The Summer of Eternal Sunshine

I shut my eyes and tried to sleep, but couldn’t. The bright sky outside made it impossible.

I have no idea what year it was; looking back in light of my wife’s recent post about Daylight Savings Time, it may have come during the period when Nixon made it permanent for fifteen months. I can’t be sure and my memory’s unreliable about such things.

The strong light splashed through my window while the sun dripped onto the horizon. I don’t remember whether I seethed about it or if I just sighed and tried to hide my eyes behind the blankets or pillow. I remember thinking, This is ridiculous. How am I supposed to sleep when the sun’s still out?

I heard other kids playing outside. They had later curfews, later bedtimes. No such luck for me; for better or worse, I laid in bed and wondered why I couldn’t be like them. Why can’t I go to bed when it’s dark and easier to sleep? My fixed bedtime meant fighting my biological clock and trying to rest during the remaining hours of daylight.

It’s an early memory. I can sort of see the curtains through which the westerly setting sun pierced. They weren’t black-out curtains and little could be done to stave off the sunset. The orange-gold rays slashed into the eggshell walls of the 1970s décor and shattered around the room, chasing shadows into closets and under furniture.

I remember the passage of time. How much, I can’t recall. Eventually the sun sank low enough so darkness came, and overtook the room, and me, in short order. But I still remember the summer when the sun wouldn’t go down, when bedtime came while light and play clung to the outside world. I don’t remember much, but I do remember thinking about how it always seemed that way; like the sun didn’t ever go down.

We never lived north of the Arctic Circle where this may have been normal. We lived in Northern California, where days aren’t any longer or shorter than anywhere else in America. But that summer, the sun wouldn’t set, wouldn’t let me sleep. That summer, the sun mocked and taunted with the teasing daylight and the sound of children’s laughter and play outside my drawn-curtain window, drifting from the cul-de-sac behind our house.

 

All original content © 2010 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

#FridayFlash: Shy Cowboy

This is another exercise in character study; this time, I’m attempting to portray awkwardness and embarrassment, shyness and nerves. Please feel free to let me know how you like it, what works, what doesn’t, etc. Thanks for the read!

UPDATED: I’ve made some changes based on the feedback on 18 Dec 2009. I hope this is an improvement over the previous piece.

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He scrutinized his image in the rearview mirror and turned his head from side to side. His hat spat his hair out in tufts, and stubble crept over his cheeks, chapped lips and jaw. He sighed. It would have to do.

The pickup’s door screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim as he seated his tired hat lower and zipped his jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sniffed, and headed for the general store’s entrance.

The wooden building seemed as brittle as the winter. His heels thumped a hollow cadence as he went up the stairs and crossed the porch. The bell over the door jangled as he stepped into the warmth. The figure behind the counter fluttered his heart and made his knees quiver.

She turned and beamed. “Hi, Jake!”

He thought he’d faint for a moment, then recomposed himself. “Hey there, Ellie. How’re you?” The moment he said it he felt phony. A blush burned his cheeks.

“I’m good!” She moved to the end of the counter. “Not used to seeing you in so much. It’s nice.”

Another burn in his cheeks. “Oh, well … you know. I keep needin’ stuff, so … um ….”

He felt stupid. He never knew how to talk to her. He’d been watching her, pining for her, for more than a year. She always made him feel special, even when the store was crowded. He couldn’t figure out what to say, how to say it, and he felt like a schoolboy with his first crush. He hoped he didn’t resort to pulling her hair.

She giggled. “Yeah, I guess we all keep needing things.” She leaned over the counter on her elbows and he panicked. He thought he might see down the collar of the T-shirt she wore, but the neck stayed closed. He didn’t realize he’d looked away until he glanced at her again.

“So, I … I … was just out an’ around, an’ thought maybe I’d stop and pick up a few … things.” He cleared his throat and ripped the hat from his head. He’d forgotten his manners and gritted his teeth in self-loathing.

“Oh, well it’s always nice to see you. I guess you know where everything is.” She winked at him and started to turn away.

“Y-yeah, yeah, but … um ….”

She perked a brow and turned back. “Need some help?” She smiled again and he froze, a rabbit in a coyote’s gaze.

He dropped his eyes and his stomach fluttered. “I-I … I wanted to … I think I wanted to ask you … Ellie ….” He swallowed but the lump wedged in his throat.

