From the audio journal of Ryan Dallion
Recorded May 16, 2025
Memories fade with time... but I think I already said that. It's true, you know, but only sometimes. Only when you don't want it to be. Sometimes I think back to those days spent at Curious Goods - not fond memories (for the most part), but they're all I have left of her on some days. On the worst days I can't even remember her face; it vanishes into the depths of my mind as if obscured by a heavy fog. All I have then are pictures, our lifetimes frozen in celluloid amber, hidden in shoeboxes or on dusty closet shelves. Even when the memories escape me, I still know we shared a life together.
But most days, I can still remember back to those years at Curious Goods with Jack and Johnny. Then I see her in my mind's eye, and my heart breaks again at the memory of having loved her... and still loving her, even though she is gone.
Michelle Foster Dallion - my beloved, and more importantly, my dearest friend - died six weeks ago, and sometimes I can't even remember her face now. When it was dark and my fears rose up like ghosts, she would always be there for me. She always knew when my world became too dark to bear on my own, and all I needed was to feel her touch, sense her arms around me, her lips pressed to my forehead whispering that everything would be okay. And then the fear would flee because her words were true.
I always wanted to believe we'd live happily ever after, but I never let myself. I'd seen too much; we'd all seen too much to believe in fairy tales. The hero doesn't always get the girl... and even when he does, he can't keep her.
Sometimes, even when you win... you still lose.
Six Weeks Earlier
There were posters this time, small photocopied pieces of white paper that she had been stapling up everywhere for years. The city was covered in posters; they were on every door, every telephone and light pole, every cop car and baby carriage and park bench and child's wool cap. She never ran out of posters or staples, never got tired or hungry... but she knew that nobody had seen who she was looking for. Why she kept putting them up she no longer knew, but that was her task in this life now.
But was it life, or some dream? She no longer knew anymore...
In that way that dreams have, a scant step later she had seamlessly moved to some dark, forbidding forest. There were no leaves on the trees, just piles on the ground, some of them easily as tall as she was. The sky was an unending plain of gunmetal gray, featureless and unmoving against the scrawny trees that bent in the ever-present wind. She walked among the trunks, stapling starkly contrasting posters to the rotting wood of the trees as she went.
From one of the posters her fingers came away bloody. Looking at her hands, she saw that the palms were covered in blood from the horrifyingly deep lacerations that had appeared somehow without her knowing about it. "Oh my..." she murmured calmly. "I suppose I'd better go see a doctor..."
Hands caressed her shoulders, actual, real, strong hands with a surprisingly familiar grip. As she turned around to see what the waking world held for her today, though, a voice echoed somewhere deep in the woods... and, unable to resist, she turned to follow it. Her path led her into thicker and thicker stands of trees; branches tore at her white dress until it was nothing but scraps hanging from her body, covering her in scrapes and cuts. She walked until the voice seemed close enough to touch... and then she came to the edge.
Then there was another, quieter plop as a single drop of blood fell from her hand and into the water. The ripples soon vanished, but the dot of red stayed on the surface... and then began to grow. It spread with lightning speed, racing up and down the creek, turning everything it touched red and sticky, filling the air with a cloying, thick stench of copper. She pulled back, stood up, turned around, knowing that she had to get away from here -
And then they surrounded her, screaming, taunting her, grabbing at the remains of her dress and her skin, pulling away anything they could grab hold of, hands pressing against her everywhere. Their laughter was deafening, heartless, cruel... but not the worst part. And all she could hope for was that this was a dream when she heard the man's voice screaming as if being tormented by all the demons in Hell.
No, the worst part was that she knew that voice, and could not help herself when she opened her mouth to scream as well -
"Micki? You awake?" Ryan mumbled, sensing movement from her side of the bed. He reached behind him, his aching muscles protesting, but Micki was no longer there. Turning over he saw nothing but disturbed bedcovers in the dim glow of the streetlight, and he reached out to turn on the bedside lamp as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.
