and has a  new-looking helmet at his feet. “Thanks” I say. “No problem, what happened?” A group of other football players was now shuffling into the locker room from the door behind my rescuer. “I tripped and fell over something and I couldn’t get up.” I ask, “Is football practice over?” “Yeah it just ended.” Now all the other players were gathering around to see what was up. “Does that mean it’s five O’clock?” I ask the new formed collective. “Actually it’s five thirty.” one of them answers before I’m quickly asked why I’m still here. “He fell and got stuck, so I helped him up.” Immediately most of them are laughing. Some of them start to go about switching back into their normal clothes. Another of them asks if I’m the new mascot and I tell him that I don’t know. I’m supposed to be trying out. He seems satisfied and sits at a bench. I thank my savior again and clumsily turn around again to get to the gym. How the hell have I been laying here for two and a half hours. Where’s coach and why didn’t he come find me. I’m a mix of furious and worried if I’ll actually find him. I get into the gym, still in the mascot costume. No ones here. I start to turn around when I hear the outside gym door click. It opens and in comes twenty or so cheerleaders and the coach in behind them. He seems startled to see me at first, with his wide eyes and slightly lowered jaw, but he quickly gains some composure. “I’m so sorry. I completely forgot and got hung up in the cheerleader’s practice. I’m surprised your still here. Why didn’t you head home?” “I’ve been stuck in the boy’s locker room for the last two hours.” I say this somewhat angrily, but also ashamedly. He seems a little bit more guilty now. “I’m so sorry, how did you get stuck?” “I fell down and couldn’t move. It was super hot and smelly.” This is in a more aggressive and naggy tone. “I’m really sorry about that. But on the bright side, no one else seems to have applied, so you’re our new mascot.” “What if I don’t want to be mascot anymore.” He takes a second to consider his response. “Well isn’t that what you came here for. Plus the team really needs you. They need Manny the Man O’ War.” All I can think about is how stupid a name Manny the Man O’ War is as I say, “Fine”. “Thanks. Be here again tomorrow after school.” He’s very obviously rushing this conversation, so I let him go without anymore questions and he heads out the door and into the hall. I go back into the locker room and change back into my clothes. Pull off the top and step out of the bottom. Then, pants, shirt, socks, and shoes. I lug the massive costume through the door, into the gym and leave it were I found it. How bad can it be? At least I get to be a part of the team now. I’m truly involved at Normalni High.

The Not So Foreign People

In a land too close to be discovered was a civilization of hard working people, all predisposed to employing themselves for long hours without a break. In this land everyone could be found in some occupation, even if it wasn’t what could be considered glorious or enjoyable. The work was tough, but some found that with the little help of a mysterious, foreign ichor they could work with greater efficiency than ever before. It was a thick, black, pungent smelling fluid that resembled toxic sludge. There were many ways the people used the ichor. Some of them ingested it, others injected it, and still others absorbed it in through the skin. Everyone developed their own preference as the word spread of this amazing ichor.

Soon all the people were using it. So all was well, production was booming and the people were feeling the most fulfilled they ever had. However, this didn’t last forever. Eventually, people became lethargic and sick, too tired to complete anything. Some people succumbed quicker than others, but everyone eventually fell. With everyone ill, production came to a grinding halt. Blame was placed on this mysterious chemical and people quickly sought to purge every little bit of it from their bodies. Everyone had their own way of doing this. Some people spat out the vile stuff, vomiting until all that was left was bile. Others managed to get out through the pores like sweat or from the eyes like tears. Still others drew directly from their blood by slicing themselves along the extremities.

Time passed, work productivity steadied, and for a while no one dared get near the nasty ichor. However, soon the discoverers of the substance began experimenting with it in private. If they had drawn it from their bodies and been cured, then perhaps they could control it. They began ingesting it, injecting it, and absorbing it again, but before it could have any ill effect, they released it from their body in their own ways. Once again the ichor began to catch on. The people all wanted to improve their work and were no longer daunted by the potential harms. They could simply avoid them with proper moderation. Their culture slowly bent and adjusted to include this ichor as a major part of it.

