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Novel First twenty-five pages

I copywriter this when I thought I was almost finished writing the story, that was eight years ago. I really think it's close now and I'm looking for a writers agent.

Copyright © 2014 by Z. Casimir Kmiotek
All Rights Reserved.

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.
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Dedication

To Maria













Contents


August (Crane, Beth and refer to Ray)

Chapter One – June-First Contact (Al Bumen)

Chapter Two – Shooting the Fifty (Crane, Gerhard, sculptures)

Chapter Three – Sculptures (Crane, Gerhard, Crane’s son)

Chapter Four – Gerhard, Crane, and a Corpse

Chapter Five – Mama and Ray (the burial)

Chapter Six – Protocol (Ray goes to town people hear about his mother, sheriff is called)

Chapter Seven – The Autopsy (We learn it was natural causes, and there is going to be a foreclosure on farm)


Chapter Eight – Golf and Depression (Gerhard and Crane play golf, Crane drives Gare to Boscobel to meet his girlfriend)

Chapter Nine – Creative Writing (Crane at the cabin by himself. Watches man catch a fish, naked writing in the woods)

Chapter Ten – Sunday with Beth (Crane and Beth, Not much happens, Crane makes himself a Lemonpepatini that he invented, reminisce)

Chapter Eleven – Kayaking (Crane and Beth take their kayaks to the union and remember when Beth was run over by a speedboat, Crane gets a call about the autopsy from woman killed near their cabin)

Chapter Twelve – Looking at Property (Crane and Beth)

Chapter Thirteen – Ray on His Own (Ray catches a baby fox, works on his miniature stone town)

Chapter Fourteen – Family Picnic (normal activity, worry about proximity of killing)

Chapter Fifteen – Gerhard and Crane (playing Quiddler by the creek, telling stories)

Chapter Sixteen – Al (Al is at his grandfathers (deceased) and putzes around feeling depressed, hears fan talking to him)

Chapter Seventeen – Al Goes for a Ride (Kills old man with his car)

Chapter Eighteen – Beth and Janet (Gerhards new girlfriend meets the family)

Chapter Nineteen – Ray Cleans House (Burns mother’s mattress and other items from parent’s bedroom) finds knife that he had earlier this needs to be fixed.

Chapter Twenty – Al and Ray Meet (Meet in parking lot of Farm and Fleet, Ray invites him to his cabin)

Chapter Twenty-One – Settling into a routine (Al shows Ray how to find porn on his laptop, tension develops)

Chapter Twenty-Two – The Puzzle (Al notices towns on the map where he has killed people and sees a pattern for towns where he needs to kill more.)

Chapter Twenty-Three – Ray has a Secret (Al finds the stone town that Ray is making and kicks it into the creek, Ray has a different take on the pattern (It should be a crucifix shape)

Chapter– Twenty-four–

Chapter Twenty-Five – Shared Psychosis

Chapter Twenty-Six – The Date

Chapter Twenty-Seven – The Ogg Fantasy

Chapter Twenty-Eight – Gerhard at the Cabin

Chapter Twenty-Nine – Ray Loses It

Chapter Thirty – Crane Buys the Farm














"In every author let us distinguish the man from his works."
Voltaire

“I’m not a people person, but I like being around “People” people.
Crane Maddox




Synopsis

Driftless Summer takes place in Southwest Wisconsin, a beautiful area of steep hills and trout streams. The killers are a few hills away from Crane Maddox’s cabin where he and Gerhard his brother-in-law go to golf and bike.
Crane is an Art teacher trying to get a sculpture business going. He would love to acquire another nice property in the area.
Ray Olsen lives on a nearby farm and has recently lost his mother, so is alone now. He has a hobby of stone carving and has done some nice projects.
Ray eventually meets Al Bumen, a teacher on medical leave with the promise of a job if he seeks treatment. Al hears voices.
Paths cross.
At first the chapters alternate between Crane and Gerhard and Ray, and later Al joins the story.



















Driftless Summer




August


Beth was upstairs in bed reading her novel. She heard what sounded like the couch being dragged across her nice oak floor. No effort was made to discover the problem, because with Crane, it was always something. He had searched every room in the house, scattering piles of newspapers, looking in drawers and even under the pile of laundry before finally making it to their bedroom. He stood in the doorway, looked at his wife, and all his cares were forgotten.

