AN EMPTY PLACE, Chapter One - "Night Life"

Presenting to you my first full length novel, a dystopian psycho-fantasy titled An Empty Place. Because why not? I started writing this book almost five years ago, July 15th 2008. 

It's about a man chased by demons who has to rediscover his forgotten power, and with the help of the two very different women he meets on the way, save the world. 

Chapter One - Night Life

The water is still, the sand hard, and the mud between thick black. A man is unconscious face down in the black mud. One half of his body sinks in the sand and the other floats on the standing water. His right hand clutches a fist of the sand with dirt and rough weeds torn up from the ground. His wrinkled left hand floats on the surface of the frigid water. Minnows dart up to taste the peeling flesh of the palm. He is motionless as if cut from stone. Mud coats his whole body, save for his left arm and his left leg below the surface, washed clean by the water. His right arm is hidden in tall grasses from shoulder to wrist where his hand reemerges. His forehead rests on a rock and his face is a white pane over his beard. His eye socket is deep and shadowed and the lid smooth as if he is on the verge of waking.

The pond is oily. A silver fish leaps and is caught in the breeze then lands on the water. The ripple alone indicates the water's pliancy.

A throb steady as the pulse of blood in a swollen limb rises over the pond and the irregular shore. The man remains still. Death-seeming. The pulse grows with rhythmic consistency, louder while faster, thump and roar. The breeze intensifies to wind and a storm of leaves shakes through the trees as a helicopter vaults over a nearby hilltop. The sumac below shake and the hulking pines sway away from its blades. The tall grass flattens against the man and covers his body; save the parts that float like driftwood on the pond. The helicopter sparks a brilliant searchlight, whirring with concentrated energy even through the murderous noise of the propellers, a blinding blue halo. The light roams the wilderness between two forested hills and comes to rest on the dark pond. It passes over the man's oblivious form. It fixates on the water as it is whipped into a froth by the crushing wind. But the light finds nothing: not at the ponds shore where the flattened grass disguises the water's true circumference, not at its center where the propeller's force brings the bubbling bottom up in a gurgle, not in the long shadows of the trees that bend as the halo moves. The helicopter cuts the light and retreats in an instant. The slow throb disintegrates into the hush of night.

As the wind dissipates and the tall grass struggles again to stand, a leaf brushes the man's cheek. He lifts his hand and the sand filters out from between his fingers and he touches the spot where the leaf caressed him. He opens his eyes. The man scrapes the mud off of his face and spits out the grit that grinds in his teeth. He breathes. When he exhales the mud gives way and he slips into the water, torso and legs splashing down, and he claws with his hands in the soil. He pushes himself up on hands and knees in the pond, coughing a stream of sludge from his mouth. He shakes and grunts and stares into the clouded water. The mud follows in greasy chunks. He is wearing a wool sport jacket and tattered pants. The jacket is too small for him and the sleeves extend no further than the middle of his forearms when he straightens at the waist. The jacket falls open. The air is cold as the water evaporates from his bare chest. He rolls his head back and covers his face with his hands. A web of droplets stick to his tangled beard. He opens his mouth wide and his jaw cracks - wood splintering in his brain. He yelps and rubs his neck. His eyelids flutter and the sumac spin around him. He tries to pivot to scan the valley. He looks through the swaying grass and the milkweed that rolls out from the pond, into the darkness of two hills clustered with lumps of pine trees, finding only desolate shadows under their dank leaves. Satisfied he is alone, he begins to stand.

But as he raises himself to his feet a whine pierces his brain and a white sheet drops over his eyes. He wants to lie down, needs to, needs to disappear below the pond's calm surface and sleep again. He shakes his head to throw off this desire, to stay awake, and the white sheet begins to burn. The whine intensifies until it is heavy like a fluid in his head, like a gravity, pulling him to the core of the earth, a slow searing molten flow enveloping him. He takes a step and the weight of the water is like a shackle around his ankle and he stumbles. Hands on knees, he takes another deep breath. He spits again. More assured, he steps again. He takes another step and reaches dry ground. His feet are bare and his toes are numb. He stands in the grass letting it caress his hands and leaning forward so the tips prick his face. The white sheet recedes some. The noise is not so loud. There is a light over the hill to his left, a light so dim that it's like a promise of light wrapped in the textured darkness.

Something moves: not from the left hill, but the other, beneath the nettles. A disturbance in the brush; an animal, eyes gleaming white like the fire in his head. He steps toward it instinctively. Then the cavernous shade between the trunks swallows it and it's gone. He blinks and turns to where the light came from the left hill. But it too is gone. No, it's moved, displaced, as the same glow now glints at the end of the valley between the two embankments. The man sets his gaze on the light and advances.

