February 9th, 2012

by Robert Scoville
©2012 Robert Scoville

Pat looked out across the immense grandeur and beauty that is the grand canyon. A smile came to his lips, an ear twitching at the sound of crunching metal. He lowered his eyes to track the crumpling shape of his car, the last remnant of his former life. Once the car came to rest at the bottom of the canyon, hopefully even bouncing into the river, his old life would be gone.

Glass and fiberglass fell around and ahead of the car in a spray of tiny shards and small pieces broken off at each of the several crashes against the cliff wall. Pat watched as the twisted hulk hit bottom, rolled over twice and finally stopped. Another roll or two might have put it in the water. He willed the car to make that final flip, but it did not.

He didn’t grimace as another might at the vain expectation left unfulfilled, instead focusing on the victory he’d just won.

“I’m free,” he said. The soft words sparked a feeling so light and radiant that the words rumbled deep within him and came bursting out in a bellow. “I’M FREE!”

The feeling subsiding, Pat found his arms and face lifted upward. He glanced around in near shame, but no one was around. Of course he’d picked this time to drop his car off the cliff because no one was there. He couldn’t start his new life if there were witnesses to the death of the old one.

The words he bellowed echoed off the distant cliffs and came back to him in a rolling wave of exuberant cries, “I’m free!” they all said in turn. Pat’s smile deepened as he walked back to the parking lot.

Of course he had no car anymore, but he did have a bike and some provisions. They’d have to do to get him back to civilization.

Assuming he wanted to return. It was they after all who had turned his former life into such a ruin. Returning to them now would simply reattach him to his old life as though he’d never left it. Sure he had new clothes, a new bike, and a new outlook. Sure he’d thrown away everything he owned, even now his car, but those civilized people didn’t look at life the way he did. They didn’t see who he was, just the role he filled. Old or new, if he returned he’d just fill another role.

He couldn’t go back to his old role; he’d burned too many bridges there, the bridges being figurative and his cubicle more literal. The new him had been lucky to escape those ashes of his old life. Still, he couldn’t go back just to fill another role. That could easily resurrect his old self.

Pat mounted his bike, shouldered his pack and pedaled to the parking lot entrance. His options were: toward humanity or away from it? Right or left? The choice seemed so simple. It would be easy to jump back into the dance as his old self. Ashes though he was, they’d dust him off quickly enough and set him dancing with the rest of them. It would take longer but they’d even forget he’d ever left.

So, right or left? The other path would take him to sights unseen. He’d get lots of exercise, plenty of sun, perhaps a beard, maybe a few stories to tell when at last he returned to civilization, secure in his new self.

The weight of the dilemma surprised him. Pat thought he’d killed his old self already. Sure he had doubts, but they were supposed to die with his car. That should have ended it. Why was he tempted to head away from his new life?

The moment hung in the air until a realization overcame him. He hadn’t left everything behind. From under his shirt he pulled out an old crucifix that he’d worn longer than he could remember.

Pat climbed off his bike and pulled out a small shovel from his pack. He dug a small hole just under the sign at the entrance to the parking lot and dropped the crucifix in it. He knew he wasn’t giving up his faith, just that his faith required him to give up his emblem.

Standing over the hole, head bowed and hands clasped before him in prayer he said, “Here lay one Patrick Grant Henley. He was loved by some, hated by some, and hurt by many. May he rest in peace. Amen.”

He spared one last moment to fill the hole and pack the dirt with his shoe, before climbing on his bike. With his head turned away from civilization he took a deep breath before pressing down on the pedal. As he exhaled the first breath of his new life he said, “Now I’m free.”

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The Race

June 25th, 2010

The Race
by Robert Scoville
©2007 Robert Scoville

“The odds are three to one, against.” The old man chewed his cigar, switching it from the left to the right side of his mouth. “That’s as high as anyone’ll go.” A lump of ash fell from the cigar, landing halfway down the royal-purple suit the man wore. “Better place your bets now, kid, or move on. I got other business too.”

