FSE Ch. 5: Avoidance Patterns

Frank had been in an avoidance pattern for much of the day; he needed to complete another job application, but the thought of poring over encyclopedic questionnaires, double and triple and quadruple checking his cover letter and resume for typos, and looking up references, made the thought of having a tooth pulled seem pleasant.

But, fortunately for Frank, there were many other really important things to be done during the day. Though Frank had not cleaned his house in over 6 months, he decided that today was the day for this: it had started with vacuuming his living room, but after this, the clean, perked-up carpet felt so good under his toes that he decided, as long as he was vacuuming, he might as well vacuum his whole house. So he did this. While vacuuming under the edge of his bed, Frank discovered several boxes of action figures and college class notes socked away under his bed–those would need to be organized. And while vacuuming the bathroom, Frank found dust and stuck-on spots on the floor. So after vacuuming, he got out his swiffer and began to mop the bathroom, scrubbing the problem spots furiously.

In a way, it was therapeutic. Feeling satisfaction at seeing a gleamy shine on the white-and-green tile. Frank leaned for a minute on the swiffer, resting his leg–he had been limping less, but his leg became tired easily and still hurt occasionally. Just then, his cell phone rang.

“Hi Dad,” said Frank.

“Hey, sport,” said Bruce’s beaming voice. “How are you doing today?”

“Okay,” said Frank. “Well, great!–actually. I’ve been cleaning my apartment today. Vacuumed, mopped, organized–just finishing now.”

“Ah. Nice, son. How’s the leg?”

“Doing better,” said Frank.

“Great. Oh, how are those job applications going? Applied to that Reliant Solutions position yet?”

“No, not yet,” said Frank, feeling shame at the admission.

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Frank’s dad was never one to tell Frank what he was thinking, but Frank knew the pause and what he must do: it was time to fill out some more applications.

Sitting down at his computer, Frank resisted the urge to head immediately to Reddit or YouTube to watch videos. Joblessness had had a deleterious effect on his self-discipline, but he knew that, eventually, he would burn through his savings, and then – BOOM – his vacation would be over.

Job. He needed a job. 5 applications in 5 hours. Could such a heroic feat be possible? Frank thought to himself. He was about to find out.

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Frank’s Social Experiment: Chapter 4

It was a disgruntling sort of day. Weddings, Moving days, those rare family holidays – anything that happened outside of Frank’s apartment, involved social interaction, or waking up early, or was simply unexpected. Frank had an internal running list of these disgruntling days:

  • his high school prom
  • his first day at his job
  • the time his company had sent him on a business trip to meet a client
  • his cousin’s wedding
  • graduation from college
  • being in the hospital only recently, and then coming home

And now, as Frank’s alarm buzzed angrily at 6AM and he groggily fished for a light switch, he thought to himself, Today will be a new Disgruntled Day.

With the leg cast off for a couple weeks, Frank had been taking it easy. At first, he had continued to use the crutches—his leg was atrophied from its inactivity and still hurt when carrying his weight. So Frank’s orthopedist had recommended bicycling as a low-impact way to regain muscle tone. To Frank, this suggestion conceptually made sense, but there were few things he would less rather do than bicycle.

“This riding group – it’s a swell bunch of people!” the tall, lanky orthopedist said in his booming, matter-of-fact voice. Frank thought it was dumb the way the surgeon said “swell.” He imagined that when the surgeon got irritated with something he would also say, “This drives me bonkers!” But this was only speculation, no doubt brought on by Frank’s aversity to groups of people enjoying exercise together.

Frank’s father, however, upon hearing the news, thought it was an excellent idea. So, one trip to the store later, Frank was unpacking his very own Raleigh Grand Sport bicycle.

Up to this point in the story, we have not given a detailed description of Claughton (pronounced Clafton), the city where Frank lived. It was a southern town, complete with its own quaint buildings—trappings of faux Americana crossed with some genuine historicity; Claughton also had a nocturnal downtown area, several steepled churches, booming bells to mark the time, and otherwise all the ordinary marks of a medium riverside city.

Normally, Frank drove everywhere he needed to go, but this particular morning he had decided to ride his bike to meet the cycling group. Charting the route out on his phone, he figured out and mentally rehearsed the directions, then set off. The world was duskily alight at this time in the morning, and as he rode, the street lamps began flickering as the sunlight began to glow around the horizon.