Beth smiled and cooed, “It’s about time you got home.”

Crane shrugged, and then a sly grinned appeared. He took a few steps to position himself at the foot of the bed, lifted the covers and snatched one of her little feet, as he tickled her sole he asked, “I was looking for my metals catalog, do you know where it is?”

Beth unclenched her foot and put her book face down on the bed. The answer was always the same, “It’s wherever you left it sweetie, I haven’t seen it.” Crane released her foot and started to pull the covers over it. Beth always protested the small torture and wanted more. She kicked off the blanket and said, “You can tickle me a little, but be careful I don’t want to wet the bed.

I liked it better when you used to keep all your stuff in the garage–at least then you knew where to look. I hope you didn’t make a mess downstairs.”

He visualized the lower levels and thought he might have. He gave a nice foot massage instead. “I need to go to Airgas and get another spool of wire, do you need anything from town?”

She proffered the other foot. “Didn’t you just buy wire?”

Beth kept a mental tally of the costs associated with Crane’s venture as it had yet to turn a profit.

Crane took a deep breath and sat on the bed, putting Beth’s hand in his. “Well, kitten, Ray needs the wire, I have to let him do a little something of his own, because he’s been helping me with the cutting. I don’t see a problem with it.”
“Don’t think I don’t know why you brought him home, and he's using your equipment and materials, I thought he was just helping you with your projects.”
He’s an artist, wait ‘till you see his carvings. is, he’s cutting out parts for a Men in Peril, someone in Iowa wants one.

“You could have said that to begin with”, Beth wanted to get back to her book, “Make sure you take him with you; I don’t feel comfortable being alone with him. Suddenly remembering, she added, “Oh, I know what you could do, pick up something for dinner.”

“You know he wasn’t involved in those murders; I wish you’d let that go. How does Lasagna from Gino’s sound?”

Beth answered with her eyes on her husband’s midsection. “That’s fine, but you better skip the garlic bread. Your washboard stomach has all but disappeared.”
Crane lifted his shirt and displayed for his wife, “Look, if I stand under the light and bend over like this, you can still see my abs and a little bread never hurt anybody.” Crane was unduly proud of his physique; it had changed in the last twenty years despite the consistent forty-five minutes a week at the gym. The once well-defined six pack had become a subtle cluster of rounded bumps.

Beth looked and commented, “It would be even better if you could get both sides to show at the same time, nobody should be so proud of a three-pack, and three is being generous.

She grabbed his belt and pulled him close and tried to smooth his mustache, but to no avail. “It might be time to try shaving this off again or get some gel or something. You always have four or five wild ones jutting out here and there, it can be a distraction.”

Crane tried smoothing the unruly ones that he could see when he put his lip up. “Maybe it is time I shaved it, but you know I look like a chimp without it.”
“I know what you’re saying about the chimp thing, but don’t shave it, it’s fine. They’re coming back in style anyway. It’s a good thing you didn’t know me when I was younger, I was a horrible control freak, I would try to control everybody if I didn’t make a conscious effort not to. It’s probably because I grew up having to be a mother when I should have been allowed to just be a kid.”

Crane was back in front of the mirror trying to get his abs to show. “I think you nailed it. The younger ones say you still try to boss them around.”

“I know they think that’s what I’m doing, but when I see them making bad choices, I tell them. If I had my way, there wouldn’t be so many of them, not that I don’t love them all now that they’re here.”

Crane plopped onto the bed and put his head on Beth’s lap hoping to be stroked. Beth obliged and asked, “What are you going to do with Ray when school starts?”
Crane hadn’t thought about that, “He could go back to the farm or get a job here. Maybe I’ll take him to look at apprenticeships.”

Beth tried to get a look at the next page in her book, a hint that the conversation had ended. Crane was done anyway; he hopped out of bed and left the room.
“Where are you going”, she asked.

Halfway down the hall he answered, “I remembered where my manual is.”
Beth raised her voice, “You need to take better care of your things.” She smiled, raised her knees to re-cover her feet, and then She raised her knees to re-cover her feet and wondered if her husband might need to be on something stronger.

