Black Petals Issue #91, Spring, 2020

A Hole in the Somewhere
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A Hole in the Somewhere-Fiction by Richard Brown
Everything Echoes-Fiction by Todd M. Guerra
Exit to Dove's Tail-Fiction by Ken Goldman
I Dream of Fire-Fiction by Matthew Penwell
Living Doll-Fiction by Carl Hughes
Angelika's Tough Decision-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Cat-Fiction by Chris Alleyne
The Demon-Fiction by Misty Page
The Run-Fiction by Thomas Runge D'Amore
We Are the Monsters We Seek-Fiction by Karen Heslop
Brother of Mine-Flash Fiction by D. C. Plump
New Terror-Flash Fiction by Denis Alvarez Betancourt
The Flapping Thing-Flash Fiction by Robert Masterson
The Clown Loved Cherry Lipstick-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Ganymede-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Space Probe RH 120-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
The Buffoon-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Just Another Day in My House-Poem by Tom Davidson
Blue Bell Hill Beast-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Plum Island-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Thing in the Woods-Poem by Loris John Fazio

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Art by A. F. Knott 2020

A Hole in the Somewhere

By Richard Brown

 

 

Little Jackie always loved the big freight trains that roared by on the tracks that his mom seemed to inevitably get stuck at after picking him up from daycare.  They would sit there at the train crossing for twenty minutes, sometimes, Jackie’s mom sweating, cursing, and biting her nails.  She had to drop Jackie off with her mother in time to rush off to her second job of the day, and the train always made that seem impossible.  Once that shift ended, Amy, Jackie’s mom, would finish out her night with a part-time shift at the local bar.  Jackie didn’t know about that job.  He only knew that the few, precious minutes at the train crossing were the only minutes he really spent with his mom. 

The first few minutes, when tensions ran especially high, weren’t the ones Jackie looked forward to, but Amy would always seem to accept her fate after that, remember her backseat passenger, and smile at him in the rearview mirror.  Then, she’d ask him if he’d like a song, and start singing, no matter what his answer might’ve been.  It was always ‘yes’, though, of course.  With the thunder of the train, and the clackety-clack of the wheels, in the background, Amy would sing:

 _ Oh my baby’s comin’ home tomorrow,

Gonna take away all my sorrow

We’re hitchin’ a ride

To the other side

Where we’ll never have to borrow.

Oh my baby’s comin’ home real soon

Gonna meet him at the train at noon

He promised my screams

Will turn to dreams

He sings me the sweetest tune._

 

Now, at the age of fifty-two, Jack doesn’t give two shits for trains.  Their thundering roar is no comfort; only a signal that his next ride may be approaching.  Jack has ridden the rails for exactly twenty years, ever since his first and only marriage ended with his ex, cleaning out his bank account, sleeping with his boss, and using Jack’s own money to hire a lawyer fifty times superior to the one willing to take Jack’s case pro bono.  It had actually been a pretty good life since then, Jack mused.  Travel, no responsibilities, and no cheating wives.  Sure, it had been lonely at times, especially when it was cold, and hunger was a constant and determined stalker, but Jack thought it was a pretty fair trade off. 

Two years ago, though, the freight companies started cracking down on hobos.  Security patrols were stepped up, and laws started being enforced.  Jack learned how to avoid the patrols, but those first eight months saw Jack inside a jail cell more nights than not, and now he had a criminal record.  Him!  Jack Porter, a criminal!  Well, it’s not like he was looking for a job or anything.  But it sure made getting the occasional motel room a little harder, what with their new trend of checking IDs and backgrounds.

About four months ago, Jack had thought up a plan to keep out of trouble:  He would find an abandoned shack and live there.  Simple as that.  No more dodging patrols.  He’d been keeping an eye out for just such a place ever since, and last week, he found it!  He had been riding the L.A. to Vancouver B.C. run, and just south of Longview, Washington, he glimpsed it as it flashed by.  Isolated in a little pocket of woods, separated from the tracks by old, rusty, but sturdy cyclone fencing, sat a forsaken two-room shack.  Where the paint hadn’t peeled off, the shack was white.  There were two tires lying haphazardly in the space between the shack and the fence, along with a rusted-out, metal sink. 