A wave of cold air passed over him, and Ryan looked up to see the door that led to the deck standing open. He stood, pulled on his well-worn bathrobe and slippers, and stepped out into the chilly night. Micki was leaning against the railing, gazing out at the expanse of suburban California landscape that led tot he Pacific Ocean. Her braided hair, elegantly gray in daylight, shimmered silver in the gentle light of the stars and streetlights. "Micki? Are you alright?" he yawned as he shuffled toward her, and for just a moment he wondered if Jack had felt such an ache in his bones back when they were all together at Curious Goods. God, am I that old already? he wondered. Not yet, but getting damn close. Sixty-two this year. He touched her shoulder gently. "Micki?"
"I'm... okay. Can't sleep." She did not turn to look at him. "Go back to bed. I'll be in soon enough."
Ryan hesitated, the back of his neck tingling at something in the tone of her voice. "You sure?"
A moment passed. "I'm sure, Ryan. Good night."
Ryan laid back down, pulled the bed covers up... but even after Micki returned to his side sleep refused to come until the first light of dawn broke the horizon.
When he awoke a few hours later, Ryan immediately noticed that Micki was already out of bed. He ran a hand through his white hair, struggled into a grubby pair of jeans and a T-shirt (clothing that Micki still tried to replace, even though both of them realized long ago that he would never give them up), pulled on his shoes and hobbled downstairs, ignoring the protests of his knees.
Through the large plate glass window that dominated the dining room, Ryan could see Micki out in her garden, her wide hat shading her face, tending her roses and lilies and tomatoes even though bending over greatly irritated her back. The sun filtered through the scattered clouds, giving the lawn a mottled appearance; the grass was alive and thriving in the sunny areas, while in she shadows it seemed gray and lifeless. Ryan began his trek across the lawn, down the path of scattered flagstones toward the raised circular garden that had Micki's pride and joy for almost twenty years. "Up early today," he called out halfway down the path.
Micki said nothing so Ryan kept walking toward her. "How about we go to the market today? I've been thinking maybe I'll cook dinner tonight."
Micki leaned back, still facing away from him. "I'd rather not today, Ryan. There's a lot I need to finish, and my back is finally feeling better."
"Okay. Anything I can pick up for you while I'm out?"
"No, I'm fine." Micki leaned back down, burying her hands in the soft fertile earth she worked so hard to tend. "Have a good time."
Ryan lingered, that strange feeling from the night before reasserting itself. Then, unsure of what he should say, he turned and made his way back to the house. A few minutes later he was driving down into the valley where the small town of Santa Marta was nestled. On the east side of town was a collection of low white stucco buildings that surrounded an open area the size of two football fields, where every weekend local farmers and artisans would come sell their wares. It was not long before he lost himself in the Saturday throng of consumers, all searching for that perfect ingredient or gift. He wandered among the tables and booths, occasionally picking up some fruit or bulb, usually setting it back down again and moving on. He ended up with a large bulb of fresh garlic, some fresh asparagus, a few perfect apples and a head of lettuce. Carefully sealing the heavy plastic sack, Ryan walked toward the buildings on the market's north side.
He opened one of the doors, immediately becoming immersed in the heavy scent of incense that rolled out of the dim shop. Stepping inside, he pulled the door shut behind him and let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting, even though he was intimately familiar with the place. Rows and rows of sealed plastic boxes lined the shelves mounted on every wall; more boxes covered tables and were stacked in corners, all humming softly as their contents were kept at zero-percent humidity and fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Ryan peeked in a few as he walked by; Superman, Batman, X-Men, Witchblade, hundreds more of his childhood icons and the more mature titles he'd acquired a liking of later in life, all preserved for eternity behind clear plastic.
"Hold on a minute," a distracted voice called out from behind the tattered curtain that separated the display area from the private collection of Nathan Ackley, sole owner and proprietor of Zero Black Comics. The sound of a display case hitting the floor followed, and a moment later the curtain pulled back to reveal a young man clad in a silk-screened tee-shirt and plaid boxers. His long, stringy hair fell over his shoulders like a dingy waterfall as a look of annoyance passed over his face and faded just as quickly. "Hey, man. Thought you weren't coming till tomorrow."
"Micki's feeling better; besides, I needed to get out of the house." Ryan followed the twenty something man into the back room, carefully stepping over empty pizza boxes and plastic baggies until he reached the tattered couch that served double duty as Nate's bed. "Lunch is on me," he said, tossing Nate one of the apples.