She leaned on the counter, her face curious and open. “Yes?”

He squeezed his fists to marshal his courage before he remembered his hat in his hands. He relaxed and stared at the crumpled brim and tried to find words, testosterone, and his voice. He smoothed the softened felt.

“Jake? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Oh, yeah! Yeah, I’m … I’m good! Really!” He spoke too loud and too quick and it sounded forced to him. He inwardly cursed his clumsiness and drew a long breath. “Ellie, look … I’m shitty – sorry, I mean I’m bad – bad at this. I know you got things to do and all, but I wanted to ask you somethin’ and I ….”

She tipped her head and offered a small grin. “It’s okay, go ahead. I’m listening.”

“But … I don’t want you thinkin’ I come in here today just for stuff … I ain’t … I mean, I’m dumb an’ all, but not so I can’t remember supplies more’n a day ahead, y’know?”

She smiled and nodded. “I know that.”

He stared at his shoes. “I sorta … sorta come in to talk to you today.”

“Oh?” She kept her voice even. He couldn’t think straight enough to figure out what that meant.

“So, I was thinkin’ … maybe, if you ain’t opposed ….” Again the lump choked him. He clenched his jaw and eyes shut, then popped them open before he looked her in the eye. “I wondered if you’d–”

The bell jangled and he jumped. His hands stung with adrenaline from the start and he bit his tongue. Bill Wahler and five or six ranchers from up Wildwood way tromped into the store, slapping their arms and rubbing their hands together.

“Woo! Cold out there!” Bill called, and tipped his hat back. “Hey, Jake! How you been, cowboy?” Wahler patted Jake on the back. “Ain’t see ya in a while.”

Jake forced a smile. “Hey Bill, good to see you, sir. Ray, Davey, how you boys doin’?”

The ranchers huddled around him while Bill stepped to the counter. He pulled off his hat and swept his silver hair back. “Miss Ellie, how’s the sweetest thing in the county this fine day?”

Jake heard her laughter tinkle as she spoke with the flirty old man. He chatted another ten minutes or so with the ranchers, walked silently out of the store, climbed into his truck, and made the long, cold ride home.

 

 

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

#FridayFlash: Western-Fantasy Vignette 2

He stood under the salmon sky while the wind slapped denim, skin, hair. She faced away toward the road, skirt flapping over broken dust-colored boots. Her coat ruffled in the thin air. Her locks tattered as she held them captive beneath the hat she pressed onto her head with one hand. In the other she clutched their daughter’s hand.

He stared at grainy dirt, his lips dry and tongue swollen, boots caked in ashen dust. His calloused fingers rasped against his weary shirt when he wiped absently.

“I wish you’d say something,” he said, voice hollow and distant, the voice of a man speaking his last words on his last breath.

“It’s over,” she said, her throat tight. She turned her head, but didn’t meet his gaze. “It’s all been said. There’s nothing left.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“I know. So am I.”

He shuffled, squinted over the mesa ring to the east. The rolling ground swooped from the washes and canyons down into a flat which ran to the western horizon. Saline stung his eyes. He blinked.

“Please. Don’t.”

“I have to,” she said. “For me. For them.” She dipped her head toward the children. Beside his sister, their son’s eyes glistened under his straw bangs, lower lip quivering. “It’s … I have to.”

“It’s only been three years.”

“Only? You say that to me? Only? Three years. Three years of struggling, fighting for every moment, every inch, every sprout, every grain. Only three years. They deserve more than this. We left more behind. Better than this.”

“It’s going to come, just one or two–”

“Don’t. Don’t say it. You’ve said one or two more seasons for eight or nine seasons. It hasn’t happened. It might. I believe if any man can do it, you can. But I can’t take it anymore.”

Hooves pounding and the racket of wheels and rigging drifted against the wind. He snapped his head to the west, surprised. The coach. He didn’t realize it would come so soon.

He turned back to her. “I’m begging you. Please.” His voice croaked, broke.

“It’s not forever, you know that. When it happens, when you finally break this place open, I’ll come back.”

“I need you.”