The methods of intake evolved as well although it stayed the same in basic concepts. It became commonplace to see people in public and at work chewing and spitting the thick, putrid substance like tobacco, or  injecting into their veins with the use of specialized hypodermic needles and bleeding out the black, stinking stuff in the bathroom. During the day you could see people running or lifting weights as a dark, thick sweat collected on their brows and stained their clothes. In these ways the people tried to tame the ichor and push themselves to their limits. Not everyone was perfect at this though. There were some who, in an attempt to work even harder for longer would hold in the ichor until it wore on them. They wouldn’t remove it and it would steadily build up until the person would crash. At this point they would need to remove it all at once in one big wave. Those of these people who ingested and chewed the substance would go into vociferous and aggressive fits spitting out the pure and deadly venom in a thick stream covering everything and everyone in their vicinity with the volatile vomit. The people who had absorbed in the ichor would break into tears; violently bawling out the burning waterfall of ichor in a crippled choking state barely able to catch a breath between wheezes. The folk who injected the stuff would become severely depressed and frantic. In these substance crashes and moments of irrationality they would slit their wrists deep and bleed out the substance

. Despite cases like this, the mysterious substance wasn’t banned; it wasn’t even looked down upon. People who couldn’t handle it were simply lesser and the people who chose to misuse it were simply stupid. So, society moved on, production increased, and use of the ichor became the norm. After a year had passed almost no one could remember back to when they hadn’t used the mysterious substance. In fact, they were surprised that they had yet to name it. A ballot was drawn up and votes were cast in the few minutes or so of free time. Once all the votes were counted the name was announced, Angor, by a landslide victory. As time moved on the name would change more than once and even be passed on to other civilizations along with the angor itself. Eventually, all civilizations would know of it and everyone would learn to take it, each by their own means, and incorporate it into their own lives. So, in the end it was not so exotic or foreign after all.

Blue Elementary

I’m sad. My birthday was a few days ago and yet I’m feeling down in the dumps. Not because anyone forgot, or because I didn’t get anything I liked. In fact, my birthday has nothing to do with it at all.I’m depressed because of school and life and the thin fragile beam I walk each day.When I’m not distracting myself with something I can’t help but feel blue. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never know any other hue. Pain and despair fill me up and yet on the outside I’m cool as a cucumber. I go to Blue Elementary, a school whose motto is: Bottle it up, life’s tough. They have counselors, people who try to help me by scolding me and then asking for pity. They ask me what’s wrong? Why do you refuse to work? They don’t realize I can’t forfeit that information. I’m too fragile. I can’t risk showing them what really drives me and where my passions lie. If they scorn me for it or call me crazy then I’ll surely shatter. Besides, they haven’t earned my respect. They see me as a job. Someone who has strayed from the path and needs correcting. I don’t believe in mistakes or regret. The path I carve is the only correct path even if it’s fraught with sorrow under there scrutiny. So, I’m sad. Trapped by my own decision to return and re-enroll at Blue Elementary.

The Storm Watcher

A drop of rain sticks to the window and slowly cleaves a path downward; slightly obscuring my vision of the woods and a small rocky tributary that lays in what would be considered my backyard. The trails that the raindrops leave on the glass look almost like little dents or cuts, such as the ones found on an old window which has seen more than its share of storms similar to the one I’m currently enjoying.

I once heard on the news that  rain water is getting more and more acidic due to pollution and carbon emissions. Maybe that’s reason that I have to dry the basement after every one of these storms. The house foundation isn’t even three years old and it already has plenty of tiny cracks and holes formed by the monotonous march of these tiny, acidic rain drops into any small crevice they can find. The drops are like spec ops, parachuting from the sky and infiltrating the thick structure without making a sound. Dripping in and fanning out until you finally notice them and it’s already too late. Your basements flooded.