Frank pedaled onto Front Street, and the street beneath him changed to cobblestone—the nature of the downtown area mandated brick instead of concrete to maintain Cloughton’s historic authenticity. All along the riverfront, the shops were opening up, neon “Open”s lighting up. Frank headed down a small berm that led to a paved trail along the riverbank.

Several people from the bicycling group had already assembled. Stifling the nervous fluttering that always accompanied meeting new faces, Frank pedaled up to the rear of the group and then stopped to catch his breath—a whole 30 minutes of this was going to be a challenge!

“Hey,” said a lean, gristled man with a boxy crew cut. “New guy: what’s your name?”

“Uh, Frank,”

“You got a last name too?” said the man.

Gosh, was this guy an interrogator in the military? Thought Frank to himself.

“Frank Cockburn,” he replied. Then, in a fit of inspiration. “Would you like my mother’s maiden name or my social security number as well?”

This sarcastic comment was designed to elicit a laugh, but instead the man just gave Frank an appraising, then slightly pitying look.

“My name is Darius,” said the man, but Frank had already decided to call him Mr. Military Buzzkill Man, or Mr. BK, for short.

He was also, apparently, the leader of the small group. “Are we waiting on anyone?” he said. “Keith, Emily, Larry, Kierra…anyone seen Wylla?”

“Here!” yelled a voice, as a slender woman zoomed down the trail on a green bicycle. “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Darius.” she said, “I have a test this morning and pulled an all-nighter and just got through studying!”

Mr. Buzzkill Man shook his head, “Well, at least you’re here. All right, gang, we’re doing 7 miles today, so let’s get going!”

The ride was sweaty, breathy, and painful for Frank. By mile 3, he was heaving big gulps of air and trailing towards the back of the group, and his lower back had begun aching from holding an unnatural position for such a long time.

Finally, Frank motioned to the rest of the group, and between giant breaths, said, “I’ve. Got to Stop. For today. See y’all on. Wednesday.”

Mr. BK gave Frank a nod, “Good work. See you then.”

Back home, Frank got himself a leftover slice of pizza out of the fridge, sat down on his couch, and opened up his laptop to begin work. Logging into his email, Frank had 6 emails, but one in particular caught his eye. The subject was “An Important Message from Human Resources.”

Dear Frank,

We regret to inform you that you are being laid off. Due to a recent lack of funding for this project and the slowness of the industry to adopt our product, we have to make adjustments…

Frank’s Social Experiment: Chapter 3

“I’ll start working on dinner, Frank. You get settled – find something to watch on TV,” said Frank’s father.

Hobbling inside on crutches, Frank made straight for the couch. The crutches still felt foreign and uncomfortable. One of the nurses had coached him on how to use the crutches – position them against the side of the chest as much as possible. This way, the bulk of the torso rests directly on the crutches, not on the shoulder joints. Uncomfortable, but it was working; and Frank was starting to feel normal again.

That is, except for his leg. Wrapped in a grey fiberglass boot, Frank’s left left leg was shrouded from just below the knee to the end of his foot, with just his two biggest toes sticking out the end. The pain since the surgery had lessened as well, but Frank was still popping Tylenols every few hours.

“Okay.” said Frank. Sitting down on the couch, he could hear whistling from the kitchen area, the clatter of a pot, and the beep of the oven. The living room lights were on, and Olaf stalked across the room, leaping onto the couch beside Frank.

Except for Olaf, nothing about this situation felt normal. The leg, the crutches, most of all perhaps – his dad being in his apartment, fixing dinner. He hadn’t seen his father in over 4 years; since the day Frank graduated from school: a happy-sad day fill with rushed greetings, saying hello to his mother and her new boyfriend and then bidding them goodbye in time to say hello to his father. The divorce had only been final for a few months, but both parents would sooner die than miss their son’s graduation.

Frank’s Dad (his name was Bruce) had given him one of the big, chest-squeezing, back-thumping hugs he was known for.

“I’m so proud of you, sport. That’s what all these parents are here telling their kids. But you’re special, kid—not everyone can graduate magna cum laude with a degree in computer science. You’re gonna do great.”

Frank loved his dad. He loved the unequivocal support his father had always provided – a man who himself had never been college material and had struggled all the way through high school until finding a path in the Air Force.

But deep down, Frank felt embarrassed – because he knew that what he’d done wasn’t that impressive. Sure, he had made good grades, but it hadn’t been a struggle for him. Most weekends he played video games or watched movies. It was easy to keep up with his classes since he didn’t have anything else to do.