Crane located the catalog and left through the door to the attached garage. He had to squeeze between his truck and the pole that supported the ceiling.
“God damn Pole!”

He started the engine and backed up to the second garage to see what Ray was doing. Crane watched for a moment, and then asked, “You want to go to town?”
“No, I’m cutting out your pattern for you.”

“Thanks. Could you stay out here until I get back? Beth is trying to take a nap.”
Ray looked up at the bedroom window, “Okay I will, I hope the compressor doesn’t bother her.”

“She’ll be fine, Beth can sleep through anything.”
Crane stopped the truck halfway down the driveway and looked back to see the sparks fly.



***




The welding store was just off East Washington in downtown Madison. Crane usually took 94 from his house in Cottage Grove, but today he went on city streets just for a change. He had NPR on the radio and listened to Science Friday with Ira Flatow.

Approaching Randall stadium, the traffic backed up at the light and he took a good look at the football-encrusted obelisk done by a local artist that Crane had never met.

Crane liked the football sculpture, although some people didn’t. He wondered who the artist was that made it. There was a man at a Badgers game circulating fliers to raise money to restore it. The joke was that it was supposed to look like parts of the obelisk had crumbled away, revealing a core made of footballs. Crane figured it was the best one of the public sculptures around town. He couldn’t think of a better one to put there, except perhaps any one of his.

The light turned green, and he drove aggressively enough to make it through the intersection before it changed again. This was his town; he knew which lanes ended abruptly and which intersections to avoid. The Capital, the University, and the downtown area were built on the narrow isthmus between two lakes, giving few options for traffic flow.

This happened to be what everyone called Hippie Christmas, and he scanned the piles of graduate’s, belongings; couches, desks, lamps, futons, and shelving, none worth stopping for, as far as Beth was concerned.

For the most part, Crane was proud of the city he grew up in, it was liberal and there were only a few small neighborhoods with crime problems. There were things that bothered him; the occasional purple house or the black and white stones loosely adhered to the façade of a Kinko’s. There was one glaring mistake that never should have been allowed to happen and there it was, the glass dome on the roof of the Civic Center. Crane thought it looked like cheap costume jewelry with its steeply rising sides and paucity of facets, he usually imagined a Burger King sign above it. Otherwise, for the most part, Crane was very happy with the way Madison looked. He continued to scan the buildings he passed, looking for design flaws and appreciating the direction the city planners were going, but that opinion was limited to the downtown area.

Architectural critic was just one on a long list of occupations that Crane believed he could have excelled at if he had chosen to go that route.

Crane drove around the outer ring of the square, admiring the Capitol building when he could see it up one of the many spokes. A four-story parking ramp came over the hill and Crane made the hard right, took the ticket and spiraled up until he found an open spot. Thinking this would be a good place to shoot a dramatic scene in a movie, he paused to watch it unfold. After a minute, he turned his back on the squealing tires and flying bullets and walked across the street to Airgas.
Displayed in the window were heavy duty metal cutting tools, items that Crane coveted, but had no use for.

Just inside, Ted was manning the desk. He looked up from his screen. “Hi Crane, how’re you doing?

“Good, I’m doing good. I need a spool of .035 steel wire.”

“What’re you working on now, another bug?”

“No, I’m doing a series called ‘Men In Peril’, there will be three guys working on girders and one of them has slipped off. One of the other men is trying to pull him back up. They’re mobiles.”

“Huh. You’ll have to bring in a picture when it’s done.”

Some of Crane’s inspirations came from his anxiety ridden dreams, often involving himself, or other people falling off buildings.

Crane carried the heavy spool of wire to the truck and walked to Gino's, because it was faster than trying to find another parking spot. He waited at the bar and had a quick beer while his order was assembled.

In his imagination, he turned down a proposition from the short-skirted co-ed, the one with long legs and shiny black hair. He ate his garlic toast on the way back to the truck.

On the way home, he wiped his mouth and fingers, because Beth considered herself to be an amateur sleuth. Evidence of garlic bread erased; he closed the bag. It would be a test of her powers of observation.