He parts the grass with one arm and he wraps his jacket tight around him with the other, holding it closed in an attempt to keep warm. As he walks the swirling pain in his head gives way to hollowness, the flow cooled to idle rock. He does not attempt to break through the wall that surrounds his mind but he maintains a pointed focus on the soil beneath his feet and the roll of his legs over the terrain.

Just as that first pain recedes, another punches through to subsume it. His left side, below the ribs, where he imagines an organ must be, begins to hurt. The pain comes in waves, scraping agony like a spoon digging at his insides, his abdomen seizing as the muscles are scoured and twisted. His jacket falls open despite the cold as his right hand drops to cover the pang, pressing his fingers into the spot, feeling for hardness, or softness, or anything. That only makes it worse. A vibration comes over him, dominates him, a tremor that bends him in two heaving and twitching. He tries to vomit but nothing comes out. He waits for the wave to pass. He tears at the ground like a badger looking for his hole, soggy leaves and damp earth raked away in grooves, so he might bury himself if he can't stand the pain any more. But he can stand. He spits. He straightens.

He looks for the light again, and again it has shifted, closer now, joined by a throb like a heartbeat. He thinks it is blood rushing in his ears. He continues on and the wind picks up around him and blows through his filthy hair. The light flanks him on the slope to his left, a halo made of smoke through the flaccid branches. The throb grows to a violent, incessant knock, like flesh on wood or metal rending bone.

The helicopter rises. The searchlight streams down in a cone. Its black windows are like segmented eyes. It flies parallel to the embankment and the light swoops over the trees at the edge of the valley.

The man can't move. His heart stops. His feet are rooted in place. He covers his eyes as if he can make the helicopter disappear. The blue halo comes. His body goes limp and he falls into the dirt as the light scans his position. It paints the area a sterile blue and the forest shirks from the pale and crushing force. A branch cracks and falls near the man and he pulls its wide leaves over him for some protection. He trembles with his hands over his heart. He knows they want him. To hurt him. He doesn't know why. This fear is familiar.

The helicopter passes over him and his hands twitch anxiously. The man watches as it turns over the opposite hill, then darts again towards the bending sumac where he is blanketed by red leaves. This time it hovers, light coursing through, staring. The helicopter circles the spot where he hides and the blades spin a cloud of gray lightning. The machine is unable to get closer to the ground because of the tall pines. They bow and weave under the helicopter's thunder. In this interminable gap the man imagines the operator of the light has seen him and he holds his breath. He closes his eyes as the white sheet rises up again. He turns his head.

They've found me. I'm dead.

Then the sheet lifts as the light moves. He opens his eyes and watches the path of the light, its blinding invasion on the dark, and sees what it sees: a mound, perhaps eight feet high. Eyes like spent stars reflect in the searchlight. They gape dumb and dead as if one corpus. But there are many bodies. The carcasses are sundered and torn and contorted, necks long and broken, hooves lifeless on jutting limbs. The deer guts are ravaged black gunk. Their intestines smeared like a waterfall running down the pile. The blood has long since drained into the earth. One stares at him. Its mouth opens and its tongue drops out, lolling under white teeth straight as piano keys. He remembers the animal he saw for an instant loping through the woods. 
The light extinguishes. The throb dissipates. Darkness sucks back around its absence. He imagines he can still see the gory pile and blinks to wipe away the image. He throws off the branch and crouches, listening. The astounding black night falls in around him. He runs into the tree line. The slope forces him to a crawl. He hears something. He leans on a tree and listens. There is a lone bird call, the buzz and clack of insects, and the soft sway of branches, and nothing else. His foot dislodges a stone and it tumbles down the slope.

He continues moving along the hill, leaning into the slope to catch himself when he slips. The pain in his side radiates through him and punishes every step. He picks his way around fallen trees deliberately, tests the trail with a careful foot on mossy rocks, and always listens. Questions begin to crack the wall that surrounds his mind: why does he run? What has he done? Where is he?

Somewhere I shouldn't be.

This last thought feels profoundly true to the man as it confirms his instinct to escape. But after?

Memory pounds at the outside of the wall that surrounds his hollow mind like a hammer. Shards fall from the wall in perfect lines; black, gold, and pink, interlocking like hands clasping. There is a flash of a knife or a sprouting grain of wheat. Slashes in the wall, a bed of black soil, tumbling, pouring out the seeds. The soil flows through the wall and he remembers the golden seeds in the soil. The memory inflames the pain in his side and it roils like boiling water. He touches it gently. Something moves beneath his skin.