I can see just how heavy the rain is as it rips open the tributary, turning the fresh water into a frothing pot boiling over. I don’t have the keenest  eye and the tributary is a bit far from my kitchen window, but with the help of a large boulder as a backdrop I can see this fantastic development. I can also make out that the tributary is flowing faster than ever, northward toward Turtle Head lake. Turtle Head lake is a favorite spot of mine. When I’m not working at the post office I take walks there and explore some of my hobbies. Sometimes I fish and sit all day drinking, eating small snacks and waiting for a fish to bite. I even have an area set up on the edge of the lake, an alcove amongst the oak and pine, with two perfectly placed stumps  that I use as a chair and small table. Sometimes I swim or just enjoy nature. However, my favorite lakeside activity is making small homemade sugar rockets and firecrackers. In fact, every Sunday I raid the pantry, closets, and garage getting components from recesses of my old creaky cabin. I spend the whole day crafting them; some scrap PVC, two parts stump remover, one part powdered sugar, and a little baking soda.

I’m fascinated with rockets and fire and especially explosions. One small spark ignites a small bit of material which acts as catalyst for the rest of the material down the line. I like to light rockets, get to cover and watch them shoot to the sky. One second they’re safely on the ground and the next they’re hundreds of feet in the air leaving a thin trail of smoke in they’re wake. I also like setting off my homemade firecrackers, tying them to trees or just on the ground. Firecrackers are much easier to make than the rockets because all they are are rockets without fins and a nosecone. Of course they also go off quicker, but the power behind a rocket is really just a controlled explosion. The flames ignited and the rocket is chased by an explosion up into the sky unable to escape it until it finally dies out. I can’t remember exactly when I found my interest in explosions. As far back as I choose to remember I’ve been testing rockets and watching bits of bark and wood fibers turn into dust and shrapnel.

The tributary has begun to flood its banks now and water is creeping its way through the reeds and tall, messy grass towards the house. The storm is really picking up and I can see thick dark clouds shifting in from the east. I hear a small thud behind me and pivot on my left leg with my head over my shoulder to see a head of cabbage fallen on the ground. It’s only about noon and I was in the middle of making a sandwich before I glimpsed the rain from the counter and got distracted. A plastic lunch meat container is open next to a plate, a whole tomato, and a loaf of bread on the counter. I walk over to see if I can salvage my head of lettuce and finish my sandwich. The head’s smashed and broken into large green wedges covered in hair and freckles of dust from the ground. Only the top half of it is sandwich grade lettuce. I clean up the mess with a broom and pan, and finish my sandwich with whats left of the head of lettuce before putting the rest of my sandwich components back in the pantry and fridge and pulling a chair up to the kitchen window. That was my only head of lettuce so I’ll need to run to the store to get more after this awesome storm passes. The store nearest to my shack of a house is miles away and my ETA is forty-five minutes on an average, clear-sky day.

It’s like I live in the desert, somewhere unconquered by civilization, lacking any law or governing body. It doesn’t have the sand or blazing sun, but it’s locked and loaded with plainness and  isolation. I’ve delivered mail all round here for seventeen years and I still can’t recognize where I am without pulling out a map. I travel up the densely forested roads and see the same trees here and the same fallen branches there all organized in a pattern without any discernible beginning or end. Maybe if I could find a start I could identify the pattern and develop a plan to tackle it and actually know where exactly I am.

The wind is howling like some pack of savage wolves prowling in the darkness. All around me the floorboards and window sill are creaking intensely. Each barrage of air pushes on the glass causing it to bend ever so slightly. I really need to some remodeling. I can feel cold on my face seeping in through the window and a draft is always chilling the back of my neck. If I don’t fix up the place soon it will surely crumble. I’ll have no shelter and will be left to the elements. I’ve got no where else to go and I’m only ever at work, the lake, or here.