Back at home, the overhead door was closed in the detached garage/studio. Crane wondered how far Ray had gotten before quitting for the day. Ray’s bedroom was in the rec-room and Crane put a bag of take out on the top step, calling down, “Here you go Ray. It’s Gino’s”

Beth and Crane ate on the couch in front of the TV. Beth had seen the grease spot at the bottom of the bag and decided not to say anything about the bread. “Oh”, she remembered something and had to wait to swallow before speaking, “I gave Ray some tapes of The Beverly Hillbillies. They were in the attic, do you care”?

“Why would I care, I’ve wanted to throw that shit out for a long time”.

“Good, he was happy to get them. I had to re-learn how to use the VHS player. Oh, and I threw out your Beta version of Rambo.”

“I wonder if he would like Seinfield? That’s what my mother calls him, Jerry Seinfield and his friend, Larry Davis.”

Beth said, “I think she knows better.”




***



The next day was hot and humid, another in a series of typical Wisconsin summer days. Crane was in his backyard, getting everything ready for his brother-in-law so he wouldn’t have to spend any more time than necessary on the project, it was hard enough to get him to help in the first place.

Ed peeked around the corner of the house and gave a timid half-wave when he saw Crane. “I tried the doorbell. I guess Beth is at work. I was hoping to see her, it’s been a while.”

“Hi, Ed, thanks for coming over. I just need an extra pair of hands to pour this concrete footing. I have everything ready to go, so it should only take ten or twenty minutes. Here, put these gloves on.”

Ed looked at the crusty gloves and said, “Thanks, but I don’t think I need them.”
“Concrete can make your hands rough and dry, and you know, not having a girlfriend.” His voice trailed off.

“You’re such an asshole, I have a girlfriend now. I can let you do this yourself if you’re going to be crude.”

Crane thought Ed might be losing his helper. “I’m sorry, I forgot about your sensitive nature.”

Ed frowned. “I’m not sensitive, I just keep that kind of thing private.” Ed really was a sensitive person, and he didn’t like to be riled up. Anyway, Crane was through teasing him.

“Well, all right, it won’t come up again. The first thing I need you to do is spray in some water a little at a time as I’m stirring the mix. Remember, it’s better to have it too dry than too wet.”

Some of the mix got on Ed’s hands and when he felt the grit, said, “Okay, give me those gloves.”

Crane handed over the gloves. “I thought so. Let’s get started. All you need to do is spray about this much water into the mix, and then wait while I stir the cement. Okay, not that much.” Crane hadn’t raised his voice, but the tension could be heard and over a little water no less. “It’ll be fine, just be more careful when it gets close. I don’t know why I’m so edgy this week. I think I may have a tumor or male menopause.”

Ed offered, “My guess would be that it’s because you’re married to my sister. It doesn’t matter why you yelled at me, one more like that and I’m outta here. I need to stay calm. Why isn’t Ray helping you?”

“He’s been trying to finish something for me, I didn’t ask him. I appreciate you coming over to help. Sorry if you think I yelled at you, you can punch me if you want, I think verbal abuse hurts more than the physical kind. Go ahead, but only in the arm.” He had witnessed the brother’s ritual and wanted to take the punch even if he didn’t think it was warranted.

Ed perked up. “You know I’ll do it if you’re serious.”

“Sure, go ahead. Then we’ll be even.”

Ed was excited now. “Okay, don’t flinch or I get to go again.”
Ed cocked his arm awkwardly and let one fly.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Crane yelled. “You never hit Gerhard that hard, I didn’t think you had it in you.” He was surprised at how much it hurt and went overboard in his display of pain to make Ed think he was just joking.

Ed was overjoyed because he had wanted to punch Crane for a long time.

Crane started for the backdoor, “I have to use the bathroom, do you want a beer?” In the kitchen where he couldn’t be seen, he undid the top two buttons of his shirt and looked at his shoulder to see the bruise. So far it was just a fist-sized red mark. He rotated his shoulder to check for joint damage.

When he bounded out into the backyard once more, Ed said, “How’s your shoulder, are you okay?”

Crane laughed. “No real harm done. Good thing you Kaminski’s are such pussies. We better get these holes filled before the cement starts to set.” As they worked, he silently worried about getting hurt at his age, and wished he had thought of that a minute ago.