He hears a snap as his foot depresses cold metal.

"What?" he says, before he topples over. Steel jaws chew into his calf and shin. His head hits a rock. An oak spins and shifts above him. There is more light now. The outline of the canopy is revealed like the imprint of a note on the paper underneath it. He feels nothing at first. Just the cool air in the back of his throat as he screams. Screaming keeps him from thrashing his limbs and tearing his muscles as the teeth dig into him. He grips the contraption with his shaking hands, gasping as he pries at the jaws. It won't budge. Slick blood coats his bare foot. He clears his throat to scream again, to assuage the pressure of the pain. But he makes no noise; it is too much even to breathe.

Another man appears from behind the oak. 

He holds a lantern of sooty glass that carries a white flame. His face is muted and shapeless under the grading light; at first bright and true, and then pocked with darkness. His face is thin with a sharp nose hooking downward. Not one man but three. Two other figures encroach on the wounded man's huddled form. He can make nothing out of them as they intersect the lantern light and cast shadows over him, except that they are men. They have broad and angled shoulders beneath flannel patterned shirts. One carries a rifle slung over his shoulder. The man with the lantern speaks as the others work on the trap. 

"These are everywhere. You should be more careful," he says.

"I thought I . . . I was being careful." It is difficult for the man to speak. He grunts through clenched teeth even as the trap's were opened. One of the others wraps his leg with a moist white cloth once he is clear of the contraption. It stings as the wetness settles into the wound. 

"You will need to clean that," says the man with the lantern, pointing at the wounded man's leg with a serrated hunting knife. The others stand up on either side of the wounded man, arms crossed, attitude indistinct. 

"Who are you?" the man asks, struggling to balance on his good leg with the left one hanging bent and scarcely touching the ground. The three men look at each other - the man with the lantern's face receding in the flicker of the light, the other two turning to peer at the first over their shoulders. The man with the lantern cuts through the light, holding the knife over the flame. Yet the flame is visible through the blade . . . The man lets the knife drop to his side.

"I'm Gen. This is Rob and his older brother Rob." "We're hunters," says one of the Robs. 

"Hunters? Did you kill those deer?"


"The dead deer back there. There's a whole pile of them."

"No, we're after what killed the deer," Gen says, raising the lantern over his shoulder. He turns and looks at the darkness all around him. He keeps his face averted as he continues, "Do you not recognize us?"

"I don't know you."

"We know you." 

The light from the lantern dims as Gen lowers it and looks at the wounded man. He stumbles backwards as the pain in his side again dominates him. 

"Are . . ." he hesitates, steadying himself against the trunk of a tree, "Are you from the helicopter?"

"What helicopter?"


"Not the helicopter," they say all at once. One of the Robs reaches for him. 

"No!" the wounded man shouts and Rob recoils. The lantern goes out and the three hunters are like black bars in the cell of the forest, closing in on him. The wounded man tries to run down the slope of the hill, crushing stray sticks, kicking stones, all while his bleeding leg quakes. With each refrain of his left leg striking the earth he fears the muscles will buckle and break. Booming around him in the night are the hunter's voices: 

"Blind man, watch your step," says one Rob, just behind him, bludgeoning the air with his rifle.

"The dog the dog the dog the dog the dog . . ." Gen repeats over and over in the distance. Further away than the Robs.

I'm losing them, the wounded man thinks, triumphant, strength returning to his leg. The trap must have been old and the spring weak, or it would be broken. He risks turning his head. The lantern light is barely visible through the wooded mist, obscuring the three figures. Then the light is doused again and the figures disappear behind the trees.

He runs further, he cannot know how fast or far, dodging the trees that materialize like phantoms from the dark forest. He begins to anticipate them - as if he can see them before they appear - an expanse in the mind populated by the landscape before him, navigating both in harmony.

He imagines this, he thinks, he must be. Does he hear the hunter's hollering behind him, or the howl of a dog?

He goes on.


Later as he flees in the absolute dark, the man senses something just ahead of him. Not the hunter's because he is not afraid. The presence is calming and the forest is made peaceful. He wants to reach out with his arms. The presence is ahead of him. He hears the muffled footfalls of a four-legged creature.

The dog?