I wasn’t always a postman in an old country town. My first real job was with the military right after I graduated from high school with the 40 other in kids in my class. I wasn’t the smartest or richest kid in my class. So the military-college option was ideal for me and my family, and I wasn’t alone. Ten other students also made the same decision to give themselves over to the military. After twelve years of freedom-less monotony we were all ready for six more; Ted, Jerry, Tom, Jane, Meghan, Gary, John, Junior, Shawn, Seamus, and me. Seamus was my best friend all through high school. He was smart, funny, and a good tinkerer. I also liked tinkering, a lot more than Seamus though. I would work on things in my garage after school and if I ever needed help with something he was there to lend a hand. He was considering joining the air force to put him through college, but with a little bit of selective pressure and convincing I managed to get him to join the military’s engineering program with me. When the time came to leave, we said goodbye to our parents and got on a plane to head to training. We spent almost a year learning about military engineering, fighting, and getting in shape before we were both dispatched to Afghanistan.

The darkness is everywhere and I can no longer see the flooding tributary from the window. The heavy rain and thick darkness makes it so I can only see five or ten yards and I can just make out the silhouette of pine and oak trees twisting and swaying with the wind in a harmonious dance. The trees bend and shake but are held down by their roots, which delve deep into the earth and the layers of the past accumulated particle by particle. Without this strong base the trees would surely be uprooted. I hear thunder now; light, shrill, and crackly like my firecrackers. I see thin bolts of lightning leaving brief but bright trails of light across the black sky. The combination of the crackles of thunder, creaking wood, and flashes of light is calming and almost therapeutic. I count the time between bolts of lightning and thunder; the center of the storm is getting closer.

The sun was so hot during the day we could cook anything with a bit of aluminum foil in no time flat. Our outpost was a few miles from any small towns and we were surrounded by an ocean of dirt and rock; marooned. All of this loneliness built strong bonds between all twenty of us. Seamus and I were our group’s two certified engineers. Our job was to make sure that tech was in order and that our outpost maintained a high level of structural integrity.We spent the day sifting through all our gear over and over making a mental checklist of any malfunction or potential problem. The radio was the most vital piece of tech to keep in order. Every day we would report our activities back to our main command and every once in a while we’d get new information or orders from them. My life in the military was really uneventful. While Seamus and I worked the others of our group did their jobs keeping watch and going on patrols. When we first arrived at our little outpost these types of activities were nerve racking. Even though Seamus and I didn’t go on these patrols or keep watch, there was a looming fear of a sudden attack. The watchmen would make mind to keep there heads as low as possible, only poking their eyes over the top of sandbags and dirt mounds. If a patrol was taking too long everyone at camp would worry that they’d been ambushed or stepped on a stray IED. However, after a few weeks of going through this constant stress it all started to fade away and the only thing that was left was boredom and homesickness. Everyday I’d wake up and do the exact same things and see the exact same things without any real event to entertain me. Anything new at all would make me happy, so I asked to go on a patrol. Luckily for me, our sergeant sympathized with me and patrols were always uneventful. Seamus decided to come with me as well, since he was getting really claustrophobic from being in our tiny little outpost for weeks. So, early in the morning we went on patrol with four others under the blazing desert sun.

I’ve finished my sandwich and I wipe my white t-shirt and lap clean of crumbs. The storm is laying on water ferociously now. At this rate the banks of Turtle Lake will flood by morning and swallow any scraps I’ve left behind by my tree stumps. Good thing everything in the basement is off the ground or in a plastic bag to keep it dry. I was working on a rocket down there earlier today, and I wouldn’t want it to get ruined before I got a chance to test it out; see how far it went, or how quickly it took off. Or how far it went before failing; how quickly it veered off-course and smashed into a tree or exploded like a warhead. It’s about 2 yards long, with slender tail fins slanted downward for improved stability. It looks like a small missile, painted white, with stripes around the nose cone for style, like something that might be fired from a plane or maybe from some truck. Launching it tomorrow will be the highlight of my boring, repetitive week; to see and hear it take off, and return to earth leaving a plume of smoke behind it. Assuming it doesn’t fail, it will be a great time. With all this anticipation in mind and nothing left to do for the day, I might as well go to bed. I hear the floorboards creak as I get up and grab a hold of my chair. The chair scratches the floor making a screech-like noise and loud echoing thuds when hitting bumps. I reach my dining room table and right the chair so it sits opposite of the only other chair at the table. As I turn to head to bed, I hear thunder so loud and so close that my whole body shakes. This is instantly followed by a sharp crack, piercing my ears like a whip and a long groaning and creaking before all of a sudden I go deaf as the roof caves in and a window shatters under the weight of a massive pine. Where I was sitting just a moment ago is now a pile of rubble; broken glass, splintered wood, and shattered shingles.