Ed said, “I’ll shovel it in if you hold the bucket.”
“Watch it so you don’t knock any dirt into the hole. I know you’re in a hurry, but I want it done right.”

“That right there is why I don’t come over much. You act like I don’t know anything. My mentor says I should avoid bruising my Chakra.”
“I can’t wait to tell Gerhard that. He wants to do an intervention on you.”

They filled the holes with cement cement and leveled the top surfaces, and cleaned the tools.

Crane made some final adjustments. “Thanks, Ed, couldn’t have done it without you. Tomorrow, I’ll frame it up. If you want to come back for that, it would be great.”

“Yeah, probably not, now that I know what you think a twenty-minute job is.”

“I can do it myself, no need to feel guilty about it.”

“I don’t feel the least bit guilty. Why do you even need a deck? I like your pond natural the way it is.”

Crane motioned at the house. “Your sister wants to dip her toes in the water while she reads.

“Yeah, I like how you made the stream come out of the woods,” He looked around and didn’t see an outlet. Why doesn’t the pond overflow, does it just soak into the ground?”

Crane had heard that question before. “No, I’ll let you think about that while I get us some beers.”

There was a pump in the pond and a black hose brought the water back to the fake spring, so it was the same water used again and again, Ed would be able to figure it out. “We had a bank appraiser do a report for us when we wanted to refinance, and his written description said we had a beautiful spring-fed pond.”
The two sat drinking beer, looking at the trees and listening to the trickles from the faux creek and from the pond ornament, a resin frog spitting water from the edge.
Ed spent time looking at the sculptures on display in the yard without comment. “What happened at your cabin, I’ve heard some of it from Gerhard already, he’s not too fond of Ray I gather.”

“Be careful with Gare, he’s still pretty fragile, I hope he comes around.”









June
First Contact


Alphonse Bumen drove his brown 1978 Dodge Aspen down HWY 14 west out of Madison. Al was a tall man with a protruding Adam’s apple and the body of a polar bear. He was dressed in his favorite giant black shoes, white socks, long shorts, and brown plaid shirt. From appearances you might have guessed computer geek or gamer, but Alphonse could not be classified by external appearance alone–most of what defined him never made it as far as the outside world.

His car passed fields of newly sprouted corn and soybeans in every direction, with a house here and there or small clumps of still-living elm trees. With the window open the air smelled like wet soil, welcome after the long winter.

Large hairy paws grasped the wheel–desperately trying to keep from turning inside out. There was a private battle going on, and for the last ten miles or so Al had considered stopping the car to run or bang his head on something to rid himself of the poisonous energy. The sensations weren’t new; he had had them before and knew what the progression was; familiarity was no consolation. He fumbled in the glove box, hoping to find a handful of aspirins, because sometimes that helped.
He was on his own, having tried a variety of medications and treatments in a last-ditch effort to save his teaching job, and relationship. Nothing worked and he was granted a medical leave, in his case, a euphemism for termination.

Slipping farther away from himself, he kept driving, barely aware of his surroundings. It was going to happen now. He was moving away from the pier, and he knew what was coming next, a panic attack, accompanied by an acrid smell–a by-product of his chemical imbalance. Alphonse shook his head to loosen the crystals that grew on diseased synapses.

He was completely aware that no physical danger was imminent, but it felt that way. It was irrational, and he knew it, but chemicals couldn’t be reasoned with.
Usually, the spells didn’t last more than five or ten minutes, but they were very unpleasant experiences to have to live through. Understanding what was happening should have helped to make it easier, but it didn’t. Knowing from experience that the episodes eventually came to an end was small comfort.
This was a bad one and so intense that his vision blurred. Al was balanced on the edge, on the verge of either crossing the threshold and leaving his mind forever or falling back safely into this world. It was like being held by the shirttail and leaning out over the roof of a tall building. An unfortunate thing to have in common, but Crane would’ve understood the feeling, if not the severity.

An oak leaf started to rattle in the dash’s vent fan, and when the words came out, Al fell into space. The high-pitched screeching faded to the background as he concentrated on the message. The negative energy ceased, and he found himself floating in the oneness, seeing everything from a new perspective. This was the way the real, physical world was connected down to the smallest atom. Looking in every direction, Al saw a multidimensional soup that made sense. Everything was one thing.