Whatever it is it bounds ahead drumming the ground with powerful limbs. The earth is warm were the presence passes and the man adjusts his course to follow. The warmth drives out the pain that dominates him. The bleeding slows from the gash in his leg and his gait becomes easier as he is able to rely on his steps. The constant pain in his side fades to a squirming ache.

The animal leads him through the maze of stumps, the thorny bushes, the tangling vines, over rough rocks and soft earth, all in a graceful dance. The man feels awake for the first time since he pulled himself from the water. The shapes in the soil that bury his memory glow brighter. The golden seeds arrange in a pattern that he knows he should understand. But as the gold lines converge he sees the sinewy outline of the animal faintly in the distance.

Not an animal . . . a spirit! Nothing is strange about this. Spirits ahead and behind.

It lopes in a magnificent arc through the consuming night, red haired and burning, like a solar flare, leaving a trail of sparks and embers as the leaves erupt where it touches the forest floor. It is as big as a bear, and the man jerks towards it, as if tethered to its spectral tail that whips and vibrates behind its body. As the man closes he sees the spirit is in the shape of a lion.

"Spirit!" the man cries. The hairy red fire stops. The man skids to a halt, falls to his knees, prostrates himself. The golden seeds burn as bright as the spirit in his brain, overlapping, becoming one. The spirit rears over him and he hears a voice. It blares like a siren.

I am Telebast. Who follows?

The man shakes his head and covers his ears. He feels his will crushed under the weight of the spirit's roar.

"No one. Nothing," he says, or at least moves his lips to say, since he can't hear himself. He wants to tell the spirit that he doesn't remember who he is, wants to say that he is afraid. 

See! The moon rises! 

The spirit lowers its massive paws and faces the horizon. It takes a single step and the red particulates that surround its body begin to blink out like dying fireflies. They float to the sky and disappear.

At the edge of the world over far flung mountains an orange sliver of the waxing moon sails over the horizon, redeeming the spirit's word. The moon pierces the mist clinging to the forest. Between this pale fissure in the shroud of night and the man at the edge of the forest spreads a wide open field. Half buried farming machines are strewn over the plain like dried insect carapaces. The man slips his hands off his ears as the roar of the spirit rings in them. He wonders if the machines are truly abandoned or if the fields themselves are out of season. He knows nothing about agriculture. He does not know what time of year it is. His body hums. His wounds tingle as the pain seeps back into them. He drops his hands to the ground, palms slapping down, his shoulders sagging in exhaustion. The warmth of the spirit is gone. He lowers his head, sleep coming, the soil covering the seeds, collapsing. A reflection catches his eye. The moon. 

The orange sliver is mirrored in the cable rising out of the ground. It runs like a serpent out from underneath the forest and fully emerges at a small creek just ahead. The cable acts as a bridge over the trickle of water and wraps behind a distant hill and continues on out of sight away from the field. Where the cable surfaces it's as wide as his arm span and then twice as wide as it comes aground. The black casing is hard rubber or some other ductile material. This is what hums with the flow of incredible amounts of electricity underneath him. He looks back at the overgrown forest behind him but there is no sign of the cable before this exact spot. It is possible he followed it all along, drawn by some effect of the electricity on him. Maybe the spirit was a hallucination induced by such a close proximity to the substantial energy. Or simple madness. He does not know. But this sign of civilization lifts his heart and he stands with new purpose.

He walks along the length of the cable, the constant tingle on his toes like a recharging jolt with each step, reminding him there is no use in resting. He imagines that this will lead him to a power station or some other thing where there are people, maybe someone he knows. He hugs his jacket to himself to suppress a shiver, the temperature dropping as the moon continues to rise like a boat on the celestial sea, navigating by its light. First the cable crosses the creek that runs dry as it curves into the field to the left. Looking down at the creek bed as the cable crosses over he sees the thin rope of remaining water. A fly bites his neck. A whole host of flies attack him in a cloud. They bounce off his face and lips and are caught in his thick beard until he combs them out with his fingers and crushes them. The swarm is so thick that he pulls the collar of his jacket over his head. An odor of clay and sweat assails him when he covers himself

How long have I been out here? The flies buzz in his ears. They leave him alone as soon as he clears the creek. The cable rounds the hill and then doubles back to the right through a shallow trench and then goes up as the land rises over a few miles. It takes him back towards the forest and away from the open spaces and clear air. He guesses he has come twelve, maybe fifteen miles since he first awoke. If the helicopter returned to wherever it was based, it had to be in this direction. To the left there was no crevice or slope to camouflage it, and the mountains were hundreds of miles away. Of course the helicopter could return. Or the hunters. 