I’ve never dwelt upon my past very much. It’s something that comes in small, inconsistent ripples that wash lightly over the shore. A soothing background tone like white noise that over time becomes imperceptible. But even though it was many, many years ago, I can still, today, remember every detail of my first patrol with Seamus and the rest of our squad in the scratchy desert sand under the orange-ish light of the early morning sun. The trek was long and tiring; no stopping and very little talking. It wasn’t more than fifteen minutes in when I got a sharp pebble in my right boot. Each step and it poked into the balls of my foot leaving an impression. Still better than just sitting around at camp. Besides, eventually I adjusted, the pain subsided, and I took in my new surroundings. Sure it was all rocks and sand, but some of the formations were quite beautiful. The dark black clouds on the horizon had an interesting contrast with the rising sun. A few tall, dull brown and tan spires looked over our little convoy with a stern but indecipherable judgement. After ages of walking the landscape became a blur and no one had anything left to talk about. Now even this fresh form of escape became boring and worn. Fortunately we had reached the end of our patrol and were making our way back to camp, marching in file. At least at camp we didn’t have to march so much. I’d never do this again if I was paid, although I guess I already am. Halfway back to camp we got a call over the radio. A storm was headed in and we needed to hurry. The western horizon was completely black now and the wind was rapidly picking up. Our march became a steady jog, still in file, but with intermittent gaps. A quarter of the way back to camp now with the wall of dust as sharp as nails gaining on us. All of sudden there was a boom and the whole file was thrown to the ground. The ground just a few yards ahead of me were Seamus had been was now a scorch marked crater. The smoke trail stretching from a nearby rock collection quickly disappeared into a cloud of dust. Shouts of “Take Cover!” and “Is anyone badly hit!?” were barely audible over the shrieking of the wind and the ringing in my ears. Every part of me hurt. I was almost too groggy to get to my feet. The sand storm burned my face as I looked around for Seamus. I couldn’t see more than a few feet because of the thick dust. I frantically looked around to find my squad mates. I stumbled through the dust towards the voices. My hears were still buzzing, but I could hear gun fire and see the muzzle flash lighting up the dust and smoke. I could finally see the rock my squad mates were taking cover behind. But before I could reach them I felt something grab at my ankle with a firm grasp, loose at first, and then tight as a vise. My head bounced inside my helmet as I hit the ground and my vision blurred to black.

My eyes are now rough and red, partially because of the sawdust cloud put up by the falling pine and partially because of the tears collecting at my chin. The gash left behind in the roof has now become a pure black rift. Looking up into it is like looking into a black hole, light cannot escape, only rain is able to find its way out of that void. Now a faint warm glow is growing and trying to fill the space engulfed in darkness. The lightning has set the tree ablaze, giving off a little bit of light so that I can just barely see around me. The fire is spreading as it feeds off the tree and broken bits of wood cabin, but no matter how big it gets it will never quench the black maw in the ceiling. Only flashes of lightning briefly illuminate the sky above. Besides, the continuous, heavy rain is killing the fire as it spreads, causing it to frantically wave and struggle as it’s put out by the bombardment. My house is destroyed and I can no longer look on in awe or simply ignore the storm outside. I’m all out of lettuce with nowhere to go and all I can think of is the scorched where Seamus stood last and feel my tendons tense as I feel the squeezing around my left ankle.