"Apples? What the hell you take me for, fool? I don't eat rabbit food," Nate responded, plopping down next to Ryan.
"Some people might want to enjoy their teeth before they all fall out." Ryan took a huge bite from his own apple to make his point.
"I do enjoy my teeth. Just not on apples." Nate flashed his best toothy grin and flicked out his tongue, the gold skull-shaped stud that pierced it glinting in the dim light. "She enjoyed them more."
"Ah." Ryan grinned and shook his head, wondering why it seemed he was so different when he had been Nate's age. "So what have you got for me this week?"
"Oh, yeah!" Nate dug between the cushions, eventually bringing up a flat remote control. "Some dude in Beijing got hold of this before the Reforms. First edition, still sealed in foil package, kept at optimal humidity and temperature." Nate was all business now; beneath his scruffy exterior was an expert on the history and value of comic books and graphic novels. He pressed a button and the large flat screen monitor that dominated most of the western wall flicked to life. Nate scrolled quickly through the menus, bringing up a three-dimensional image of the very last Superman comic ever produced. "Authenticated by the Collector's Alliance, too."
"Not cheap." This particular comic had a troubled past; the original gold-foil run of the first edition, all ten thousand copies, had been awaiting shipment from the FedEx hub in New York when the building had burned to the ground in 2005. Practically all copies had been destroyed - until recently only eight had been verified as genuine. Ryan looked closely at the price. "Not cheap at all."
"But one-of-a-kind, man. Close to unique as you can get in comics."
Ryan watched the image spin, saw the cover illustration in perfect clarity. As the years had passed most of his hobbies had fallen by the wayside, and he had become more and more content to stay at home and sketch the birds and plants that populated Micki's garden. The one interest that remained, however, was comic books. Secure in the basement, Ryan had amassed dozens of specimens sealed in plastic cases identical to those that littered the shop along with various examples of his own comic artwork, some of which had even been published over the years. He had found more success as a concept illustrator than a comic artist, and had made a comfortable and even satisfying livelihood drawing pictures of futuristic cars and buildings and even several monuments, one of which had made the journey to reality.
Ryan closed his eyes, imagining the feel of the foil beneath his hands... and then said what he always said: "Not today, Nate."
Nate pressed a button on the remote and the display vanished, leaving him shaking his head. "Man, why do you do this? Are you some kind of masochist or something?" He dropped the remote and sat back, picking up his apple and taking a hearty bite from it.
"Just reminding myself of something," Ryan replied, a strangely sad half-smile crossing his face.
"And?" Nate prodded when Ryan did not continue.
"And maybe I'll tell you someday." Ryan started leafing through an open crate of new arrivals. "Besides, money can't buy happiness. Just new teeth."
Two hours later Ryan opened the front door and shuffled inside. "Micki, I'm home," he called out, the aroma of freshly-brewed tea filling his nostrils. He went in to the kitchen and turned on the cold water, anxious to rinse his purchases and begin cooking dinner. "Micki?" Then his gaze turned to the garden and his blood turned to ice.
Micki was lying on the grass a few steps from the garden, her hat crushed beneath her, the small basket of garden tools overturned and its contents scattered around her still form. Ryan's mouth worked, desperately trying to form words but useless without sound. He ran toward the door, down the steps, faster than he would have believed possible, his knees screaming, his mind racing, please don't let this happen -
And then he was beside her, lying on the ground with her as his left knee gave out. Ignoring the pain screaming across his nerve endings he reached out, grasped her shoulder and pulled her close. He turned her face to his, the afternoon sunlight glinting in her eyes, and for just one moment he thought that she would blink, or move, or laugh.
But she did not move, or blink, or laugh, or even breathe. Ryan reached out, his fingers brushing across her cheek, but found nothing of the woman he loved but a shell. He felt for a pulse; a reflex, knowing that no life remained, but he made the effort anyway. A thin ribbon of blood had made its way across her cheek, and Ryan wiped it away, not wanting his final memories to be marred once again by blood.
The Vox had slipped from his pocket when he fell, but was within easy reach. Ryan picked up the slim silver device and said, "On. Telephone. Nine-one-one." The Vox chirped happily and a moment later a voice said, "Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?"