To stay there would mean a total loss of sanity, and it could have gone either way. The old Alphonse could be felt in the background, trying to hang on, and that part hoped he could regain his grip on the wheel and go back to how it was. A tiny thread still attached him to his old world; he watched it fray until it broke. The cord was cut, his weightless body floated away. The atoms of his physical body exploded. The euphoria, and the swirling were mesmerizing.

Cold sweat and nausea usually accompanied a panic attack—this was something else, and totally unrelated. Al couldn’t give it more thought now. He was trying to memorize this dream and hold onto it. Was it heaven?

Al watched, floated, and listened carefully, and vaguely understood the message he was getting as he went from euphoria to bad trip with no transition, “I don’t believe in you. Let me go back. I can put my hand through it. There’s no air, I can’t breathe!”

He needed to be convinced, and with a snap of the fingers the chemicals in his brain supplied the evidence. Euphoria returned, Al’s cells became polarized, repelling until he was a spider web, his atoms light-years apart. The empty car had long since disappeared and he was seeing galaxies with eyes like the Hubble.
There were now ten distinct dimensions–easy enough to fathom from this point of view, but where were they before? They had to have been there all along. His brain had been opened to its full potential, and he fought to sort through the thousand questions to start with the most relevant but didn’t even know how to ask them.
Was that Darnell? A face from his recent past flashed into his dream, and mercifully withdrew, then, dimmer, from above, a high-top fade, dark ears at the sides, bent over in pain.

Alphonse tried to reshape his essence into a form that could move in a particular direction, but there was nowhere to go, he was already there. He tried to get used to his new surroundings and found the medium unsatisfying. Being able to move in a particular direction would have been better. Knowing everything and being everywhere at once was difficult to handle.

A gentle, reedy baritone that left some things open to interpretation interrupted his critique. That’s how they had said it worked, but it was frustrating, and he couldn’t help wanting clarification. Al said out loud, “Which is real?”

The sound of his voice filling the ether rattled his brains. His head couldn’t maintain the connection, and as his body collected, he took one last glimpse of the universe before making a crash landing. Nausea, perspiration, and a severe headache were side effects of his trip to the other side.

Al was pretty sure that on his way out he had heard, “Seek the woman of lashes.” It was mixed in with other pieces of words, phrases and visions that couldn’t be deciphered. The whole thing was a mess. There had been voices in the background sounding like an old radio that isn’t quite tuned in to the station, a hodgepodge of intensely hued dream scenarios, and there may have been a party.
Alphonse felt sick, beat up, and was drenched in sweat. “How will I find her?” he bellowed, placing his right hand into his shirt Napoleon style, and nervously twisting one of his moles.

The leaf had been tossed out of the blades and the hallucination faded. Only the interference remained. It was annoying and made it difficult for Alphonse to think about what just happened. He wasn’t entirely happy to be back in the car and tried to re-connect. Although he couldn’t get his full vision back, a tree was still slightly transparent and vibrated in rhythm like a heartbeat. He craved to relive the high, even the bad parts, and now three dimensions would never be enough.
“Holy fucking shit!” he bellowed. “That happened!”

For a moment he had understood everything. The significance was overwhelming and caused another surge of energy that threatened to overload his brain. Teetering on the verge of a breakdown he adjusted the rearview mirror and stared at himself, which helped him to hold on to his identity until the strongest pulses waned. Then, searching the landscape for the ultimate vision, he waited for the creator to show himself. The minutes passed in silence until he accepted that what he had experienced was enough, and he might have to earn a face to face.
Having returned in mind and body, Al now heard the angry honking as other vehicles drove around his car. He pulled onto the shoulder to think about what just happened. He got out and leaned against the passenger door, and looked up, not really expecting to see anything, because that’s not where he had been. Now he felt tired and distracted. His lips and tongue were numb, and he chewed on them to get the blood going again.

Looking for a way back in, Al spoke. “I was so stupid. You’re so beautiful. Can anyone hear me? Tear down the wall, you should let everyone see.”