Still suffocating inside his father’s hug, Frank appreciated the moment for what it was – a father who loved his child and was immensely proud. “Thanks, dad,” said Frank, quietly.

That was four years ago.

Walking in from the kitchen, his shirtsleeves rolled up, Bruce was drying his hands on with a towel.

“Hey sport, remind me, how do you like your steak?”

“Oh, um, medium well,” said Frank, who never ate steak and had no idea how he actually liked it.

His dad gave him a long look, “Medium-well? You sure son?”

“Well,” said Frank. “Medium would be fine too.”

Bruce nodded and retreated to the kitchen, from which soon emanated the sound of sizzling meat. Frank’s show – Persons of Interest, droned on in the background, but it was an episode Frank had seen, and Frank found himself thinking about how different his father seemed.

Time had changed Bruce, but it had not ruined him: the salt and pepper of 40 had given way to the silver of 50, and the twinkling eyes and quick wit had given way to a more reserved, thoughtful presence. He had always been a trim person, and this had not changed. The distance of 4 years allowed Frank to look at his father through new eyes, to not see him just as “Dad” but as Bruce Ockburn, American Airlines pilot.

A knock sounded on the apartment door, followed by a chime. “I’ll get it,” yelled Bruce from the kitchen. Walking out, drying his hands, and grumbling amicably under his breath, “You never interrupt a man when he’s making steaks.”

Frank couldn’t see the door from where he sat, but he could hear everything.

The click of the lock and the “schuuuk” sound as the door opened.

“Hi there,” said Bruce. “May I help you?”

“Hey! This is where Frank lives, right?” said a woman’s voice – Janet perhaps? Frank’s heart rate went up.

“Yes, it is. I’m his dad, Bruce. May I assist you, young lady?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m Janet from next door. I just wanted to check and see how he’s doing.”

“He’s doing great. Thanks for asking,” said Bruce. “We just got back from the hospital, in fact. It’ll be a while before he’s 100%, you understand, but all in all, he’s great. I think he mentioned you actually – you’re the Janet that got him to the hospital?”

Frank envisioned a head-nod. “Mm-hmm! Yeah, and I just wanted to let him—and you—know, my boyfriend and I wanted to have you over and make dinner one night – or bring it over here, if that’s better.”

“That’s very nice of you,” said Bruce. The conversation continued, but Frank’s thoughts had detailed onto another track: she had a boyfriend. Ah well. It was his fate, it seemed, to die alone.

Returning through the living area, Bruce pointed a thumb back towards the front door. “Nice young lady. Gonna have you over for dinner sometime.” He disappeared back into the kitchen, before quickly re-emerging with two plates. “I haven’t had a TV dinner in ages,” he said.

Frank had not done a TV dinner in 5 days, but that was because he had broken his leg and had been sleeping in the hospital. The steak was good, and the mashed potatoes, and the corn on the cob. They ended up watching The Big Lebowski, one of Bruce’s favorites.

When they finished, Bruce took the plates to the kitchen while Frank played a game on his phone. His leg was started to hurt again, so he deposited a couple Tylenol in his mouth and took a swig of cola.

“Okay, son,” said Bruce, returning to the kitchen. “You gonna be okay?”

It was a general question that Frank was unsure how to answer. After a pause, he decided to answer a general question with a vague answer: “Yeah, I should be fine.” After all, he could work from home, as he had always done.

Bruce eyed Frank closely. “Great,” he said, before pausing. “Great. Well, I’m gonna get going, but here’s what we’ll do – I’ll come by on Friday and take you grocery shopping until you can drive again. Sound good?”

Frank nodded. “Thanks, Dad.”

After gathering his backpack and other effects, putting on his pilot’s jacket, and placing a hand on Frank’s shoulder, Bruce said goodnight.

Frank’s Social Experiment – Chapter 2

(For the complete series click here)

Frank was freaking out. Maybe it’s fine. I just need to sit for a minute, he thought. Tenderly rotating his torso, Frank raised one elbow onto the sofa and levered himself onto the couch, careful to keep his left leg elevated and away from the floor as he raised it. Once in a sitting position, Frank rested for a moment. Okay, maybe it’s not so bad – like a sprain perhaps. Slowly Frank lowered his hurting leg to rest his foot on the carpet. Shooting pain went up his leg once again, and Frank raised the leg with a groan.