Jack trudged his way along the train tracks from the Longview station back to the shack that night to continue his inspection.  Where the trees circled around to meet the tracks, the fence stopped, so it was easy to simply walk through the woods right up to the little structure.  By using all of his stealth, Jack surmised that the place was empty.  By knocking on the door, waiting, then forcing the lock, Jack confirmed his initial analysis.  The place was completely bare.  No trash, no rats, no cast-off belongings of other hobos.  It had a living space/kitchen, and a bathroom.  The kitchen was a shell, with the only appliance being a rusted-out refrigerator, and the sink lying out in the yard.  The bathroom matched.  The toilet was cracked and dry, and the mirror behind it looked to be the witness to a schizophrenic suicide (or murder?) attempt.  It had a bullet hole just left of center, with a bullseye-pattern crack around the hole.  Shooting diagonally out from the bullseye, like lightning, was a jagged crack stretching from the lower left corner to the upper right corner.

Jack’s third night as resident, he noticed the gray patch on the bathroom wall.  In this place, gray patches on the walls were not unusual, but this one was only visible in the lower diagonal half of the cracked bathroom mirror.  It was blurry.  It looked like the FCC was now monitoring the family-friendliness of bathroom walls and had decided that this little patch might be offensive to some viewers, so they blurred it out.  It was roughly the size of Jack’s fist.  He had found it by feeling for it with his hand and knew that he had found it when his whole body had that feeling he got when he accidentally bit down on a metal fork.  Like a mild electric shock in his teeth, but now in all of his bones.  He decided not to explore it much further than that, especially if it had something to do with electricity and he couldn’t see it without the help of the mirror.

Jack spent the next several weeks ‘fixing up’ his new place.  He scavenged a few, ratty furniture pieces.  He set the sink back in its place, but couldn’t do anything about the plumbing.  He sold the two tires for $9.50 to the nearest junkyard; just enough cash to buy a cheap disposable razor and an even cheaper tie.  He needed a job if he was ever going to get the plumbing and electricity to work, he figured.  It turned out that the junkyard owner had a criminal record, too, and took pity on Jack by hiring him to clean up and organize the yard.  The pay was dismal, but it was more than Jack had made in two decades.  It was at the junkyard that Jack found the pistol.

In return for keeping the junkyard neat, along with his twenty bucks each week, Jack was allowed to take one item from the yard, provided that it had been there longer than a year.  Jack brought the pistol into the shop for Tony’s approval.

“What’d ya find out there, Jack?”

“Th- this.  Is it oh-oh-ok?”  Twenty years of no one to talk to made Jack a hesitant speaker, now.

“Well, lemme see that!  That shouldn’ta been out there!”

Jack’s heart fell. “Oh.  So it’s n-n-new?”

“No!  Uh…I mean, yeah.  Sure it is!”

Jack’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.  Tony had been working here for Frank, the owner, for four years, and had never been allowed to ‘shop the yard’ like Jack was.  Jack knew Tony was bitter about it.

“Wh-wh-when did it come in?” Jack asked.

“L-l-last week.” Tony mocked him.  “You calling me a liar, Jackie?”

Jack ignored both the mocking impersonation and the use of his childhood name.  “Can I s-s-see the ledger?  I just want to know how much something like that is w-w-worth.”

“Oh,  uh-huh.  Just wants ta see what it’s worth.  Why?  You thinkin’ a stealin’ it, Jackie?”

“No!  I’m j-j-just curious.  Really, Tony.”

“Go back to work, old man.  Maybe I’ll see if I can find the entry for it, but don’t count on it.  Us real employees have real work to do.  Now, scram!”

