A Hole in the
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
To the other
have to borrow.
Oh my baby’s
comin’ home real soon
Gonna meet him
the train at noon
He promised my
Will turn to
He sings me the
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
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.
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
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
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
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!”
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.
Tony mocked him. “You calling me a liar,
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.”
Just wants ta see what it’s worth.
Why? You thinkin’ a stealin’ it,
“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.
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.
known criminal a gun?” Tony asked, incredulous.
“It ain’t like
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
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
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_
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.
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.
thing, ya filthy idiot! It’s empty!
No one would sell you bullets!”
Jack knew he
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.
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
I’m curious, too. This address came up
as ‘Condemned’. How is it that you live
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.”
do it now,
Daddy. I don’t like that crack, for some
reason. It creeps me out.”
They hung the
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.
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?”
pay-“ Mary was interrupted by a tremendous whipcrack coming from the bathroom.
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!”
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
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
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.