He knew he couldn’t hold his leg in that position forever, though. Lying beside Frank on the couch, Olaf, the cat, looked quizzically at Frank, then went back to cleaning his fur.

“Hospital,” said Frank, aloud this time. Looking at Olaf, Frank said again, “Hospital, Olaf. I’ve got to go.”

Looking around for something to use as a makeshift crutch, Frank saw the floor lamp next to the couch. Sliding carefully to the right edge of the couch, Frank grasped the lamp and pulled himself shakily onto one foot.

He needed his keys and wallet.

Using the lamp as a staff, Frank took a step with his good leg, then yanked the lamp out in front of him. The force of the movement pulled the cord out of the wall, and it trailed behind him. Limping now towards his room, Frank stopped for a break at the hall, leaning his body to catch his breath—holding one leg aloft and clutching for dear life onto the lamppost was winding him. Resuming his trek, Frank limped into his room and sat down on his bed. Gathering his keys and wallet, Frank also decided to go ahead and put a shoe on his good foot. His socks were in his chest of drawers across the room, but his shoes were directly underneath his bed, so Frank decided to slip the shoe on and not worry about the sock.

With the shoe laced, Frank stood up once again and began his kangaroo-hop-slide towards the door. Reaching the door to leave his apartment, Frank turned to say goodbye to Olaf. “Be good Olaf; I’ll be back…when I can—you have enough food and water for tonight.”

Olaf paused his grooming and looking over at Frank for a moment with the same curious apathy he might have towards a dying bird.

Frank turned to go. “Bye,” he said quietly, flipping off the light – the pain couldn’t stop his energy-conscious habits.

Opening the door, Frank struggled out of his room into the apartment building’s breezeway. It was empty. Frank struggled to get the door locked but finally succeeded.

His leg was throbbing noticeably more now. With the initial shock of the injury and bustle of getting out the door wearing off, a sharp throbbing pain had set in. Frank fought back tears until a random thought distracted him, a memory from his high school history class, a quotation from Abraham Lincoln after Lincoln lost an election, “It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.” Frank decided he was not going to cry.

Limping slowly over to the stairs to descend to the parking lot, Frank stopped to analyze the first major problem—how was he going to get down the stairs? He could leave the lamp and simply use the handrail to steady himself down. But he didn’t want to leave the lamp out—it was a good lamp; he didn’t want to lose it. And plus, once he descended he would still need it to hop to his car.

Below Frank, the tap of feet on the metal-and-concrete steps drew closer. Around the landing of the steps stepped one of the most beautiful women Frank had ever seen. She had her dark hair tied up in a loose bun and was wearing a t-shirt with a stylized grizzly bear on it and purple sweatpants. In both hands, she held bulging bags of groceries.

Frank hopped back from the stairs to unblock the stairwell. “Sorry,” he said. “You can come on up.” The woman clipped lightly up the stairs and passed Frank with a smile.

“Thanks,” she said. Noticing the lamp and the raised leg, she stopped after passing. “What’s going on? Are you all right?”

Frank, unused to social interaction, didn’t say anything at first. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life is standing right in front of me saying words. Surely not to me. Searching within his mind for the right response to this social situation, Frank remembered what to say: “I’m doing fine.” But he wanted to be authentic too. “Just…going to the emergency room.”

“Oh my!” said the woman. “Do you need someone to drive you there? Let me go set these bags inside, and then we can go.”

Frank had forgotten what it was like to talk to other human beings. “No,” he said. “It’s fine. I can do it.” To prove the point, Frank turned to descend the stairs. Bringing the lamp down with his left arm, Frank missed the step landing, and the lamp slid uselessly down the stairs. Losing his balance, Frank flailed and grabbed desperately onto the handrail with both hands, averting a fall and further injury.

“Do not move! I’m going to be right out,” said the woman. “You’ll be fine, but wait, and I’ll help you down.”

A few moments passed. Frank held onto the handrail. He wasn’t about to try and move again.

A moment later, the woman reappeared. “Hey,” she said. “Grab onto the handrail, and I’ll support you on the other side, and we’ll just take it one step at a time. Okay?”

Frank, as socially uncomfortable as he was, was not about to object. The pain was getting worse, and his foot felt heavier by the second as he attempted to keep it elevated. The woman took Frank’s left arm and shouldered his weight. “All right,” she said. “On two, let’s step. One—two!” Frank, supported by the handrail and the woman, stepped his good leg down.