Jack spoke to Frank about the gun two days later.  Frank said there was no record of a pistol, and that he’d be happier if it was gone.  Frank told Tony to give it back to Jack.

“You’re giving a known criminal a gun?” Tony asked, incredulous.

“It ain’t like he can get ammo for it anywheres.” Frank replied.

Jack was aware of this fact.  No one would sell him bullets.  He just wanted it for resale value, and maybe the appearance of home protection.

“I don’t like it, boss.  He was askin’ ta see the ledger the other day.  I think he’s plannin’ on robbin’ the place.”

“Come into the office, Tony.” was all Frank had to say to this, and everyone knew what it meant.  Tony’s face turned white, then red.

“Boss! I been here four years!  This creep shows up last month!  Boss!”  Frank had already gone into the office.  Tony turned to Jack and murmured, “I’ll get you for this, ya little dick-weasel.” and slunk into the office.  After a minute or so, Tony started yelling.  After three minutes, Frank yelled.  Five minutes after that, Tony stormed out of the office, shot Jack a murderous look, and left the premises.

Frank’s voice came through the open office door calmly, “Take the pistol, Jack, and go home.  We’re closing for the day.”  It was eleven-fifteen in the morning on a Saturday.

The weeks wore on, and Frank tried a succession of people to replace Tony.  There was John, who treated Jack with as much respect as he treated everyone, which was quite a lot.  He left to care for his ailing mother.  There was Pete, who ignored Jack and was fired when he punched a customer for dickering with him on the price of a lamp.  There was Rebecca, Jack’s favorite because she was a sweet kid who treated him nice.  She baked things for him and talked with him, but she was too smart and ambitious to stay at a junkyard.  She went back to school in California at the end of the summer.  Frank even tried running the counter himself, but couldn’t keep up with the office work plus his fishing schedule, so he gave Jack the job and put himself at risk for an audit by putting Jack on the payroll.  This meant a huge raise for Jack, plus minimal health and dental coverage.  It also meant no more weekly freebies from the yard, but Jack was too excited, and nervous, about being able to purchase things again to care.  He bought paint and painted his shack a respectable gray color.  He bought a table and two chairs, and found someone who diverted some of the neighboring farm’s water to the shack’s primitive plumbing system for only seven hundred dollars.  That was a whole month’s pay for Jack, with barely enough left over to eat a few meals each week.  The next month, he paid for help getting some electricity (also from the farm), and fixing up the refrigerator.  Finally, he bought a few dishes.  He could actually buy food, store it at home, and eat regular meals.  The water was weak and tepid, and the power had a tendency to shut off for short periods of time, occasionally spoiling the little bit of food in the fridge, but Jack was prouder and happier than he had been in decades.  Except for Rebecca.

Rebecca was twenty-three the summer she worked at the junkyard.  She was bright, friendly, open.  Before Jack married Helen all those years ago, she had already given birth to a little girl. Little Mary had been five when the divorce was finalized.  Jack was hesitant to divorce, fearful of what that would mean to his relationship with his much-loved stepdaughter, but Helen promised that she would never separate her daughter from the only father she had ever known, so Jack consented.  As soon as the papers were signed, Helen went back on her word, and Jack never saw Mary again.  She’d be twenty-five now, and he wondered if she was anything like Rebecca.  She sure had been when she was little, but people change as they grow up.  Jack spent many evenings and nights thinking about Mary, now.  He never found the courage to even think of her during his long stretch as a hobo, but he thought maybe he was closing in on being respectable enough to contact her, at least, just so she would know that he hadn’t chosen to abandon her.  Stepparents just didn’t have any rights, that’s all.  He couldn’t even fight for her, especially not without the money that her mother had taken from him.  Would she understand that?  Could he even find her now, anyway?