"She's dead. Micki's dead."
It's been said that man does not see the truth because he himself is standing in the way. When I was young - when I cared to think about such things - I thought I knew the truth about life... about death. I dealt in terms of absolutes - you're alive, and then you're not.
Then one day I received a letter telling me that I had inherited an antique shop from some uncle I never even knew I had. I was living in Chicago, I had no long-term plans after dropping out of college, so I told myself 'Hey, what the hell...'
And from that day, nothing was ever the same again. Not life... not love... not death. Especially not death.
"... yes, thank you. Goodbye." Joan Kelleigh looked out over the city of Chicago, her view impeded only by a thin sheet of polymer that separated the outside air from the thirty-seventh floor apartment. She lowered the Vox back into its charger and pulled her sweater tight, a sudden chill enveloping her as tears threatened to break free. In the distance a flash of lightning lit the sky, reflecting off the glass-and-steel skyline like some sort of colossal kaleidoscope.
"Honey? Who was that?" she heard Johnny call from his study, his typewriter fallen silent for a few moments. he had been working on a collection of short stories for weeks now, and the chattering of the keys had threatened to drive her into a rage on more than one occasion. Now, she suspected, she would not hear that sound for quite some time, no matter how she longed for it.
She stopped in the doorway, looking at Johnny sitting behind his huge oak desk and the stacks of typewritten sheets that covered the top. "Joan?"
"That was Ryan. It's Micki, she... she died..." Joan's voice faded to a whisper as tears coursed down her face.
There were preparations to make in the hours that followed; people to contact, forms to sign, clothing to select... memories to dredge up from their well-deserved hiding places, those darkened corners of the mind where they lay waiting to be looked at like some awful trophy and then returned to rest. Ryan was awake late into the night making calls and sending off e-mail messages to Micki's far-flung colleagues and friends, but even when he had finally finished sleep kept managing to slip away. He watched the moon rise from the bench he'd managed to cobble together years earlier; he and Micki had often spent hours there watching the wind carry the leaves to and fro, a sketch pad in his hands much of the time as he waited for inspiration to come.
Sometime before dawn he slipped into a restless slumber. Some part of him was thankful for not being awake to remember the barren winter landscape of his dreams, an ice-covered plain that went untouched by his dragging footsteps, forever unchanging, eternal, alone -
His eyes popped open as he felt a hand upon his shoulder. "Ryan?" he heard from somewhere close. Squinting his eyes against the sudden light, Ryan focused and, for just a moment, thought he had died as well: Jack Marshak, dead and gone these twenty-odd years, was leaning over him, his left hand on Ryan's shoulder. He blinked once, twice, clearing his vision, and realized that the bearded face belonged to Johnny Ventura. "Ryan? You okay?"
"I'm... doing the best I can," Ryan replied, grasping Johnny's hand and sitting up. He rubbed his other hand across his eyes, trying to adjust to the morning light. "Hello, Joan. It's... good to see you both."
"Hi, Ryan." Joan sat down beside him, her waist-length gray hair spilling onto his shoulder. "How are you holding up?"
Ryan automatically opened his mouth to say "I'm okay"; for most of the previous day he'd been talking to concerned friends and neighbors, every one of whom had asked some variation of "Are you okay?" But he found himself unable to say the words, unable to lie to Johnny and Joan after the experience they had shared so many years before. "I'm not sure," he finally said. "It's like she's still here, but I can't feel her anymore. I can't stop remembering the little things that happened between us, the arguments, the little gifts we'd leave for each other just to..."
"Come on, Ryan. Let's go inside," Johnny said. He opened the door and stepped into the house, one hand on Ryan's arm as they moved toward the kitchen. Lining the front hallway were a dozen framed photographs of various sizes and themes; some were black-and-white while others were color, a few were digitally altered, giving them a surreal aspect. For the past twenty-nine years Micki had worked as a professional photographer and, later, an artist who specialized in the photographic medium. She had traveled to the ends of the earth, capturing spectacular images of almost every imaginable subject; lightning strikes, an angry mob rioting in Pakistan, a flock of Sandhill cranes in flight over Nebraska, it rarely mattered - her subjects were seldom repeated. Over time she had gained a reputation as an artist with the camera, and her works had been displayed in art galleries across North America and Europe. Until a few years ago this work had kept Micki traveling for three or four months of the year, but time had finally caught up to her and made her slow down.