“Great. See, this won’t be too bad,” said the woman. “I’m Janet, by the way. What’s your name?”

“Frank,” said Frank, as they took another step. He was trying very hard now to keep from setting down his left leg – the fear of further pain outweighed the growing leadenness.

“Yeah, try to keep the leg elevated – don’t want to put any weight on it. So what happened?” said Janet.

Frank hadn’t been required to tell a story in quite some time. He tried to think of the particulars, of how to make the story interesting. “I sat down on it,” he said.

“Ah,” said Janet, unsure of what to make of this. She looked at Frank, and Frank felt the body image issues he had been plagued with since a young age—the larger-than-average rear end, the belly that had developed during college.

“Yeah, I thought I was about to sit on my cat.”

“Aah,” said Janet, “I’m more of a dog person, but cats are cool too! What’s your cat’s name?”

“Olaf,” said Frank. She’s more of a dog person. Frank sighed internally. He had been slowly forming a romantic story in his mind about himself and Janet—the woman of his dreams helping him to get to the hospital, kick-starting a passionate romance as she helped nurse him back to health.

Ah well. Cats and dogs.

“Olaf…,” repeated Janet, “That’s a good name for a cat.”

Maybe there’s hope, thought Frank.

“I’m gonna have to set my leg down soon,” said Frank, breathing hard now. “Like, really soon.”

“Hold on for just a minute more,” said Janet. “We’re almost there.” Stepping down the last step, Janet pointed to the red Honda Civic just a few feet away.

“Okay, I’m going to open the back door for you, and you can just slide yourself right in.”

Frank, heaving big gulps of air, summoned the last of his strength and leaned gingerly back into the seat, holding his leg aloft, then slowly lowering it and crossing it over his good leg, allowed it to hang freely down while letting his muscles rest.

Janet shut the back door carefully, then slid into the driver’s seat, fastened her seat belt, and hastened to the hospital. It was at this moment that Frank started feeling dizzy and lightheaded. The world grew black as he passed out.

Frank’s Social Experiment

It had been 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days since Frank had had a meaningful interaction with another human being. It wasn’t a Robinson Crusoe situation – isolation enforced by violent shipwreck. No, this was a 21st century isolation, one brought about and enabled by self-checkouts at stores, online bill payments, and (whew!) no medical emergencies to speak of. Frank had been stung by a wasp in his 11 months of isolation – and right on the knuckle of his thumb – but fortunately, despite his thumb swelling up to the size of a marshmallow, a Benedril lozenge had helped alleviate the reaction, and precluded a trip to a doctor.

Frank had received permission to work from home over a year ago, and so had begun his life of seclusion. From then on, his work life consisted of Slack channels and group chats and text messages. But no phone calls – his manager had attempted to call him once, but Frank simply let it ring, waited for a voicemail, and then sent a text in response. Sorry Ms. BlahBlahBlah for missing your call. I can take care of that paperwork this evening. Thanks, Frank.

And for the most part, it was working – work for 8 hours (sometimes 8 hours and 15 minutes if he had a deadline to meet), sign out of his work computer, head to the kitchen for a snack, then to the living room, switch on the TV, lean back on the couch, sink his unclipped toenails down into the fuzzy brown carpet, and begin a new TV show marathon. TV shows were his social life now. When he watched How I Met Your Mother, Frank’s friends for a few short weeks became Ted, Marshall, Lily, and Barney. He started thinking about what the different characters would like, as if they were real people. Barney would approve of the way I wrote this email, Frank would think to himself after authoring a particularly snarky email.

Occasionally, Frank would get unaccountable feelings of…mental hungriness. It was not loneliness, he told himself. When he felt this way, he would go and turn on Parks & Recreation and watch his favorite episodes. It took the edge off, and the feeling would quickly pass. At other times, he thought about how nice it would be to have a girlfriend. Someone like Lily, crossed with Pam from The Office, crossed with some of April Ludgate’s mischievousness.

One day, in a fit of mental hungriness (NOT loneliness), Frank signed up for an online dating profile. Within a couple days, he received a message from a lady named Jill Epwerd. Scrolling through her profile, he discovered she had similar interests to his own. She liked cats, she liked TV shows, she was a software developer and was even a Doctor Who fan! But then Frank reached the bottom of her profile: “…love working out and finding new meals that fit my vegan lifestyle.”