In October, Jack decided to tackle the bathroom.  The plumbing already worked, but the mirror needed to be replaced, and the walls in there still gave him a very uneasy feeling.  On a crisp Tuesday in mid-October, Jack bought cleaning supplies at the local dollar store, only now, the sign read, EVERYTHING ONLY $1.59.  He bought a gallon of paint and a new bathroom mirror at the hardware store, and carried everything home.  The easiest way to his shack was down a short, dead end road that butted against the railroad tracks, then south along the tracks about a quarter of a mile to where the fence between his shack and the tracks began.  Jack had just turned off of the road, and skirted the big birch tree and wild rhododendron bushes that lined the tracks when a fist-sized rock whistled past his left ear, bouncing harmlessly off a railroad tie.  Jack turned cautiously, not wanting to drop his supplies.

“I told you I’d get you, bum.” Snarled a still-familiar voice.

“T-t-t-tony.  I di-di-didn’t know-“ Jack’s voice died away.  The man he was looking at barely resembled the pot-bellied clerk he had once worked with.  This man had a scruffy beard, clothes that didn’t remember ever being washed, a mostly empty bottle of Wild Turkey, and a handful of rocks.  He looked more like a bum than Jack ever had.

THUNK!  A rock hit Jack on his upper right thigh, startling him more than hurting him, and causing him to drop the paint.

“I don’t wanna hear your stuttering excuses, Wino Willie!” Tony blared at him.  He had been twenty feet away from Jack when the rock struck, and now had closed the distance to just half of that.  He took aim, and this time, the rock opened a gash under Jack’s right eye, on the cheek-bone.  Jack uttered an involuntary grunt and took one step backward.  It wasn’t enough.  Tony grabbed his shirt and landed a hard right-cross in Jack’s left ear.  Blood trickled down both sides of Jack’s face, now.  Jack was trying to turn his life around, and a railroad track brawl wouldn’t make doing that any easier… but Jack knew by Tony’s lack of anything else to say that he meant to kill Jack.  Months ago, when Tony had first been fired, Jack didn’t have a whole lot to live for, only a stubborn streak a mile wide.  If Tony had jumped him back then, Jack might’ve let him do what he came to do.  This day was different, though.  In the flash of an instant, Jack knew that he was planning on trying to find Mary again.  He had dreams of talking with her, maybe even being her dad again.  He couldn’t allow this mean-spirited slob of a human being to put a stop to that.  Jack lunged forward, breaking Tony’s nose with his forehead.  Tony clutched his face, toppled forward, and hit his own forehead on the corner of a tie, and lay unmoving.  Jack was ready to keep going, but wasn’t sure what Tony’s strategy was, just lying there.  It dawned on him about a minute later that Tony was unconscious.  Jack thought about rolling Tony onto the tracks, but shook his head, picked up his supplies, and ran for home.

Inside his shack, filling a cup with luke-warm tap water, Jack took the time to settle his nerves.  He had come home, tossed his supplies in the corner behind the bathroom door, and decided to get a drink of water before crashing on his couch for a while.  Tony had taken a turn for the worse in his life and he was drunk, that’s all.  It’s tough on a person when they see someone else who used to be in that situation pulling themselves up, while they themselves were still on the downslide.  Jack had seen it before.  Jack had even been on Tony’s end of it before.  Tony would wake up, feel idiotic, and disappear.  That’s what happened in these cases.

The next two weeks seemed to bear this out.  Jack saw no further sign of Tony, despite now having his eye out for him.  At the same time, the idea of trying to contact Mary took hold of his brain like a life-threatening fever.  With his November paycheck, Jack bought a smartphone.  He remembered the cell phones from twenty years earlier; they had been phones that called other people, or rang when people called you.  They hadn’t been supercomputers that did everything from take notes to preparing your legal defense in a court case!  He thought about asking for one that would wash his dishes, but got distracted by everything he had to learn about them.  He decided on a simple one that he could load a few apps on, make phone calls, and check email with.  He asked the salesgirl to help him load the most popular social media app, which happened to be something called FriendTree.  Twenty years earlier, it was Faceplant, or MyFace, or something like that, but he guessed he had been out of the mainstream for quite a while, after all.