“I need you too.” She looked over her shoulder at him then, and her fine, porcelain statue features took his breath away. Her soft, brown eyes, the smooth lines despite the harsh years, her firm, set jaw. His heart jumped in his chest. But the carriage drawing to a stop on the dirt pack in front of her shattered his moment.

The coachman looked down at her, dipped his head and touched his weathered hat brim. “These all the bags, ma’am?” His voice sounded gravelly and cracked as the road itself.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, and her voice danced on the wind into the western canyons.

“Ticket?” the coachman said, and dropped nimble as a sprite to the ground. His team panted and pawed, heads shaking, snorting. “Easy, now,” the driver soothed. “They be edgy this morn,” he said, and smiled through his dense dusty beard.

The man watched helpless as she fished into the bag draped on her shoulder and pulled out three paper rectangles. They snapped and rattled as the wind bent them over and broke them in her grip. The coachman stuffed them into a shirt pocket beneath his heavy jacket and stroked his beard. He nodded, gave her a practiced grin.

The coachman gestured toward the carriage, and pulled at a handle on the underside. A rusty metal step ladder groaned and shrieked outward. The wind tried to rip the curtains off the window when he opened the door.

The man stared with his throat too tight to swallow, to breathe. His son looked back again, a fat tear rolled down his cheek. “Bye, Daddy.” The words stabbed him like broken glass.

“I’ll see you real soon, son,” he said, but didn’t know how he managed to speak. “Real soon.”

He watched his wife lift their daughter into the dark of the coach. The coachman kept the door from tearing off, one of her bags hanging from his gloved fingers. When the man raised his eyes, the coachman offered a brief look of understanding and an almost imperceptible nod.

His daughter vanished into the coach without a sound.

His wife turned to face him. Her eyes shredded him with the pain, the ache they held. “It won’t be forever,” she said, and then kissed the tips of her fingers and blew over her open hand at him.

“No,” he choked, “Not forever. I promise.”

Her face broke. She stifled a sob, and launched herself into the coach. The driver closed the door, danced around the coach placing bags deftly on its top. A moment later he materialized in the driver’s seat and took the reins. The horses seemed more agitated still, but the coachman paid no heed. He stared down at the man for a moment, then gave him a somber nod with that same touch of fingers to hat brim.

The man didn’t respond, but the coachman didn’t wait for one. He prodded the team and snapped the reins, and the coach jerked and then rolled away.

He watched the carriage recede down the hill toward the flat to the east until it became a tiny speck.

His heart spiked when the black form rose just as the sun pierced the horizon, a winged blot of death on the pale sky. His heart froze completely when the dragon spewed wyrmfire in a blazing geyser pouring earthward. A blinding explosion blasted the coach on the road beneath the wyrm. The sound came seconds later as he raced screaming their names until his voice tore loose and flew away in the constant howling wind.

He knew then it would be forever after all.

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

#FridayFlash: Tickets, Please.

The wheels clattering over the track junction woke him from a restless sleep.

He blinked into the strange light. For a moment he couldn’t find the source of the blue-white glow, but gave it no further thought when he couldn’t recall getting on a train in the first place. He slid upright in the uncomfortable vinyl seat, and rubbed his eyes.

The car seemed impossibly wide. It rocked and clacked as the train rolled fast down the track. The engine droned somewhere, but he couldn’t tell from where. The long seats stretched to a wide aisle, and the car ceiling arched overhead in a way reminiscent of old, wooden train cars. Time-forgotten old, and the wood around the windows glowed with amber varnish and many years of sunlight streaming through the windows.

He sat alone on the bench, near the middle. The aisle to his left had to be four feet wide before another long bench reached to the windows opposite him. Doors punctured the walls to the fore and rear of the car, gleaming brass handles set into dark, rich wood grain and a café curtain squatting taut behind the mullions of the glass.

He tried to focus his thoughts, but the car’s dimensions distracted him. It’s huge. Immense. He craned his head to look behind him, and the smattering of passengers in their seats caught his eye.

They all seemed dazed, confused, eyes unfocused, most turned toward the windows.

He slid to the end of the bench, and stared out. A bleak, barren landscape rolled past. Long, solid plates of barren rock, an occasional spike of something like vegetation stabbed up. The few leafless trees seemed dead, the trunks and limbs an ashen gray. The sky, a heavy slate color, hung low. The rises in the distance jabbed crystalline skyward. Some vanished into the nesting clouds.

