Yousef At the Ruby Sea

Yousef found a spot on the beach near the water and sat down.  His father’s words echoed in his mind.  He picked up one of the small, purple crystals – millions of them dotted the pink sand – rolled it between his palms, and looked out at the sea.

The ruby-colored water was calm today.  Small waves crashed onto the shore.  Yousef thought that they must have looked like giant tidal waves to the tiny creatures that scurried away as the water chased them up the sand.  The  three moons crossed the blush sky and dim stars blinked behind them.

Grandfather was the first of his family to come.  Yousef remembered a photo that Grandfather had hanging on his wall.  Grandfather told him it was of a place called the Red Sea.  Grandfather would stare into the distance as he told stories of his childhood summers spent at the beach.  Grandfather had loved the beach, but had not lived long enough on this world to see the Great Ruby Sea.

To his right, in the distance, Yousef could see the violet mountains and the low-hanging clouds that never left, floating just below their peaks.  He wondered if his father was right – maybe it wasn’t his fight.  The Zukhani had dominated life here for as long as anyone could remember.  They controlled the lion’s share of natural resources, and were quick to violence to silence even the slightest breath of dissent.

A cool breeze pushed through the humid twilight.  Yousef lifted his face to catch the sweet scent from the fruit trees that pushed their way through the sand behind him.  If Grandfather loved the beach at the Red Sea, then Yousef was sure that he would have loved this place as well.  Grandfather told him of the small boat that he kept moored outside his house.  He would spend the day casting and retrieving his nets.  After a long day on the sea he would return with dinner for his family and with extra fish to sell at market.

Yousef had never seen a boat or a fish.  Father had told him that the Inferites had great vessels they took to sea, and said they could catch the massive rubicons that lived in the dark corners of the ocean.  Yousef didn’t believe it.

The Zhukin had welcomed Grandfather and his companions when they had first arrived from Earth.  It was a long a difficult journey; only a single battered craft had survived the event horizon before hobbling through the atmosphere of Zukhanim and crash landing in the Meadows.  The Zhukins’ search and rescue team had saved all the souls who survived the crash.

A black crab raced past Yousef’s thigh.  Yousef’s arm shot down like a spear and scooped up the crab.  He held it close to his face and smiled as the creature’s tiny legs moved like it was still running.  Yousef popped the crab into his mouth, bit down through the soft shell, and tasted the sweet flesh.  Yes, he thought, if the Zhukin must fight, then I will fight beside them.

Relax

Everyone You Meet

A steel gust of frigid air cut down 7th Avenue.  The scattered tourists leaned against it as they smiled up at the massive digital signs that hung like sirens, tempting them to buy a new pair of designer jeans and order a Big Mac.  The lights created a flashing, false twilight at the crossroads of the world.

Alan stood at his post on the corner of 7th and 43rd Street.  He leaned his back against the corner of a storefront.  He could feel the cold sidewalk seeping throught the soles of his boots.  His blue uniform hid a layer of thermal underwear he kept in his locker for nights like this.  Christmas was only a week away and he needed the overtime to cover his mother’s hospital bill.

Two women laughed as they walked arm in arm towards Alan.  He turned a friendly face to them.  One of the women whispered something to the other.  She turned stone-faced and glared at Alan as they passed.

This would be the first night Alan would not be staying with his mother in her hospital room since she was admitted and he was feeling guilty.  She told him she understood, that he spends too much time there anyway.  He should be going out and trying to meet someone.  Alan had smiled at her and told her he would be back in the morning as soon as his shift was over.  She was dozing in her bed.  He pulled her covers up to her chin, careful not to disturb the tubes running under the sheets.

A young boy ran down the sidewalk and stopped at the edge of the curb in front of Alan. He wore a heavy winter parka and a wool cap pulled crooked over his eyes.  The boy looked Alan up and down, a mischievious grin on his face.  The boy’s eyes stopped on Alan’s gun, then went back up to his face.  Alan smiled.  “Hi there,” Alan said.

A woman quickly appeared and grabbed the boy by the arm.  “We don’t talk to no police, boy, you know that,” she yelled at the boy.  She dragged the boy down the block without looking at Alan.

Alan adjusted his cap and shifted his weight, folding his hands on his belt buckle.  It had been a year ago today that he and his mother had sat together across the desk from the oncologist.  The doctor sat down and looked at them in a way that told Alan everything he was about to say.  Alan had barely been able to hold it together in the car on the drive down, but kept himself from crying for his mom’s sake.  She needed to know that Alan thought she was going to be okay, that she didn’t have cancer.  When the doctor was explained it, Alan found himself weeping uncontrollably while his mother pressed her fist to her mouth and stared at the office window.

A man hurried past Alan.  He wore earbuds and held his phone.  He started rapping along to the music in his ears.  The man mumbled a few lines of the song then said, “racist fuckin’ pig,” as he walked past.  He didn’t look at Alan.

Alan pulled his gloves tighter and shoved his hands in his jacket pockets.  Alan looked into Times Square and scanned the interscection for parked vans.  In a few hours he would walk to the hospital to see his mother.