At home, he set up his FriendTree profile, and searched for Mary Bryce, figuring that Helen had changed both of their names back to her maiden name.  His search returned seventeen thousand, two hundred and six results.  They all had pictures, but Jack had no idea what his little girl looked like these days.  Probably not much like the five-year-old girl he remembered.  He tried searching for her mother, instead, and found only five hundred and eighty-seven Helen Bryces.  Odd.  Maybe ‘Helen’ was more old-fashioned of a name.  Jack found the right Helen Bryce on his second day of scanning the thumbnail pictures.  She looked remarkably like he remembered her.  Thick, dark, wavy hair surrounding a pretty face that cleverly hid the monster underneath.  He clicked on her profile, and was taken to her homepage where he had the choices of reading About Helen, seeing Helen’s Photos, or sending a Message to Helen.  He chose Helen’s Photos, immediately found one titled Mary’s 21st B-day, and gazed upon the grown-up face of his cherished stepdaughter for the first time ever.  In the photo, a young woman with long, brown hair was grinning like a loon and holding a giant margarita glass that must have held at least a half-gallon of the blended drink, complete with an umbrella and salt on the rim.  Tapping on the woman’s face took Jack to her profile.  Here, he read about Mary Bryce.  She was twenty-five, which he already knew, worked at a computer software company, lived in California… and had a little girl of her own.  Jack was breathless long enough to feel dizzy.  He was a grandpa?  He was a grandpa!  That did it.  There was no stopping this train, now!  He just had to contact Mary, and see if he could meet his granddaughter!  He tapped Message to Mary, and typed, _Hello Mary, my name is Jack Porter.  I was married to your mother a very long time ago, and was even your stepdad for the first few years of your life.  I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I’ve never forgotten you.  I’ve wanted to talk to you, and see you, all this time, but your mother decided not to allow that.  Anyway, now that you’re an adult, that choice is yours.  I would greatly like to talk with you again.  Do you think that would be possible?  I have a phone, but it’s new and I don’t remember the number, and don’t know how to look for it while I’m using the phone to look on this site.  Please just write back to me on here, and I’ll send the number in my next reply.  I really hope you’re doing well.  From this, it looks like you are. Yours, Jack_

Jack read his message over and over again that night, long after he had pressed Send.  He imagined what her reaction would be and how she would feel.  Angry at him for being gone for so long?  Angry at her mom for making it that way?  Jack felt guilty that he couldn’t stop himself from hoping for that reaction.  Would she ignore him, or would her heart leap with joy at hearing from him?  It only took three days to find out.

Jack came home from work, and checked his FriendTree account for messages, like usual since sending his message, and felt his breath stop again as he read, ­_Hi Daddy!!!  I didn’t think I’d ever hear from you again!  I’m really sorry to say this, but I honestly thought you had died at some point.  You can’t imagine how happy I am that you’re ok!!!  Of course we can talk again!  I have so much to tell you…and ask you, lol!  Send me your phone number and I’ll call you!  Do you remember that trailer in Olympia that Gramma and Grampa owned?  Well, they left it to Mom and I’m staying here through Christmas.  Do you live near here?  I could come see u if u do!  Let me know! M_

Jack thought his tears were causing him to miss some letters, but after he dried them, he realized that she was using some kind of shorthand at the end, and he laughed.  He was disappointed that she made no mention of her daughter, but maybe she was just being cautious.  He could understand that.  Why expose her daughter to a familial relationship with some guy that, for whatever reason, had a history of disappearing?  He quickly responded, with trembling hands, _Dear Mary, I am SO relieved to hear from you!  Coincidentally, I live about an hour away, near Vancouver.  You will ALWAYS be welcome to visit, kiddo!  When is convenient for you?_ He pushed Send just before remembering to include his phone number, and had to send a second message with that information.