A movement across the plowed field attracted his attention, a flock of wild turkeys. He liked seeing them and it gave him something to focus on. Some of the toms had long beards on their chests that looked like bundles of pubic hair.
Al said, “What were you thinking when you invented that?”

He was at a loss to understand why hunters liked to keep the beards as trophies. “Sick fucks”, he said. A bystander wouldn’t have made the connection.
Eventually, the flock moved into the trees and Al felt calm enough to get back on the road.

Looking up again, he asked, “Did you say sick fucks?” There was no answer. “Maybe I did. If I did, I’m sorry, I feel bad now. Maybe I just have food poisoning. Do I?” No answer, only more static and random words in other voices. A large black snake sunned itself on a slab of concrete and Al was tempted to kill it– for the symbolism, but sometimes a snake is just a snake. He got closer to it, and it crawled away, just as well, it was sleek and shiny and probably ate rats. If it had anything to say, it chose not to say it.

Alphonse had been connected to other dimensions and now he understood the world in a way that very few others could. It would be hard to go back to his old life, even if he wanted to, or could.

“Seek the woman of many lashes. That’s it? What am I supposed to do when I find her?” Al felt panic, but not the kind he just went through, the kind you feel when it is time to hand in your homework and you forgot to do it. That kind of panic he knew well, and it was welcome in comparison. The words were starting to fade like a dream, and if he hadn’t kept repeating them, they might have been forgotten. “Find the girl with lashes, no, seek.”

What’s the difference? If that were all he needed to know, he would just keep driving until he saw a sign. This was the most important thing a human could be asked to do. How many people have communed with the entirety, traveled the vastness, and lived to tell of it? He tried to remember how it sounded but couldn’t. It had to have been thoughts placed directly into his brain. The voice was ephemeral as it would be because it would probably be too much for a mortal to bear the memory. Al could see now how meaningless a human life was, now that there was this hugeness extending beyond the daily chores and responsibilities. This was much bigger than the tangible, visible universe. The arrogance of so-called learned men. He felt ashamed to have scoffed at the religious, this was his calling, not middle school.

For a moment he had been connected to the hugeness and that’s all that mattered to him now. Alphonse ran his long sausage fingers through his greasy black hair. This wasn’t going to be easy, but the euphoria that he felt in the cosmos made him hope it would take a long time.

The next second brought more panic. He was about to forget the directive–it was just on the tip of his tongue and fading. Al nervously reached into his shirt and twisted the biggest mole about its stem until it hurt. Then it came to him: “Search for a girl with lashes.” That wasn’t exactly it, but very close. He repeated it out loud over and over to memorize it as he dug in the seats for paper to write on. Each time he repeated the story, it lost detail, and by the time a brown napkin and an old golf pencil were found, the dream had vanished except for the sense of urgency. There was still a focus and a clear objective, that part was retained. This was something he could do and be known for. It would be Moses, Jesus, and Alphonse.

As soon as possible, the search would begin, but Al was exhausted and nodding at the wheel. Just ahead he could see a sign for public fishing. He slowed and took a quick look down the rough looking path before turning in. It was a small gravel parking lot surrounded by tall grass and bushes, meant for trout fishermen, the perfect spot to rest from his travels.

Al drove in as far as he could and was asleep at the turn of his key.
***
A tap on the window caused him to bounce off the steering wheel. He looked around trying to figure out where he was and opened the door. Cooler fresh air started to replace the oven-like temperature.

The fisherman said, “Sorry buddy, I thought you might be dead.”

Al frowned at the guy and rubbed his shoulder. It took a second to remember why he was there. “I was tired. I’m okay.” He looked at the man wearing tall boots with suspenders, the kind of get up only seen on a trout fisherman. “Did you catch anything?”

“Yes, several large Brown’s.”

“Can I see them?”

“I can’t show you, its catch and release.”

“My dad does that, I like to eat them.”

“I don’t want to eat them, just make them late for something.”
Al had both feet on the ground again, “Mitch Hedberg, right?”
The fisherman had been waiting a long time to say that and it didn’t even get a laugh. As he walked away, the fisherman muttered to himself in a disdainful tone, “Bait fisherman.” Lugging his expensive waders and hand-made bamboo rod, he crossed the lot to his Subaru Outback.