Frank recoiled noticeably from his computer screen. This Jill was no good. She was not the one. Why had he even decided to open the account in the first place? Wasn’t it obvious only extroverts who liked people and exercise would use dating sites? 10 minutes later, Frank had deleted his dating profile and was once again ensconced between cushions on his couch, petting his purring cat Olaf and watching Parks & Recreation (While not pertinent to the story, you will be happy to know that Jill recovered quite admirably from Frank ignoring her message and went on to become quite happily married to a wedding photographer).

But then, one evening, something terrible happened. As Frank was settling down on his couch for a typical evening binge (this time of Persons of Interest), a white streak caught the corner of his eye. Thinking for a moment that his cat Olaf was under him on the couch but unable to keep himself from sitting down at this point, Frank kicked one knee out awkwardly, missed the couch entirely, and landed in a gangly heap on the floor with a CRACK.

“Ow,” said Frank, calmly. A stabbing pain was now shooting through his left leg. “Ow,” he said again. Beginning to move now, leaning on the couch to stand up once again. “OW,” Frank said now, louder and more certainly. He knew that something was badly, badly wrong.

Car Films in Review

There is something appealing about car movies – the thrill of a chase, the growl of an engine, or the elegance of a turn. In that spirit, here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of car movies I have enjoyed.

Bullitt

steve-mcqueens-lost-bullitt-mustang-lede

The film that helped to enshrine the 1968 Ford Mustang as an iconic car in cinema history, I was surprised at how good this film was on its own merits, apart from its famed car chase (starring Steve McQueen!). A slow, brooding sort of film that elects to show more than tell, Bullitt follows detective Frank Bullitt, a police lieutenant tasked to protect a witness for a weekend. Everything unravels from there in what feels like a lighter-than-most noire piece. 4.5/5

Gone in 60 Seconds

gone60seconds

Something about Nicholas Cage movies tends to bring a grin to my face – there’s a goofy, charming undercurrent to many of his movies that I’ve yet to get burnt out on. In this heist film, Nicholas Cage plays Randall Raines, a top-notch car thief who is pulled back into the world of car heists to help a family member. 4/5

Speed Racer

speed-racer

A glitzy, glamorous film based on the anime series of the same name, this movie has a apropos cartoonish-ness to it. Weaving backstory into inventive and seamless montages, Speed Racer tells the story of Speed, a talented driver who dreams of following in the footsteps of his older brother and becoming a legendary racer. Though not a film heavy on plot or character–and occasionally getting bogged down with exposition–Speed Racer manages to wring a lot of fun out of the movie’s many races. 3.5/5

Baby Driver

screen-shot-2017-07-05-at-11-45-15-am

The most recent of the films presented here, this was one of my favorite films of 2017. Combining great car chases with good characterization and a stylish soundtrack, Baby Driver checks all the right boxes for my movie tastes. Baby is a semi-reluctant getaway car driver, and Debra is a waitress at a restaurant. Nothing can keep these two souls apart, except maybe Baby’s career path as a getaway driver. The film centers around the question: can Baby get away from his life as a criminal to live a normal life? With car chases aplenty, this film never drags. 5/5

While there are a bunch of other great car movies I’ve yet to watch, this list gets you up to speed on my latest favorites. From Bullitt to Baby Driver, these films span a variety of genres (though mostly crime-related I suppose?) but have one thing in common: adrenaline-pumping car chases!

George & The Werewolf

George climbed higher towards the apex of the mesa. Stopping at a bend in the rocky upwards path, he sat down stiffly on a nearby rock, and, shaded from the sun by a brambly tree, took a long gulp of water from his flask. Then, reaching down, he tightened the laces on his left shoe, hoping to reduce the chance of further blistering on his heel.

Sitting back again, George surveyed the landscape. From his perch halfway up the steep face of the mesa, he could see rocky mountains on all sides, towering to lazy peaks above his head—he was scaling the baby peak of the bunch, the child surrounded by its bigger siblings. But, George thought, It holds a secret its older brothers do not. Rising, George shouldered his pack once again, and resumed his slow climb. Keeping out of the sunlight was impossible on this climb, though he had a large hat, khaki pants, and a long-sleeved shirt on to protect his skin from roasting.

But it was hot. Sweat evaporated at the arid, high elevation, and a pin-pricking needle-like sensation was the only indication that he was expending sweat to cool himself. He needed to reach the top soon—it would be unbearable come nightfall, and also cold. In addition, George did not know what creatures might come out at night. He had seen deer tracks earlier on his climb, but no deer were foolish enough to venture this high. More recently, he had seen a set of bootprints appear—and only a day or two old. This baffled him, and he felt an anxiety at the uncertainty. Who might this other person be?