Two more days passed until Mary replied by calling him.  He was on duty at the junkyard, so he yelled in the direction of the office, not really caring if Frank minded, or even heard him, that he was going to lunch, and answered.  They spoke briefly, since she had a meeting to go to, but they arranged for Mary to visit him that weekend, on Sunday afternoon at 2:30.  Jack went back to work, beaming from ear to ear.

On Sunday morning, Jack’s euphoric fog lifted just enough for him to become sick from anxiety.  He realized that Mary had absolutely no knowledge of his fall, and subsequent rise, over the last twenty years.  What would she think when she saw his shack?  Sure, he had fixed it up quite a lot, but it was still a shack, and lacked most modern-day amenities.  And what about him?  Sure, he shaved and showered regularly now (at the local truck stop), but he still had the look of someone who had just lived a hard couple of decades.  And what about when she asked how to get to his house?  He had looked up the address in the archives at City Hall, but there was still no street access.  How could he direct her to get out of her car and walk a quarter of a mile along the tracks until she got to a run-down shack?  Jack’s stomach gave a nauseous lurch at the thought.  Jack lay back down on the couch in a depressed fugue.  At 1:30, Mary sent him a text message telling him that she was leaving Olympia and would see him soon.  He texted back, telling her to park on Fir St.  He ended up chuckling a bit at the confusion that caused when she replied, _First?  My gps says 1st is on the other side of town._   He cleared that issue up, but he still felt like a liar and a fraud.  He didn’t register the smell of smoke until he noticed it roll across the ceiling.  The door from the kitchen to the fenced yard was blistering.  Jack wrapped his only dishtowel around his hand and twisted the knob, instinctively turning with the door as the flames barged into the house like an officious IRS clerk seizing a foreclosed property.  Following that initial backdraft, Jack flew down the three short steps to the yard, through the flames, and crashed into someone standing in his yard.

“I knew it was you here, bum!” roared Tony’s voice, full with triumph.  He laid in the dirt, holding onto Jack as though he meant to prevent Jack from doing anything to save his burning shack.  Jack brought his knee up into Tony’s crotch at the same time as his elbow crashed down into Tony’s nose.  Tony let go of him instantly and howled in pain.  Jack scrambled to his feet and faced the burning wreckage he expected to find.  Instead, he found that the fire was still low and was limited to only his front stoop, so far.  He scooped up double handfuls of dirt and threw them at the base of the fire, quickly extinguishing it.  Then he turned to face his enemy, both of them coughing and gasping. 

Tony was on his hands and knees, spitting and dripping blood onto the dirt.  Jack aimed a kick into his ribs, and was rewarded with an audible CRACK.  Tony grabbed a large rock and threw it wildly, but with great luck.  It struck Jack in the center of his forehead and sent him reeling.  Tony gained his feet, clutched at Jack’s shirt, and shoved him into the house.  They both fell over the steps, and Tony’s knees landed in Jack’s abdomen, giving Jack’s earlier nervous nausea new and undreamt-of energy, and vigor.  Tony lurched to his feet, which were planted in the fresh vomit.  He overbalanced, slipped, and caught the small, wooden table where Jack ate his solitary meals squarely under his chin.  He blacked out just long enough for Jack to recover and stumble to his couch, where he kept his pistol hidden underneath.  When Tony regained consciousness, he found Jack pointing an old pistol at him and wincing.  Tony laughed.

“I remember that thing, ya filthy idiot!  It’s empty!  No one would sell you bullets!”