Conundrum

From Here, Where

“Think about your family, Yousef.  This is not just about you.”  Father had been pleading with him for an hour and Yousef was having trouble stifling his frustration.

“I realize what I have,” Yousef replied.  “God has blessed me with a wife and our daughters but a family is not a reason to run.  It is the reason to stay and fight, if it is anything!”   Yousef crossed the room and closed the door.  He knew his daughters would be listening anxiously in the next room.  He lowered his voice.  “This is not the time to run away, father.  Please understand.”

His father stood up.  “I would understand if it were just you, Yousef.  You would stand alone and fight the entire world.  But this is not the case.  If you choose to fight now, you will having three girls fighting alongside of you.  Remember that, Yousef.”

Yousef walked to his father and stood before him.  “But not you, father?  I would not have my father and mother standing beside me as well?”

His father turned away.  “No, Yousef,” he whispered.  “You would not.  I cannot stay and watch you kill yourself.  Your mother…  your mother would do whatever you ask of her but this is something that you cannot ask her to do.”

Yousef remembered growing up in a bright and crowded house, full of the love and support that only a mother and father in love can give to a child.  He knew that his mother would wish to stay.

“I won’t ask her to stay,” Yousef said.  “But I didn’t think that I would have to ask you.”

“This is not my fight, Yousef.  Nor is it yours.  I just don’t understand why you believe that it is.”  His father walked to the window and looked out at the brilliant persimmon landscape.  “When my father – your grandfather – came here, this was a planet filled with promise and opportunity and potential.  The land was a blank canvass on which to imagine and create, to wonder what a clean and peaceful life could be, and to make that life where before there was none.  Now look at us.  We are fleeing already.  First we fled Earth, and now we are forced to leave here.”

“That is precisely where you are wrong, Father.”  Yousef was accustomed to his father’s proselytizing.  “This is still our planet, and this is my fight.  It’s your fight and mother’s fight.  It is my daughters’ fight.  I will not allow this to become just another Earth where warring factions murder each other over land and beliefs and the garbage in the air.  We must not let one man take from us what Grandfather sacrificed so much for!”

Flee

The Zealot

Vigor, fervor, emotion.  Play like a zealot!  The boy knew that these words he had heard in his class sounded like they should mean something.  But until this moment, as he stood in a dark corner in the back of the darker club, watching the stage bright with the lights and the energy of men playing with what it is that those words were created to describe – until now, this very instant of his existence he had not known what it was to have vigor, fervor, emotion.  He knew when the air swelled and  crested, pulling him like a riptide, that he was forever changed by the man on stage who played like a zealot.

Seventh Girl in Seven Days

She had been pulled onto the shore by a fisherman. He used a thick hemp rope that he had managed to loop around her torso before pulling her through the dark water.  She was laying on her side when Ben arrived.  He could see her hands bound behind her back, tied at the wrists and elbows.  Her dark hair was matted against the nape of her neck.  She wore a blue tank top and faded blue jeans.

Ben walked through the tall sea grass towards two men that stood sentry over her. A week ago he could have said that he had seen exactly two dead bodies in his lifetime.  One had been an elderly woman who had died in her sleep, the other a drunk who had wrapped his Chevy around the town’s oldest oak tree.  Today’s girl would be the seventh in as many days.  He braced himself for the pungent odor. 

The men watched him as he approached, and he immediately felt silly. He wore the only suit that he had in his closet – a black one.  He had tried to add a splash of color by wearing a red tie, but he found that it only made him look like he was running for office.  In the end he opted for a plain gray tie.

“The funeral probably won’t be for another week,” one of the men joked. Ben glared at him from the corner of his eye and crouched next to the girl.

“You’ll want to take your tie off before you do that,” said the older man.  Ben took him to be the fisherman.  He looked down at his tie brushing against the girls arm.  He nodded a response, loosened his tie, pulled it over his head, and handed it to the fisherman.

“Thanks,” said Ben.  “You found her?”

“That’s right,” the fisherman replied.  “Saw her about twenty yards off the shore.  I was just coming in through the harbor when I saw her.  Just floating there, head down.  She was moving pretty good with the swells.  I thought she might turn over on her own but she didn’t.”

Ben pulled on latex gloves and touched the girl’s hands.  They had been tied with metal wire – same as the others.  The skin on her arms and back had begun peeling off, leaving pale, pink patches.  He checked her pockets for a wallet or a driver’s license and found nothing.  Ben stepped over her to see her face.  As he did his breath caught in his chest and he fell backwards onto the grass. 

He whispered one word that only he could hear.  “Sarah.”

Pete’s Chaos

“You want chaos,” his father said.  His voice was rising in volume and vitriol as he paced the room, arms flailing, wild eyes vacantly dancing across the room.  “You want chaos.  You wanna see what it’s like when your life is a tumblin’ swirl of shit?  You wanna be at the bottom of those stairs so that the shitswirl lands on top of you and you ain’t got the strength to stand?  The grit to fight your hardest, to beat the shit out of life when it wants to kick your ass?”