Ryan sat at the kitchen table as Johnny began rummaging through the cupboards. "How about omelettes for breakfast? I've gotten pretty good with a skillet."
Ryan stared out the window, his gaze fixed on the section of lawn next to the garden. "Sounds fine," he said absently as Joan sat down next to him and slid her hand over his.
"Did Micki take all of these?" she asked, looking at the photos of flowers and nature that adorned the walls of the dinner nook.
"Uh... yeah. These were her favorites. She always said the ones in the hall were her best, but these... these were the ones she loved." Ryan pointed at a black-and-white image of a solitary falcon, its wings outstretched as it rode the wind. "Micki took that one in Chile when she was covering the insurrection in 2004. She got separated from her colleagues for several hours, became lost in the forest... but she always told me that this bird brought her home."
Ryan fell into an uncomfortable silence. "Ryan, what happened? You weren't very... clear... when we spoke," Joan said.
"I went to the market, and when I got back I found her next to her garden, dead. The medical examiner said that she most likely died of a brain embolism that burst, that it was very sudden and... she probably felt little pain." He felt Joan's grasp grow stronger. "How could I have known? Nothing was wrong, nothing that I could see." He stopped, his words hanging in the air. "But I still should have known."
"How? There's nothing you could have done," Johnny said.
"Yeah, that's what I keep telling myself... and I keep thinking that I'm wrong." Ryan stood and walked out onto the deck without another word. Johnny took a step to follow, but Joan grasped his arm and just shook her head.
An hour later Ryan shuffled back into the kitchen, the scent of leftover chicken salad filling his nostrils. His stomach rumbled at the scent, as well as the sight of Johnny and Joan next to a countertop filled with food, and he realized that he had not eaten for almost two days. "Hey, Ryan. We were just putting together a little something to eat..." Johnny said, rinsing off a blackened skillet.
"Thanks." Ryan picked up an apple and rubbed it absently against the sleeve of his sweater. "Mrs. Thayer has been bringing me all sorts of food. She must think I can't cook for myself." He rummaged around in a drawer and came up with a steak knife, then began to peel the green skin from the apple. He soon found himself with a plate in his hand, a mound of chicken salad and fresh bread piled atop it; a bottle of Bordeaux was soon opened and joined the feast. The three of them soon found themselves in the living room, talking about the experiences of the six years or so since they had last gathered in the same place. Johnny talked about his writing, the time he'd spent among the Iroquois Movement that had been pressuring Congress to return a great deal of land to Native American control. That research had resulted in Johnny's only non-fiction work, and was among his proudest achievements despite the fact that the book had sold only modestly. Joan had continued working with troubled children as she had for nearly twenty years; she still owned a small bookstore, but had long ago left the day-to-day operations to others who also loved the escape of literature.
They spoke, they laughed, sometimes they wept... but, always, they remembered why they had come together in the first place so long ago. Long past midnight Johnny looked up from his glass of wine and said, "We'd better get to bed soon. The funeral starts at ten."
Ryan looked at the clock and suddenly realized how tired he had become. Stifling a yawn he got to his feet and shuffled toward the stairs, followed by Johnny and Joan. "Good night, Ryan. We'll see you tomorrow," Joan said before giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. Ryan stared after her for just a moment longer than he would have normally before he closed the door and tried to shut out the world for the night.
This is how it is: birth, life, death, and whatever comes after. The details are always different, and they're never important. All that really matters is that when we die... there's something after. I've seen some of the places we go afterward, and I pray to never see them again - fields of death, barren of everything but bodies and blood, suffering without end.
It was six years ago that I found Micki unconscious on the kitchen floor. She'd passed out in the middle of making dinner, but had come to by the time the ambulance arrived. The doctors kept her overnight for observation, and sent her home the next day with a clean bill of health.