George’s guide had not made it—after the first week, when the sun-browned native had become weakened and quickly sickened, George had stopped and set up camp and cared for the man—soaking a rag in cool water and laying it to the man’s forehead. But it was not enough—the man had died. And now George was alone. There was no point but to continue; so after improvising a burial for the loyal guide, George had continued on. But a dread had been slowly building in his heart—what had begun as a grand adventure, here at the end, had become almost dreamlike—and dark.

The sun was lowering, until it finally was only partly peeking over the mountaintops, catching its last glimpse of George, bidding him good night. For his part, George found a secluded crevice beneath an overhang of rock and set up a simple camp for the night—a wood fire assembled from a bone-dry tree he hacked to pieces with a hatchet.

As George arranged the logs for the fire, he thought of how hardy this tree must have been to withstand the harshness of the wild. He even felt a strange sympathy for the tree as it began to crackle and burn. The tree, clinging so fiercely to life, sending its roots deep, around and between and across the rock, finding a way to subsist on the scant light and water it received.

Being alone made George strangely introspective. It was worrisome, slightly, how much thought he was giving a simple tree. He reiterated the truth to himself, for the sake of his sanity: he needed a fire to cook his food, provide warmth, and potentially ward off the creatures of the night, and the tree was the closest available source of fuel; so he had to use it. That was all.

The meal was simple—a dry biscuit, heated slightly, as well as warm soup from a can. He was trying to conserve his supplies, in case his quest took longer than expected. Finishing his meal, he unrolled his sleeping bag and climbed inside. It was going to be a chilly night—not cold, but uncomfortably chilly. A strong breeze blew fitfully along the side of the mesa, threatening at times to snuff out George’s fire. However, George placed a few larger rocks around the windward side of his fire, and it flickered more brightly, then crawled back into his bag.

George’s sleep was wakeful and dark. About midnight, he was startled awake by a guttural howl. Rolling instinctively towards his bag, he pulled out his revolver and squinted out from his crevice in the rocks—he knew the sound well. It was a werewolf.

To be continued by Joseph…

This is part 1 in a 4-part series.

The Last Station

I had arrived, and amid the jungle of other passengers, I could see the station block. Everyone was rising to fetch their bags from the overhead compartments, standing in hunched groups while waiting for others to exit.

For my own part, I had nothing more than a small suitcase–a slate-blue, threadbare affair that had served me well throughout all my travels. Pulling it gently down from the overhead compartment, I rested it on the yellow seat and stood waiting.

As soon as the door opened, the passengers began heading steadily for the door. A lady holding her son by the hand brushed by me, and the boy bumped into one of the seats, dropping a scarf he had half-stuffed into his backpack.

“Ma’am! Excuse me, ma’am,” I said, picking up the scarf and holding it out. “Your boy dropped this.”

Turning, the woman’s careworn face broke into a quick smile. “Thank you!” Turning to her boy, “Burt, you need to be more careful!” They turned and hurried on.

A younger man with reddish hair and a green puffer vest chuckled at the exchange as he walked ahead of me towards the exit. “That’s good karma,” he said. “Something good will happen to you today.”

I shook my head with a grin, “Karma won’t help me now I’m afraid. But, I think you’re right about today.” The puffer-vested man shrugged, stepped off the platform, and hopped off to whatever his destination was.

I arrived at the exit, and looked out at the station. The station landing was breathtaking, a tile-work tapestry of patterns and pictures. Glossy squares made up a sky-blue ocean that spread out on the station floor. Sea monsters peeked out from below, and ships flying full sail cut through the white-tipped waves.

It was a lovely scene, but it was also time to continue. I felt that same familiar flutter I always feel upon venturing home to dear friends and family–the excitement of reunion mixed with the uncertainty and shyness of meeting familiar faces that aren’t quite the same as the time before. But it was all very exciting, so I stepped out onto the waves.

Suddenly, I heard a chorus of familiar voices yelling all sorts of different things at once. “Hurray! You made it! You’re finally here!”


Inspired by Bonhoeffer’s poem “Stations on the Road to Freedom” and biographer Eric Metaxas’s statement:

Bonhoeffer thought of death as the last station on the road to freedom.