Always he went on with dread that one or the other would return to torment him. With no way of knowing whether they were in league, he had to assume they were in some way responsible for his predicament. Taking mental stock of his wounds - the gore of his leg, the ulcerous sore in his side - he feels persecuted. 

Have I done something wrong . . . this soil in my head, the seeds, the shapes . . . what-? 

The golden pattern keeps bubbling to the front of his consciousness from the void. He forces the shapes away, finding the hollow clarity. He scans the horizon. For a moment he is sure that someone is behind him. He spins abruptly. There is no one. Only a crumpled white paper bag that clings to the cable, flapping between the static and the breeze. The insignia is a red circle around the profile of a cow. He remembers it is a restaurant, but he can't remember the name. He tries to remember as he walks; a game to keep the fear of the others away. The cone of light of the helicopter seemed familiar, too, yet he is sure he has never been chased by a helicopter. Have I? He hopes when he has rested that it'll come back to him. He knows with a complete certainty that the hunters are utterly strange to him. He cannot recall their faces. Did he see their faces? 

More garbage blows into the landscape. Paper and cellophane, foam rubber and plastic, most of it attracted to the outer casing of the cable, but also hunks of spent metal, twisted and crushed wire fencing, a grocery cart in good condition, all of it growing into the wild. As the refuse of civilization crowds the cable and mounds of it collect by the odd tree or in a trough, the pattern of golden shapes erupts from the black soil again, compelling him. I have to do something. There's something I have to do. God it's so important . . . something. 

He lets his mind run. He whispers the words to himself, hoping to jar something loose. Clawing up through the soil . . .

At the crest of the long incline he sees a light beyond a barren highway. It's not like the helicopter's halo, but stationary, a pinprick. It's embedded in the forest as the wood becomes dense again. He surveys a route toward the light. He will have to climb down the hill that the cable rides atop. Then he'll crawl up the shallow ditch of the road, which is a gray thread abutting the forest. The light illuminates a single swath of blacktop on the road. As he climbs off the cable, first dropping to his ass and then sliding to the sandy ground, he sees a small clearing or yard under the light. A house?

Without the support of the cable the hill is treacherous and he half scurries and half falls down the slope in a whirlwind of dust. Near the bottom of the ravine he stumbles on a stone and flips head long into the ditch. He gets his hands out in time to prevent his face from skidding on the gravel but the fate that his face escaped is visited on his hands and they scrape and bleed on the gray powdery stone. Immediately he is assaulted by the smell of flowers. This mixes with the rancid smell of the garbage that festers at the roadside and creates an overpowering fetid pall. Violets spring from a rusted oil drum through flaking red metal. A puddle of some viscous green liquid drowns a plant with five-petaled blue flowers half the size of a finger nail. Untouched by this filth is a puffy pink flower that encircles the ditch. He approaches the flower and grabs a stalk. He recognizes its scent, deep and burning when he puts it by his nose. He touches the delicate wisps to his chin. It is built out of small cotton-like balls, tinged pink, irregularly building up to a pyramidal point. These spires crown long thin stems. These don't grow in this climate . . . here. 

He blinks and sees a small room with two windows. There is rain coming down outside the windows. Lightning flashes white on the hard wood trim. A bed – a dark shape under a patchwork quilt. A robin with a bulging breast is sewn into one of the squares of the quilt. He blinks and he is looking at the flower. He drops the flower as if it had burned him and pushes through the bush. He climbs the last few feet to the road. 

It is a house. The man indulges in the sight of it for a moment. The light spills from over a metal garage door on to a paved blacktop driveway, the oval shadow of the basketball hoop cast down on the surface. The screen porch is dark. The grass is overgrown with weeds and nettles as the forest reclaims the yard. The walls of the house are pocked from age and cracked foam panels expose the brick frame underneath. A black antenna protrudes from the metal plane roof like a spear. No one appears to be home. He steps on the road and the pavement is warm. He crosses the yellow center line. The temperature drops and his breath is visible in a stream. The hair stands on his neck and his skin tightens. He hears the scrape of a boot on stone. Behind him. The hunters.

They emerge from the darkness in a circle around him. Gen comes from the ditch where the man has just arisen and the Robs from the darkness in each direction on the road. Sweat shines on their foreheads. Gen holds the knife and the lantern. His orange coat is ripped in white puffs of down feathers like tumors. The Rob with the rifle is limping and blood runs down his leg from his calf, matting his denim jeans. The other Rob raises his hand slowly and greets him.

"What is up?" he says. 

