Today we begin what hopefully will become a favorite part of your Saturday morning routine. In these weekly posts, we will be presenting some of our favorite short stories, in easily digestible serialized episodes over a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Each week will contain links to the previous episodes of the story (in case you miss one). Please let us know what you think — and if you have written a story you would like to see serialized, please feel free to let us know that as well.
Twin Crucibles – Dusty Grein
(Part 1 of 4)
Amy Cantrell drove from an unrelenting past into an unknown future, and neither the rain on the windshield nor the tears running from her eyes showed signs of letting up any time soon. Her bags were piled on the back seat–if two broken down suitcases, a small box of books, and an old guitar case could be said to be a pile. It certainly wasn’t much of a trove of worldly possessions, but then Amy had never considered herself much a part of the world.
She knew she was running away, but somehow it felt more like she was finally running toward something, even though she had no idea what that something might be. Anything would be better than staying even one more night under her stepfather’s roof. ‘His-house, his-rules’ had been the code she and her brother had lived under for the last seven years. Brandon had made it easier for her–he had always been the one to step in and protect her.
Until the accident, that was; it had changed everything, burning memories into her heart forever.
She still hurt, all the way to the base of her soul.
Amy reached over and turned up the music. Maybe some rock and roll could do for her memory what the miles were doing for her body, providing an escape from the hell that was still waiting back there, still waiting for her to give in and turn around. She no longer even felt the streaks of mascara etched down her cheeks.
She looked at the gas gauge. Three-quarters of a tank wasn’t going to get her far enough away, but she had $350.00 in her pocket and she knew she could always make money by playing her guitar, in whatever city she made it to on her limited funds. That guitar was all she had left of Brandon, and she was going to make her twin brother proud of her, even if he had to watch her do it from Heaven.
* * *
Mike Adams turned off his desk lamp and stood. The bones in his back gave out small ratcheting sounds as he stretched. He had spent far too many hours in a single spot, slouching over his keyboard as if he were made of wood; his body let him know it wasn’t happy.
His boss, Mr. Murdock, didn’t mind the overtime, which made working late good; Mike didn’t have anywhere to be except his lonely apartment anyway, which made the extra hours here even better.
When he was here at work, he felt like he belonged somewhere. Seated in his cubicle, he didn’t feel like everyone in the room was taller than he was. His coworkers may not have been actual friends, but at least he could hear their voices as they talked to each other.
There were times, sitting at home staring at the TV or eating yet another microwave dinner that Mike felt like he was the only human in the world. It was depressing if he thought about it, so he tried not to.
He donned his sweater and left the building.
The wind bit into his cheeks as he walked, and he turned his collar up to block out the worst of it. He made his way as he did every evening, through the small city park that marked the border between uptown and downtown. This no-man’s land was usually quiet by the time he came through, and tonight was no exception. The homeless teenagers who frequented the park during the day were forced to move on at nightfall.
Mike’s apartment building was two blocks further toward the low-rent district, and he paused outside a tavern. The Rusty Bucket was the only place along his path with any life, this time of evening. The sounds of laughter and karaoke from within made him nostalgic for the days when he had lived at home with his mom. She had loved to sing, and he never realized just how much he would grow to miss her off-key crooning.
With a heavy sigh, he turned away from the lights and music, and made his way through the cold wind toward his empty rooms.
* * *
The sunshine streaming through the window forced Amy’s eyes open. For a moment she thought she was still back at Howard’s house, and her heart thumped in fear that she had overslept again.
As her head flew up off the seat, the realization of where she was flooded in. She laid back, closing her eyes against the sun in her face. She picked up the folding travel clock from the floorboard, but after a single look, she held it to her ear. Dead.
Obviously, she had forgotten to wind it last night. There was no way it was 3:30, a.m. or p.m.
The temperature in the car was just beginning to climb toward the morning heat, and the sun was still low in the sky. Amy figured it must be no later than 8:30, maybe 9:00. Her stomach rumbled its argument for noon, but she knew it still must be morning.
As she climbed out of the back seat, the birds in the trees of the rest area whistled and trilled their opinions that it was a wonderful morning. Amy wasn’t sure how wonderful it was. In fact, the only thing she was certain of was that she couldn’t remember ever having to pee so badly in her entire life. After confirming her keys were in her front pocket, she pushed down the lock on the open back door and slammed it shut. She turned and hurried toward the bathrooms, performing the universally recognizable speed-walk of those whose bladders are full beyond the capacity to run.
In her haste, she failed to notice the truck driver who was watching her. He was too far away for her to see his smile become a leer, as he leaned back into the shadowy cab of his Peterbilt.
* * *
Saturday mornings really sucked.
When Mike was a kid, Saturday had always been his favorite day of the week. He would get up and wrap his robe around his Superman pajamas. Next would come a big bowl of cereal and his favorite cartoons. Then he had the whole morning free to read, or explore the rock formations in the Nevada sun.
Saturdays meant not having to hide from the bullies at school. On the weekends, he didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t smarter than all the other kids, just so they wouldn’t make him feel like more of a freak than he already did. He looked forward to Saturday all week long.
That had all been in the before.
Mike stood and carried his bowl to the sink. Cereal used to taste better, but some habits, it seemed, were lifelong. Too bad his appetite for cartoons and fun had been replaced by never ending feelings of loss, loneliness and worst of all, apathy. He found it harder and harder every day to care about much of anything, now that Mama had joined Papa and Emily in the ground out at Mount Palisades.
It had been on a Saturday morning that Emily left.
He had only been eight, and she was twelve on that last day of normal–the last day of the before.
He held Em’s hand while Mama cried in the front room and talked to Papa’s picture; she had never gotten over Papa’s death.
Em had always been the strong one, but on that Saturday, she had given up the last of her strength. Her final words had been for Mike… “I love you, Booger.”
Then she had died.
He sat there and silently held her hand as tears flowed down his face. He had been hoping and praying she would wake up, but in his heart, he’d known. Even before her hand had grown cold and gray, even before the paramedics had come and taken her body away.
His sister had left him behind, and his Saturdays would never again be the same.
… more next week [ Part 2 here ]