Waking

Thomas was a gullible boy, as his mom had always said. Something about the time Thomas had traded his brand-new scooter for a beat-up wooden sword a friend was peddling. It was a great sword, mind you, perfect for playfighting and re-enacting.

But unfortunately, being gullible wasn’t something that could always be helped.

Thomas was also easily frightened–his overactive imagination could come up with numerous worst-case scenarios in any given situation–sometimes, sitting in church, he would imagine what he might do if someone came in the front door with a gun and tried to take everyone hostage. Thomas’s plan involved surreptitiously rolling out the side door and sprinting to a house next door to phone the police. Another contingency plan involved hiding behind a row of chairs until the coast was clear for escape. Brave Thomas planned to rush the intruder, but Real Thomas wasn’t sure that was the best idea. It was good to have a plan, though.

Thomas was all about plans.

As he slowly woke up on Saturday morning, he rolled over in bed and rubbed his eyes. The covers were all twisted around his body. Normally, an alarm would go off, but since it was Saturday, he had gotten to sleep in. It was still dark, although a bit of light was glowing around the window blinds, so it must have been about 6:30. Thomas’s eyes fluttered shut, and he dozed.

He gradually became aware of his vision again–the sleeping image became a real one, and his brain began processing the image of his room. He had been dozing with his eyes open. His eyes widened as he saw a shape curled up on the desk at the foot of his bed. What could that be?

It’s a snake!, Thomas thought, and a big one. How had it gotten in his room? It didn’t make sense – maybe through an air vent. He remembered listening to a mystery novel involving a poisonous speckled snake that murdered a person by slithering through an air vent and dispatching its sleeping prey.

It could definitely happen. Thomas could make out the silhouette of the snake’s rings lying in lazy rolls on the surface of the desk, its vaguely triangular head raised and alert. What was it doing?

Just resting, probably. But if Thomas moved, it might strike without warning. So Thomas had to think. He didn’t have a contingency plan for this. He could pull his quilt over his body, like a matador, then make a mad dash for the door. But if the snake moved for Thomas’s ankles, he’d still be dead.

Those snakes could be vicious – he shuddered to think about what a bite might do to him–cause him to lose all nervous response and shake uncontrollably.

Just then, Thomas remembered – he had left his hoodie on the desk. That’s all it was, at least probably. Summoning his courage, he reached over to the blinds and opened them. Sure enough–just his hoodie.

He jumped out of bed and swiped the hoodie off the desk–he had been meaning to hang it up anyway. No more snakes were going to get him. In case this happens again, he thought, I need a better plan.

The End.

Recipe: Adventure

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 or more people
  • An idea
  • Equipment & preparation to taste

Serves:

  • At least 2, and produces lots of leftover stories

Directions:

  1. Recruit fellow adventurers. Find a person or persons to accompany you—adventures can be done quite well solo, but having a friend decreases chances of failure and increases chances of fun.
  2. Find a golden fleece. This step is fairly open-ended—you need to establish a good goal, preferably one that is at least slightly challenging, yet still achievable. This goal could be as simple as, “make a chocolate eclair cake” or as complex as “climb Mount Everest.”
  3. Gather equipment. For an adventure to be successful, there usually needs to be at least a small preparation time—spontaneous adventures are a wonderful idea but can occasionally lead to low-quality output, which is why we are providing the full recipe here. Prepare for your adventure by gathering all the required equipment—if cooking, then the ingredients; if mountain climbing, then the proper equipment for that.
  4. Train/practice for the adventure.  This is an optional step—if the adventure is baking, then proceed to the next step. If the adventure is climbing Mount Everest, a period of training will be necessary. Establish a routine that will prepare you and your party for the strenuousness of the climb up Everest. This has the added benefit of increasing your overall skill in addition to increasing your chances of survival on the climb. Note: this step may produce enjoyable mini-adventures as an added bonus.
  5. Begin the adventure. It’s important to have completed the preceding steps in order to make the adventure less stressful and more enjoyable. Even so, the unforeseen often happens, and even the best-laid plans can fall apart. Commit yourself to having fun, and the adventure is sure to be a success. Be sure to take lots of selfies so that you can make all your followers on social media jealous when they see them.
  6. When you are finished, store the leftovers in picture albums and stories.  It can also be helpful to self-assess after an adventure and recall what went well and what could have gone better. This will aid in preparations for the next time you decide to 

ahem

cook up an adventure.