“Put thirty on Windsor,” I told him. His wry glance told me I’d regret my choice. I pulled out my wallet. Inside I had a driver’s license, a picture of my sister and her kid, and two crisp twenty Real notes. I handed the orange and yellow bills over to the man. “Just thirty,” I said. He gave me a wounded look as he pulled out the red bill labeled “10 Reais” and handed it over. I waited; everyone knew you had to wait for a receipt. The man grinned, his cigar hanging narrowly by the edge of his mouth. I tried to look innocent. The man’s crumbling smile indicated I wasn’t doing a good job of it. But I got my receipt.

Finding a place to stand was hard; so many people were crowded into this little back room. It reeked of cheap kashasa; men carried large green jugs of the stuff, drinking deeply and staggering afterwards. Others had already collapsed to the floor, vomit, urine, and feces adding their stench to the ambiance. I chose my steps carefully. The faint lighting and considerable crowd made seeing the floor difficult at best. Most of the men were at least a head taller and twice as thick as me.

Finally I wedged myself between two large men, the gap barely wide enough for me to breathe in. I didn’t care. I was small; so long as I didn’t press too hard into either of them, they wouldn’t even notice me. The barricade dividing the track from the patrons reached barely above my waist, but a barbed cage protruding from the top of the wall, overhanging the track ensured no fool drunk would disrupt the race.

The energy of the crowd was overbearing. I wished they would sound the bell and release the rats. The cheeses were prepared, attached to the little mechanical arms that circled the track, always out of reach. At least four of the rats were there, but I couldn’t see in all of the cages. Windsor’s cage was still empty, that much I knew. I wondered how much longer it would take. I glanced at my wrist and saw my subtle tan line where my watch usually was. Hoping nobody saw my slip, I stood erect and motionless, watching the track.

A spot light flashed on directly above the track, shining intensely down on the track. The heat it produced struck me like a wave and rippled off the track. Sweat began glistening on my face and rolling down my cheeks. The acrid smell of alcohol, vomit and worse was now joined by a slight tinge of cheddar. The room grew silent.

A bell pealed. Eight small doors shot open, revealing a thin rat in each. No sooner had the doors opened than the crowd exploded in cheers, shouts and curses. The cheese wielding arms took off around the track, rats chasing closely after them. Their thin bodies, bred for speed and starved to desperation, deftly rounded each curve and endured each straightaway. Windsor held second place for the first three turns, then fell to third as a smaller rat overtook him. At least, I assumed it was a him. What kind of a name would Windsor be for a female rat?

On the third lap, Windsor overtook the second place rat and made good headway at overtaking the rat for first. I prayed silently that he would make it. Three to one isn’t the worst set of odds for winning, but it did pay well. The bell sounded again as the first place rat began its final lap. Windsor was still second, but only a nose behind the leader. My muscles tensed and I found my hands firmly gripping the railing. Two curves left. My heart pounded in my ears, resounding over the deafening cries of the mob. One curve left. Windsor was still second. I tried to breathe calmly. The final straightaway. Please, please! I probably screamed it, but even my thoughts were drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

Shots fired across the track in the crowd. Yelling turned to screams as inebriated patrons ran and stumbled away from a dozen uniformed policemen. Some of the larger men confronted the officers but were tazered or beaten with nightsticks. I stood in shock while the cops made their way around the track. Windsor had won.

There was a back way out. Everybody knew that, probably even the cops. It’d be blocked off. Maybe there’d even be an armored car backed into the doorway so escapees can just run right into the trailer and wait to be taken to jail. No, I couldn’t go out that way.

Chaos was in my favor, I decided, and my size. I crouched down, making myself as small as I could and awaited the cops. They came, driving the mob toward the back door, beating anyone to the floor who raised a hand to fight. Those who’d passed out were ignored. I half-shut my eyes and tried to mimic a drunken snooze. The officers passed by me. When the closest was only ten feet away, I leaped to my feet and sprinted for the door.

Voices commanded me to stop; footfalls echoed behind me. I got to the door. A cop grabbed my shoulder from behind. I dropped to the ground. He overran me tripping on my hunched body. With him sprawled on the floor, along with the filth and the booze, I dashed out the door.