Pete felt his cheeks burning and the rising tears that blurred his gentle eyes.  He managed to stay standing in the same room as his dad but he kept one foot in the hallway.   Pete had seen him like this before, whenever some slight – big or small – had flipped that switch in his dad’s head that turned on the war again.  Pete knew it might be like this, but he had to tell him.  He needed to tell someone that knew him and cared about him.  Maybe not now, maybe not all the time like he used to, like his mom used to take care of him.  But Dad was all he had left, and he needed him.  He wanted his dad to need him.

“I don’t think you can do that, Pete,” his father said.  “You ain’t built like that.  You ain’t built for battle.”

“I don’t want a battle, Dad,” said Pete.  “I want a life.  A real fucking life-”  His dad reeled his giant body around on a heel and was towering over Pete in two giant steps from across the room.  Pete held his ground.

“You don’t fucking curse at me, goddamnit!  I’m you’re fucking father-”

A tear escaped Pete’s eye and he felt the warm water fall from his chin.  He silently scolded himself for letting his dad see that.  His father stopped mid-sentence.  He held his hand in the air, pointing an accusing finger at Pete, but the life had drained from his face as the madness faded.  His gaze fell to the floor and his shoulders fell.

“I didn’t mean that – that you’re not built for battle.”  His father turned and slumped onto the couch, that old green couch with the built-in matching recliners that they had bought after the funeral.  “You’re my son and you’re built the same way that God built me.  I just – I just don’t want you to be that way.”

“What way, dad?”  It was Pete’s turn to be mad.  “What way do you not want me to be, because I’m the same fuck- I’m the same way that I’ve always been.”

Pete’s father held his head in his hands and ran his fingers through the black hair that was still as short as it was when he had come home.  He picked up the beer from the coffee table and took a sip.

“You say that it’s going to be some chaotic shitswirl,” Pete said.  “But what in my life – our lives – has not already been a huge fucking swirl of shit?”  Pete quietly laughed as he immediately knew it to be true when he said it.  “If anything, the last seventeen years has prepared me for battle.  Whatever battle that’s in front of me.  I can fight it.”

“You want a life for yourself,” his father said as he stood.  “You want this life, this battle, this chaos.  Well, you got it.  And I ain’t in it.  Get the fuck out.”

Pete clenched his jaw and waited for the tears that didn’t come.  He had known it was going to end this way.  He just wasn’t prepared for how suddenly the end would come.  His father sat back down on the couch.

Pete crossed the room and opened the front door.  He took one step outside before turning around.  He watched his father empty his beer and reach for another.  Pete turned away, faced the world, and stepped out.

Lightning Frozen in Time

Thunder rolled over her bedroom as Cassy hid beneath her covers.  She was too old to be frightened by a thunder and lightning storm.  Her father had told her it was just heat lightning.  But Cassy knew better than that.  The relentless rumbles bellowed from the low clouds, deep and low.  Lightning crackled and sparked like a newly struck match every time it lit up the windows.  Cassy thought she could hear the lightning as it struck the dirt of the fields around their house.  Under her blanket she held her flashlight and tried to concentrate on the new book she had borrowed from the library.

She began a chapter about sharks.  She had never been to the beach and never seen the ocean.  She had only learned about it in science class at school, but she knew that one day she would see the golden sand and the deep blue ocean.  The thunder and lightning storm came to an end, but Cassy didn’t know it.  She had fallen asleep dreaming of the ocean.

The next morning Cassy awoke to the morning light gently pushing its way into her eyes.  she lifted her head and remembered the storm from the night before.  Pulling a bathrobe over her shoulders and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Cassy walked out of her room and looked for her parents.  They weren’t in the living room.  The pull-out couch in the corner that her parents slept on was folded up and the sheets were piled neatly in the corner.  Cassy noticed the backdoor had been left open.  She stepped outside and found her parents.

They stood just outside the doorway and stared out at the fields.  They didn’t say a word to her.  Cassy wasn’t sure they even noticed her.  She also wasn’t sure what was holding their attention raptly, until she followed their eyes out and she saw them.

They looked like lightning that had been frozen in time, like each time lightning struck someone had hit the pause button and left it there, waiting.  Great bolts connected the sky to the fields.  They emitted a muted light that pulsed, each one in sync with the others.  Cassy tried to see how high they went, and found that she could not see the tops of any of them.  They just seemed to keep going until they faded away into obscurity.  There  were hundreds of them racing up into the sky.

The telephone rang inside.  Her father walked inside and Cassy started to walk around the house.  They were everywhere, giant streaks of lightning frozen in time.  Every direction she looked, as far as she could see, they were there.  In the fields and forests.  It even looked like a few could have landed in the road.  Cassy gazed into the distance as she walked she was so mesmerized she nearly walked right into one!

It didn’t make a sound.  It just pulsed a pure white light.  On, then off again.  When the light was off, it looked like the black ice of a frozen pond in winter.  When it was on, it shone like the reflection of a fresh snowfall.