But after that Micki was never quite the same. Some days it was like the light seemed to fade from her smile, like part of her soul was reliving some half-forgotten memory. Other times, some part of her was just... just gone. She continued to take pictures and make her art, but now her work seemed flat and gray. It was like she no longer cared.
Three years after the fainting spell is when the pain began. It started in her hands - piercing, pins-and-needles stabs that crept up and down her fingers and across her palms, twisting her hands into wretched, useless claws. The pain spread up her arms, down her legs, into her chest and neck, finally leaving her trapped in our bed unable to walk or move or even speak on some days. No medicine could dull it, no treatment could bring relief, no doctor ever came close to finding a cause. For almost a year, all Micki felt was pain. I begged to take her to a hospital but she stood her ground and refused. She always told me that if it was her time to die, it would happen on her terms, not some doctor's... and I had to respect that. What hurt worse, though, was her insistence that Johnny and Joan never be told. She swore me to secrecy, that not one word would pass my lips about what was happening to her. I never understood why but I honored her wishes.
One morning I awoke to find Micki lying next to me, her chest finally still, her eyes closed not in pain but in peace. I took her hand, I kissed her... and I said goodbye.
But her eyes fluttered open and she drew in breath, and she squeezed my hand with all the strength she had. The pain that had taken her body away, that had almost claimed her life, had retreated in the end, and I was given back my love. Her pain never faded completely, but I came to believe that the worst was over and everything would be normal once again.
To my knowledge, Micki never took another photograph; in the last two years of her life she seldom left the boundaries of the yard. The pain was bearable... but it was constant, even with drugs. She would always put of a brave face for me, always try to smile no matter how she actually felt.
But I think, in the end... she just gave up.
The cemetery was deserted now, and the sun was well on its way to the western horizon. A gentle breeze sighed between the headstones, barely touching the blades of grass as it wandered by on its way to somewhere else. Ryan sat next to the open grave, every now and then gazing at the bronze-colored casket resting at the bottom. It had been a pleasant service, like the many others Ryan had experienced: Jack, his own mother, Rashid, other acquaintances he had made over the years. Johnny and Joan had left him alone for the time being, but he knew they were somewhere close by. "I think they're worried about me," he mumbled.
That morning Ryan had awoken with the taste of her on his tongue, the scent of her hair lingering in his nostrils. His heart had been beating like a triphammer, shaking his body with every beat. He remembered no dream, only a deep, lingering chill... and the sensation that, if only for a moment, Micki had been at his side once more. He took a deep breath, looked across the field of stone. "It's been a long time since we've been in a graveyard, huh? A long time ago, we used to hang out in graveyards all the time... sometimes it seems like yesterday. Mom always called graveyards the places where grass grows on tears alone. God, I hate thinking about what we ended up going through back when we met. Curious Goods, Jack, the antiques, Uncle Lewis; it almost seems unreal now, like some fever dream that I can't quite bring into focus.
"But if that had never happened, I would never have met you."
Ryan lifted the lily he had picked from her garden that morning. "I love you, Micki. I always will." And without saying 'goodbye', he let go of the flower and watched it fall into the grave.
As he walked toward the car Ryan noticed a well-dressed young man with sunglasses approaching him, his straight black hair bound in a neat ponytail. Several seconds passed before he recognized the man as Nate Ackley. "Nate?" he said, shocked at the transformation the stoner had undergone.
"Yeah. I'd ask what's up, but it seems kinda pointless right now." Nate fell into step beside Ryan, pulling off his sunglasses and slipping them into the pocket of his black blazer.
"You were welcome at the service; you know that," Ryan said as they walked past a marble crypt.
"I don't do crowds, Ryan. Never have." The pair remained silent until they approached the silver sedan where Joan and Johnny were waiting. "Friends of yours?" Nate asked.
"Old friends." Ryan looked wordlessly at them for just a moment before waving. "Come on, Nate...
"It's time to go now."
From the audio journal of Ryan Dallion
Recorded May 16, 2025
But it's not that easy, is it? The dead remain with us, and I've seen too many dead in my life. I've buried my father and mother, my friends... and now my wife. Everything I see reminds me of her, and sometimes I can't even remember her face. For a month and a half I've wandered through our home, lingering by the rows of pictures on the walls and crying over the last photo she ever took of herself. She's sitting at the center of her garden, her hair in a ponytail draped over her left shoulder and soil matting the sleeves of her denim shirt. She's smiling, one of the few real smiles she found in the last six years of her life.