An alien, colorless landscape. He had no idea where he was.

He scanned the compartment for a conductor, and didn’t find one. He turned back to the window for a moment and realized the few plants crowding near the tracks rocketed by in a blur. The train sped along at a mind-bending speed, and the desert outside spread long miles into the horizon before the broken-glass mountains sliced it off.

“Do you know where we are?”

The voice startled him and his heart spiked. He jolted and spun on the worn seat. A woman sat beside him, her face powdery white, her eyes sunken into blue-black sockets. Her white hands fluttered in her lap, two agitated birds. When the train bounced over a bump in the tracks she jerked in start. A tiny, quivery sigh escaped her.

“N-no,” he said, but she stared past him out the window. “No, I don’t. I was hoping someone would tell me. Is there a conductor anywhere?”

“I … don’t know,” she said, and her thin, airy voice whistled from her. “I don’t think I’ve been on very long.”

“You don’t think?” He tipped his head at her with drawn brows. “You okay?”

Her dark purple and black clothes seemed dated to him, but he couldn’t tell. He didn’t keep up with women’s fashions, and she seemed young. Less than thirty-five, he felt certain. A strange little hat perched at the top of her head near the back and matched her dress, shawl and black lace-up boots. Her long, dark hair snaked around in an elegant braid and vanished beneath the hat.

“I … can’t be sure. I’m having trouble … remembering things.”

He stared into the middle distance and tried to recall how he came aboard. Where the train left from. When he bought a ticket. Where he’d be going by train. He glanced down at himself and saw the sharp-creased black suit, a rich crimson tie, his gleaming black wingtip shoes. He reached for his jacket pocket but felt nothing in the depths.

It occurred to him then he couldn’t remember his name.

“I’m … I’m having trouble remembering things too.”

“Are you?” her voice drifted, dreamy and absent.

“Yeah. I can’t … I can’t even remember my name right now. Do you suppose …?”

She blinked, slow and sleepy, and her eyes rose to him. “Suppose what?”

The door banged open behind them and they jumped together with all the other passengers, turned toward the sudden noise. The lights blinked out for a moment then snapped back on.

The conductor pushed through the opening. A massive, black form in a classic conductor’s hat and uniform. It rose nine feet toward the high, arched ceiling, and the yellow, featureless orbs glowed with an internal preternatural light. The tusks emerged from a thick, rolled black lip and ended in a blunt tip just below the eyes, a heavy brow working as the head swung on a thick stump of neck to and fro around the cabin. The talons on fat, powerful fingers scraped with chilling solidity on the wooden bench backs. The floor shook and thudded under the massive weight of its thick, clawed feet.

It glowered at the woman for a moment and then turned its baleful stare to him.

“Ticket.” The word rattled like stone falling into a vast well. The voice ground with gravelly baritone. It breathed in heavy puffs of fetid air.

“I-I don’t–”

The thing reached out with blinding speed and sank a steel-hard finger into the breast pocket of his coat. The lining tore with a shrieking rip when it pulled a solid gold ticket from its recesses. The conductor punctured it with one savage, spit-coated tusk, then stuffed it back into his pocket.

He sat frozen, eyes locked on its wide back as it waded up the aisle.

He turned to the window, gripped the wooden edges with white-knuckled fury. “Where are we?”

She shook her head, haunted eyes staring out the window at the bleak, unchanging landscape.

The train roared onward down the tracks.

Misty Hollow

There’s a fog-stuffed path near my house, where all you can see is the ghosts of tree trunks and dense underbrush, the brambles and thorn bushes, the thickets packed with bird nests and slimy things.  The mist swirls like stagnant smoke and the trees make an umbrella over it, shield it from the greedy sun trying to burn it off and expose the path of pine needles and dead leaves and soft, muffling peat.  That path is at the edge of a flat where my great-great granddaddy built the house.  He flattened out and cleared an area where trees weren’t too dense, where the hillside wasn’t too deep and where he’d have a view of the leaves changing in fall time.  Off the front porch and down the rough-hewn half-log steps, down the gravel-coated walk and to the left you go, and there, between the trunks of two mighty trees, older than our country maybe, older than anyone can remember, the path sort of sneaks up and drops down a slope into the mist.

Click here to continue on!