The cool summer night shocked my system after that hot, sweat and filth filled air of the race room. I ran as fast as I could. There was shouting for a while. Then there was only the pattering of my feet on cobblestone pavement and my heart pounding and my heavy breathing. What luck I had. Windsor won and I’d escaped the police. Too bad I’d never collect on that bet money.

After a few minutes, the adrenaline wore off and I began to feel very cold. Holding my arms, I began the long, backstreet, trek home.

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June 25th, 2010

by Robert Scoville
©2007 Robert Scoville

Sleepless again. I lay in bed, eyes pressed closed, but they want to open. I relent and look over at the clock. The dull red light faintly burns two thirty-seven into my searching eyes. Only two minutes. How much longer had it felt? The soft sound of my roommate breathing touches my ears. I think of him, resting peacefully on the lower bunk. My legs itch. I try not to move, not to shake the bed. I can’t stay here.

As smoothly as I can, I lift myself out of my sheets and drop to the floor. My legs absorb the fall so much I end up crouching. I glance at my roommate to make sure he’s still sleeping. Good, he is. Rising again, I take two silent steps to the door. Why do we always close it? Oh yeah, because the guys in the other room stay up later. I put my ear to the door, trying to hear any sound from the hallway. Nothing. They must all be in bed.

I open the door. It creaks a little and I cringe. My roommate shifts a little in his bed. I hold my breath, heart pounding in my chest. The dull red glow now reads two thirty-eight. I wait until it says two thirty-nine. Then I step into the hallway.

The hallway opens up into a larger room. All is dark save the pale blue light of the moon shining through the sliding glass door. I approach it, careful not to step on anything. These guys rarely put things where they belong. This time it’s just a few out of place blankets and pillows to climb over. I get to the door and slide it open. It makes a low rumbling sound. Cool air rushes over me.

I step out onto the balcony. Stretched from corner to corner is a large twine hammock. Another reminder. I step over it to get to the railing. The cement cools my feet, distracting my mind and I look.

The city is beautiful at night, buildings and streets reflecting the moon and the stars, air crisp and cool, sharpening the view. Down the street, I see a light on in a room on the third story. I wonder who lives there and what they’re doing up. There’s a picture on a mantle. Shadows move across the wall, but the angle is to high. I stand on the ledge to get a higher view. I reach out, holding to the wall for support. I still can’t see.

There is a noise. I look around. People are walking from the other end of the street. I get down off my perch, and step back. I watch them as they pass. I hear conversation. The cool air heightens my hearing, but distant noise of cars makes what they’re saying unintelligible. Where are they going, I wonder. I watch them to the other end of the street until they turn the corner. I look back to the window. The light is still on.

It must be late. I creep back into my room. The clock now reads two fifty-five. My eyes begin to droop. My heart is still racing as I climb back onto the top bunk, careful not to shake it. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Why do my legs itch again? I try to ignore them. Now my palm itches… and my back. I grumble and scratch those and other places that insist on itching.

I lay back down, breathing evenly, my heart racing, a dull thud-thud-thud of blood echoes in my ears. I think of the window. There were shadows. Who in their right mind would be awake at three a.m? I glance at the clock. Okay, not quite three a.m., but it’s not really my fault.

My heart is quiet finally. The only sound is of my roommate’s breathing. His nose whistles as he exhales. It’s a tiny high pitch sound. There it is again. And again! Blast, can’t I think of anything besides his breathing? Oh, now my legs itch again.

I get out of bed and leave the room, less carefully. I go back to the balcony and look for that third story window. I find it, but the light is out. Well… at least someone is getting some sleep. I wait a while, ten, fifteen minutes? Hoping someone else will walk down the street or turn on a light. That would at least give me something interesting to look at.

The city is so beautiful at night. The stars, the moonlight, the distant sounds. The stillness. Everything is still, except for a faint distant buzz. Like me. I would be sleeping if it weren’t for the buzz in my head. Thoughts, feelings, questions, pondering, all keeping me awake. A cloud passes a little over the top of a building and blocks a piece of the moon.

Good, finally something to look at.

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