I was never really a drinker, not when my dad died, not when Jack died, not even when my mom passed away. But I've been drinking vodka like water since Johnny and Joan left a month ago, and it hasn't made any difference. You'd think that scouring Chicago for cursed antiques, that meeting the devil himself, would justify alcoholism... but I never needed it before now. And I don't want to need it.
Staring at her pictures, at the life we shared, I'm starting to understand truly how much Micki and I were part of each other. That's what brought me back to her so long ago, and what brought her back to me when she was so close to death. I have to believe that; it's what gets me out of bed every morning, and the only thought I can console myself with at night. Our bed is so large now that I sleep alone in it...
Which is why I can sleep there no longer. The surroundings are too familiar, the memories too painful, the house too empty. For thirty-four years Micki has been by my side. Now she's gone, and I find myself unable to bear the home we shared. Maybe I'm a coward, maybe I'm running away... but maybe it's what I have to do so I can move on. One day I'll come back here, face this house alone, but for now I have to leave. I have my Vox, my palmtop computer, and enough money to go wherever the wind may take me.
But I don't have Micki... and without her, I don't have all of myself, either.
Ryan was about to speak again when a loud thump rattled the front door. "Vox off," he said as he stood up. He slipped on his shoes just as another thump echoed through the house, and a third shook the floor as Ryan turned the knob. "What?" he said as early morning light bombarded his eyes.
Standing there on the porch was Nate, his hair matted and stringy, his clothing rumpled like he had been sleeping in it for days. Scattered in front of him were three worn suitcases. "Can I come in?" he asked.
Twenty minutes later, after a shower and a cup of coffee, Nate sat on the sofa as he spoke to Ryan. "The store's toast, man. Missed last month's rent; it's happened before, and I thought they'd let it slide. Turns out that someone's looking to buy the whole building, ASAP, and that any troublemakers are getting the boot. Some bullshit clause in the lease about 'excessive delinquency in payment.' Lost my place, most of my stock..." He took a drink of coffee. "I know things have been tough, Ryan, and I don't want to make them any tougher... but I need a place to stay, and I've got nobody else to ask."
Ryan sat back and sipped at his cup. "Where are you going, Nate?" he asked after a long moment.
"Where are you going? What are you doing with your life, Nate? I'll tell you: not a damn thing. You don't speak to your family, and now you don't even have a job or a place to stay."
"So what? My family sucks, and I can get some other job -"
"- And you'll just end up back in the same place - lost, alone, confused. Is that what you want?" Ryan paused, waiting for the quick smart-assed comeback.
"I don't know," was Nate's reply. "Why, can you help or something? Wave a magic wand, make all the bad stuff go away? I don't think so."
"You're right; I can't make everything okay. But maybe I can help you get some perspective on life. Maybe I can help us both." Ryan sat forward, an idea forming in his mind. "You get carsick?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Nate flashed Ryan a puzzled look. "Are we going somewhere?"
"Yeah. We're going somewhere."
She tries to speak but her lips refuse to part; her vocal cords balk at trying to make any sound at all. She tries to roll over, to look at the ceiling, or sky, or whatever lay above her, but no muscles respond to her will. The wind blows splinters of ice against her bare skin, and I so relish the sensation...
I leave her there alone for a time - perhaps an hour, perhaps a lifetime - feeding on her anguish. She begs, she pleads, she cries out, all in her mind, but her body is unmoving as the dead. A fitting destiny for this one. I would place her next to my other trophies, but she has earned a special place here with me. She has earned my personal attentions, not the torments of some lesser subject.
After all, that's only fair given the prize she carries within.
Her hair, long and elegantly gray, has begun to fall out in clumps, frozen to the ground by the eternal ice and gales that sweep this place. I lean close to her ear, knowing that she can't hope to sense me... and I speak these words to her:
"Prepare yourself, child... for I am coming."
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This page was created on July 27, 2002.
Last modified on February 10, 2005.