Frannie was only too happy to leave the stinky van and the company of those hippies when they finally sputtered to a stop at the store in town.
“See ya later, little dude!” the driver called as she hopped down.
Frannie sighed, rolling her eyes, and simply waved her goodbye. There was just no getting through to this guy. He was as bad as a second grader.
She smoothed her hair down and squared her shoulders as she turned to face the entrance to–she looked up at the sign–Jack’s Grocery-N-More. Well, it would have to do. She picked up her pace and hit the automatic door nearly running. The man leaving through the exit door paused to make sure she was okay.
“That was a pretty good hit there, little lady. You feelin’ alright?” he asked, leaning down in concern.
She stood up and brushed off her backside. “Yes sir, I’m quite all right, thank you. I just expected the door to open for me. I guess that was a mistake.”
The man laughed aloud. “Yes ma’am, you’re sure right about that. It’s probably been six years or more since Jack’s door worked right. Since you didn’t know that, and I don’t recall seeing you around anywhere, you must be new in town. Where’s your mom and dad, honey?”
“I’m in the market for a set,” Frannie answered him honestly.
He was baffled. A kid this small, this honest, lost and alone? The town was too small for any kind of social services office; his mind quickly discarded the idea of calling the county. This girl could go places in life if she managed to not get caught up in the system.
“Do you have any money, or somewhere to stay tonight?” he asked.
“Nope. I’ll work something out.” Again with the honesty.
He screwed his face up in thought. He wasn’t sure if a girl her age would be comfortable coming home with a strange man all by herself, especially when he was all by himself, but he had to make the offer. He just wouldn’t have felt right about himself without doing so. “Would you–I mean, do you think–well, little girl, I can offer you a safe bed to sleep in tonight, is what I’m tryin’ to say.” He noticed her swallow as she eyed the grocery sacks in his hand.
“And a hot dinner, too,” he quickly added.
That was more than enough for Frannie. She jumped on it. “Thank you very much, sir. I won’t be much trouble for you. Can I help you carry one of those bags?”
He laughed and handed her the smallest. “That’s my truck, the red one right in front.”
Stefan plodded on, his pack weighing heavy on his back. The mornings on the trail were the worst for him; the longer he walked, the better he felt, other than sore feet. By the end of the day, he was joyful as he set up his tent and cooked his final meal of the day.
But today felt different.
A strange sound woke him early, a strange sound that had yet to repeat itself. In that place between wakefulness and sleep, Stefan was unable to identify the sound, and it gnawed at the back of his mind.
He came upon a footprint on the trail: a bare human footprint, pointing sideways, as though the owner of the foot had raced across the trail, rather than along it. Stefan stopped, and squatted to study the print.
Fresh, because the dry dust hadn’t crumbled in on itself, or been blown away. Light, because it was quite shallow in the fine dirt. And odd–were those claw marks at the tips of the toes?
Stefan stood up and tried to peer into the woods where whoever had gone. He stared, and just as he was about to give up, a sudden movement.
“Hello?” he called.
He took that fateful step off the trail. Stefan knew better, truly he did, but he told himself that he wouldn’t go far, that he wouldn’t lose sight of the trail.
In less than a minute, he broke that promise.
Something metallic glinted in a stray shaft of sunlight, and Stefan bent to investigate. It was a key, a shiny gold skeleton key. He picked it up, as unable to resist its brightness as a crow. The key was smooth and warm, almost feeling liquid in his hand.
He looked up and realized he had no idea where he was in relation to the trail, but the wonder of the golden key helped the briefest twinge of worry fade away into nothing.
He began walking in the direction he was facing, neither knowing nor caring if it was toward the trail.
Far behind him, and off to his left, his cell phone vibrated in the dirt of the trail, erasing the footprint as it danced along the ground.
This time I only rolled five cubes.
the softly building din
of sparkling shining raindroplets
pouring from the skies
outlining the impression of a man standing
silent; mouth set in a straight line.
speaking whispers in my head
Walk with me. Come with me.
We’ll never return.
Leave the dishes in the sink, the pots and pans to rust.
Leave the dog and leave the cat.
Leave everything you love.
Come, walk with me.
the light that once shone down
making rainbows cross the sky
slowed to dim
and darken the puddles beneath my feet.
whispers, whispers, in my mind
the doubt sets in
shrouded in the glory of escape
Walk with me, away from responsibility
before the rooster dares to crow.
Walk with me, come walk with me.
the weight of my own feet crippled me
I want to walk; I want to leave.
my life weighs down on me
the echo chamber of my thoughts
spinning round and spinning round
the carousel of every day
I reach out and take his hand.
Thanks to Abraham Fleming for the title.
You know that saying, “today is the first day of the rest of your life”?
Nobody ever thinks about that. I don’t. You know you don’t either.
Sure every once in a blue moon, something happens, some massive national tragedy, some major personal tragedy to you or to someone’s nephew’s brother’s cousin’s roommate. Something happens and you think about it, but it never lasts. The appreciation for every day wears off and you’re back to square one.
I’m not scolding. I’m just like you.
But my little sister wasn’t.
She was different. Today really was the first day of the rest of her life, every single day.
I talk about her like she’s gone, but I don’t really know. She got tired of the rest of her family never understanding how special today is, because we just didn’t. Just like you.
And she left.
I haven’t seen her in years, now. She used to send postcards, once a week, then once a month, then maybe once a year. We couldn’t write back to her, not that anyone wanted to, other than me. There was no telling where she was going to be.
She left to have adventures. I know she was having them while she still sent postcards, but now, I don’t know.
But I always like to think that she is. That she wakes up each and every morning with a smile on her face to greet the day, and with that burning curiosity to find out what this new day will bring.
I guess since that’s how I remember her, that’s how she still is.
Have fun, sis. I miss you.
Connie tapped the paperwork on her desk to square the edges. She stapled the corner and placed the bundle neatly into her out bin. Work done for the day, she leaned back in her chair to decompress for a minute.
A knock on her office door startled her upright.
“Come in,” Connie called.
Her assistant entered, timidly, carrying an envelope. She held it out to Connie.
“It’s from Ted.”
Connie spun her chair to face the wall, unwilling to let her assistant see her in tears.
“Just set it down. And go home, I’m all done for the day.”
She didn’t turn back around until she heard the door softly click shut.
Gnawing a hangnail on her thumb, Connie stared at the envelope until she couldn’t hold back any longer. She picked it up and ripped it open, but dropped it back onto her desk without removing the page inside.