"Please," the man says holding his hands in front of him, "What do you want with me?"

"We have bad news on that front, Holm," Gen says setting the lantern down on the side of the road. Its glass pane is smashed. "We don't want anything with you. We need something from you." It takes a moment for the man to realize that the hunter has spoken his name. I didn't remember. 

"How do you know my name? I've never seen you before," he says, searching their faces. For the first time he sees them for what they are: the Rob with the rifle has a hole in his face where his nose should be, the flesh around it twisted like a vortex, pulling the corner of his eyes into an elongated whirl. But he hasn't eyes, just black gashes under a beak like brow. The other Rob appears at first to have no face at all, but it is translucent and shows the bruise-blue and clay-red anatomy underneath. Not like the flesh beneath a face - instead there is a heart where the brain should be, deformed and squelching against its veined nest. Stark terror overtakes him.


"You did."

"Just before."

"You broke through," they say in unison though only Gen has a mouth. The chorus reverberates in his hollow mind like an echo in a canyon.

"What?" He shuffles backwards. Gen draws the knife out in front of him and its curved point tracks him as he retreats. 

"Gardener and shield that grows out from the foundation, you have let us follow you out into the world," Gen says as he traces a line in front of him as if slicing an invisible cloth.

"Pierce the darkling shroud with your bow, Talus, and the spirits arrayed around you."

The three step closer. They are not speaking to him. A ritual is being performed in front of him. Why can't he move? Gen stabs the dagger down and a burst of light like a hammer striking an anvil blinds Holm. He covers his eyes.


A throaty hum comes from the hunters as their hands grapple on his coat. They chant in some damned language that he doesn't understand.

"Get away from me!" He scrapes free for a moment before more hands push him in the back.
"Calm down, that's never going to happen."

"We will be like your shadows."

"All three of us."

"We won't stop."


He falls to the ground and they try to pick him up. A large rock, a broken piece of road, is under his belly. Quick he grabs it as they flip him over.


"Let go!" The Robs hold him down and Gen leans over him, pulling the orange hood down from his head. He has no head, only a disembodied face. 

"The drive," Gen who only has a face chants, "The repeating wound. Sever the life of purpose."

"Running when we helped him. Why did you run, pal?"

"Get back to work. Screw your head on straight," say the Robs. Gen brings the knife over Holm's pulsating stomach. Its the sore in his side - grown to the size of a fist. The dagger glows a fiery red. In the last moment before it touches his belly, he frees his arm from the Rob with the vein-sack head, and gashes him with the concealed rock. The Rob topples.

"We're telling you. There was a dog back there. We killed it," the Rob says calmly as blood pumps on to the road, "For you. All for you."

He kicks and his foot catches Gen in the chest. The knife clattering from his grip. The other Rob pushes him but he drops the rock and wraps his hands around the hunter's neck. He looks into the hole in his face. Inside there is nothing. He squeezes and the Rob vomits a sticky oil onto him. Then he goes limp.

"Sorry pal. Sorry you don't remember," the Rob says quietly.

Holm scrambles to his feet but Gen has already retrieved his dagger. His face, all that there is, is an impassive white mask in the light.

"Here you go," Gen says flatly, lunging at him with the dagger. It cuts him through the sore, sizzling the flesh, hot as the sun. Gen releases the blade and steps back.

"Been too long. Gotta get back. Gotta get back."

Holm grabs the hilt of the dagger, black with a silver engraving, and unsheathes it from his body. There is a pop as it comes free like a bottle uncorked, but there is no blood. He throws it at Gen and it pierces his orange coat. The thing stands smiling for a moment before falling down.

"It's for you. You can't give it back," he says. But Holm isn't listening. He runs toward the house but falters in the driveway.

He looks up at the basketball hoop. The rim spins and glows, the light above centered exactly above where he lays. Holm, he thinks as he closes his eyes, the light still visible beyond the thin shield of his lids, I had forgotten.

The hoop too is open in his mind like a door. On his side of the door, darkness; the other side is bright and formless and just as empty.

The soil pours back over him. The shapes glow gold and pink. He needs to get to the bottom. The bottom. 

The bottom of the mountain.

As he loses consciousness his lips continue to undulate in a soundless whisper: a prayer, or a spell.


Illustration by Jeb Ebben.


  1. I notice the underline in the DOC file as opposed to the intended italicization as presented here. Why the difference in the former? Some sort of norm for the sake of submission?

  2. Exactly Right Cap'n. Standard manuscript format typically requires an underline in place of italics.