Jack knew he was right, but right now, his most fervent wish was to shoot Tony dead.  He squeezed the trigger and prepared to beat Tony to death with the gun.  BANG!  Then, Jack couldn’t hear anything.  He saw, however, the purple bloom on Tony’s ratty blue shirt, just left of center on his chest.  Tony gaped in amazement at him, then let his head fall forward, apparently to get a much closer look at his wound.  Jack squeezed the trigger again, and again, but nothing happened.  Tony didn’t move again.  Jack heaved a deep sigh of relief.  Then he panicked.  Mary would be here in less than thirty minutes, probably!  He couldn’t let her see any of this and call the authorities.  He was already a criminal, living here illegally, siphoning water and power, and possessing a loaded firearm, evidently.  He’d be put away for the rest of his life!  How could he hide this, though?  He could just meet her at Fir St, but what if she insisted on coming here?  What if some other person just happened to stumble across the scene?  He hadn’t seen a soul near here in the last six months, except Tony, but if anyone were to ever come near here, today would be the day.  You could take that to the bank and smoke it, Jack thought.  He didn’t know what to do about Tony yet, but he could think about it while he cleaned up the vomit and himself. 

As Jack flushed the last of the wads of puke-covered toilet paper, he realized that he had never replaced that old, cracked mirror.  Too late, now, but he glanced into the lower half of the mirror and saw the blurred patch on the wall.  Had it always been so large, or was it spreading?  It must be three feet across, now, at least.  Jack shook his head.  No time to get sidetracked.  He could put Tony in here, though, and just not let Mary use the restroom.  Probably wise, anyway, regardless of corpses lying around in here, Jack thought, as he took in the state of utter disrepair.

Jack dragged Tony into the bathroom, and leaned his lifeless form against the wall opposite the mirror.  Tony’s head flopped back against where the blurred patch should be, and promptly disappeared.  It just fell into the wall, but the wall took no notice of it.  No dust flurried, no plaster crumbled.  And no sign of the head remained.  In fact, when Jack realized that the head had been neatly sliced from the neck as though by the sharpest and finest of piano wire, he screamed.  His scream died just as his phone rang.  Mary!  He ran to answer it, and was stunned by how relaxed his voice sounded as he gave Mary directions from the little, dead end road.

When he hung up, he saw the answer to his problem of Tony’s dead body.  He picked Tony up and wrestled him into the wall where the blurred patch was.  Pieces seemed to fall off into the wall, but that just made Tony easier to handle.  He just had time to change into a clean shirt and slide the gun back under the couch before there came a soft knock on his door.

Jack wiped sweat from his forehead, and opened the door.  Before him stood the same little girl who held his hand twenty years ago and asked him “Why, Daddy?” about absolutely everything.  Only now she had green eyes, when she used to have brown eyes. 

“Mommy says you’re my grandpa.” she said to him now.  “Why is your door all bubbly and brown, Grandpa?”

Jack looked up and past his granddaughter at Mary, who was smiling anxiously at the both of them.

“Hi, Daddy.” was all she said.  It was enough.

Jack burst into tears, picked his granddaughter up in his left arm, and trotted down the steps to embrace his daughter with his right arm.  They hugged for several moments before a muffled “Why are you crying, Grandpa?” came from his shoulder.

Jack laughed, and put her down on the ground again.  “I’m crying because I’m so happy to meet you!” he said.

“Oh.  My name’s Emily, but you can call me Emmy.  Why do you live by the train tracks, Grandpa?”

“Actually, Dad, I’m curious, too.  This address came up as ‘Condemned’.  How is it that you live here?” 

Jack led them inside and told them his story, forcing himself to be honest about his decisions and his reasons.  Recent events disappeared from his awareness as the last twenty years enveloped him.  He told them about his depression and anger from the divorce, and how losing everything seduced him into giving up everything.  He hadn’t wanted to try to replace what he had lost because that would be admitting that he had lost it to begin with.  After a few minutes, Emmy wanted to explore, so Jack gave a tour while he talked.  It only took a minute.

In the bathroom, Mary shot him an alarmed look when she saw the cracked mirror.  “Oh! It was like that when I found this place.  I got a new one last month.  I just forgot about hanging it up.”

“Let’s do it now, Daddy.  I don’t like that crack, for some reason.  It creeps me out.”

They hung the new mirror while Jack entertained them with stories from his train-hopping days.  Mary leaned the cracked mirror against the wall below the new one, stood up, and proclaimed, “Much better!”