Al rubbed his face again because it still had dents in places. He walked down to the stream and washed his face in the cold water, then looked at the sky and underbrush, trying to see those dimensions again. They had to be there, and then came his moment of doubt, had the whole thing been a side effect of the Nortripthline?

No, it couldn’t be, that was for depression, and it was time to get moving. More aware of his surroundings than usual, he got back on the road and headed west.

The search for a mystery woman was on. Would he be allowed to drive past her? Would it take weeks or minutes? Was she on a side road? Al wondered why he was chosen and wondered about the significance of this woman. Looking at the ceiling of the car, he said, “Maybe I should go east, because that’s where most things happened. Why can’t you just be specific?”

He guessed he had believed in spirits as a child, but only because children believe what they are told. He lost his belief some time before he stopped believing in Santa Claus, because at least there was evidence of Santa Claus, if only one day a year. That had to be why he had been chosen, to bring him back. Or was it because the hardheaded would be more likely to stick with it once convinced?
In the town of Richland Center, he pulled into a Culver’s to get something to eat. He stopped at the entrance and staring at the door he imagined that every germ in the micro biome was ready to crawl up his arm. He went in, using his sleeve to avoid touching the door handle.

He liked the pot roast sandwich and that’s what he usually got, but this time Al was ravenous and in the mood for a fish sandwich, or several of them, because he appreciated the symbolism.

Stepping in front of the next person in line, Alphonse said, “I want three fish sandwiches and an empty cup for water.”
The boy behind the counter looked at the woman that should have been next. She said, “He must be hungry.” Alphonse’s hair was messed up and his shirt had large sweat stains.

Al looked her up and down, and then used his sleeve to wipe the cloudy drip of sweat that hung from the end of his nose. He paid for his order, took his number, and backed away from the counter. A minute later he had his food and walked over to the soda machines. He was about to steal a root beer like he always did, but hesitated, and twisted his face in annoyance. In the end he decided to go with the water because he felt the presence, and it made him feel guilty. Would it even matter if he cheated a restaurant? He was sure it wouldn’t, but then didn’t want to chance it. He had also gained a conscience. His gratitude was expressed with a sarcastic, “Thanks a lot.”

Alphonse looked into the eyes of the people around him and could see that they were in the dark, which made him feel superior. If there were any way to explain it, he might have tried, but he didn’t really understand it.
He held out an arm and saw the transparent, wavy lines of his aura. When he moved the arm, there was a slight delay before the aura caught up and reestablished its perimeter. A fast sweep stretched the field to a thin, wavy sheet. People were looking at him now, so he stopped playing with it.
On the way to find a table, he checked the free newspapers in the rack next to the garbage, wanting to see if they had any of his puzzles. They did, and he felt some satisfaction. Even though he didn’t come up with the puzzles, it was the editing of the clues that made them worth anything. Seeing his name in print was always a small thrill and made him feel proud, but he wished there was family left to see his accomplishments.

He found a seat and scanned the murmuring diners, wondering if she was there. Staring at each woman, looking for the one he sought, he didn’t know what would give her away, but nothing seemed right. What if the lashes were hidden under a blouse? A new patron entered to the left and Al turned his head too quickly, causing colored lines to appear as the room caught up. He was barely maintaining his hold on the earthly dimensions and would have to be careful not to slip out again. The thought of leaving again was tempting and he considered it, only to postpone it for another time, due to fears of reprisals from you know who–tripping was not to be used for recreational purposes.

He disassembled his sandwiches and peeled off all the breading to avoid the fat. Gravity pulled the grease to the plate in rivulets, it was taking too long, and, curious to find out what he would have ingested, Al gathered the crusts together and squeezed the grease onto his plate. It made a large yellow puddle, and when he figured in the amount still on his hands, he felt angry and thought, why the hell couldn’t they just steam it? Al took a deep breath and, guilt free, he consumed the naked fish covered in tartar sauce. A bald man could be heard across the room saying, a little too loudly, “Who would do such a thing?” Diners stopped what they were doing for a moment, then the murmuring resumed.












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Fine art by Michael Kmiotek.
Kinetic sculptures suitable for gardens or other outdoor locations
(608) 234-2914, (608) 839-9557
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