Jack and Mary returned to the main room.  Mary told Jack about her short, failed marriage to Emmy’s father, her job at CyberSolutions, and her academic career. “Where is Emmy?” Jack wondered aloud.

“She was fascinated by that old mirror, so I leaned it against the wall so she could look at it.”

Jack felt a moment of unease at this, but had no ready explanation for it, so he let it go.  “Are you hungry, Kiddo?” he asked Mary.  “I’m sure Emmy probably is.  Want to go to lunch?”

“Sure, but I’m pay-“ Mary was interrupted by a tremendous whipcrack coming from the bathroom.

Jack thought, _the gun!_, and leapt to his feet, as Mary called out, “Emmy?  Emmy!”.  They both ran into the bathroom, only to find it empty.  There was nothing to hide behind, but Mary made a close search of every corner, anyway, all the while calling her daughter’s name, “Emmy! Emmeeee!”

Jack, meanwhile, stared at the hole, and the bullseye crack around it, in the new mirror.  There was a jagged, diagonal crack running from lower left corner all the way to upper right.  In the lower diagonal half, Jack saw a blurry patch on the wall next to him, stretching from the floor to about four feet up the wall.  He closed his eyes in an effort to stem the tide of tears, and opened them again too late to warn his daughter.

Mary was panicking. She raced around the room, feeling the walls, fantastically hoping that her precious Emmy was just blending in with the walls, and that she, Mary, would touch her and pull her daughter to her, and hug her fiercely.  She saw her long-lost dad just standing still in the doorway, but couldn’t be bothered with him right now.  She felt along the wall, and barely had time to be surprised when her hands simply went into the wall and lost all sensation of touch.  Her body pitched forward, following her arms, but her head and shoulders struck the wall.

Jack screamed for the second time that day, but the first time had just been a warmup.  This release of terror, horror, and sudden loss was the real thing, and lasted for an eternity, at least in his mind.  Jack watched as his long-lost daughter’s head and shoulders simply slid off of her body and fell to the floor, while the rest of her form disappeared into the wall.  Jack’s mind tried to follow it.  He had no reason to remain in reality.  His beloved daughter and his newly met granddaughter were dead, forever lost to him.  But that wasn’t right, was it?  Yes, Mary was certainly dead, as her blank stare coming from her severed upper torso insisted on reminding him, but was Emmy?  Jack went over in his mind what he actually knew about the gray patch:  Its’ edges were dangerously sharp (_Mortally sharp_, Mary’s eyes told him), it could only be seen as a reflection, it felt mildly electric, and it was growing.  He did not, in fact, know what was on the other side.  Emmy had evidently walked into it; her entire child’s body fitting neatly into it.  She might very well be perfectly all right in whatever place it led to.  Frightened out of her mind, though, since the first thing she’d see was Tony’s dismembered corpse.  Then, probably in an attempt to turn and run back to her mommy’s protective arms, she’d see her mommy flop into existence right in front of her.  Well…most of her mommy.  That bright, inquisitive, sweet little girl needed someone right now, and Jack was her only family at the moment.  Certainly, the only one who knew how to get to her.  He picked up Mary’s head and torso, hugged it to his chest, bent low, and followed his granddaughter into…somewhere.

#

In the bathroom of the little shack by the train tracks, a second CRACK! happened. Then a third.  Were they noises, since there was no one there to hear them?  Sound waves moved through the air, but there were no eardrums for them to bounce off, so at what point does noise begin?  As in that famous song by Procol Harum, _the mirror told its tale_; the tale of three souls, separated by time and distance, brought back together, and travelling through the unknown.  Three holes were in the center of a new mirror, three overlapping bullseyes, and three jagged lines.



Richard Brown is a (previously) unpublished author working on his first novel.  He and his guide dog, Edison, reside in the Pacific Northwest, where they are often seen trying to stay out of the rain.