I wrote this novella long ago. Seven years, if I remember correctly. It was more an exercise in stream of consciousness writing than anything else, and I wrote the first draft in a few days in which depression and confusion gripped me like a vice.
As I edit it, I recall emotions I had felt at the time, thoughts I had been thinking, and dreams that visited me in the night. This is especially true in the following segment.
While I never thought this novella was worthy of any publication, I did and still do think it’s an interesting way to tell a story, and the writing isn’t terrible. I’m deleting a lot of writing this time around. Mostly extraneous rants that would only confuse the reader, if it confuses the writer and editor .
Thanks for reading.
The jukebox jumbled his thoughts. He has lived without music for too long, had almost forgotten what it sounded like.
He’s fragile. An antique vase balancing on a narrow rail during a windstorm. If he falls, just once, he will break. And he will shatter.
The rain beats down on his head.
He’s dancing alone.
Slowly, and slower.
Until everything comes to a halt.
He lays on the ground beside his car and stares at the sky and wishes for stars.
He misses her. Or at least the idea of her.
They did this. Now the stars are gone. There’s only darkness when he shuts his eyes. Only darkness.
The inside of the car smells of dust. Tomorrow he will drive with the windows down. Not tonight. Tonight he has parked away from the gas station and near the trees, within their shadows, as unseen as possible in a world without eyes.
Too much of the world would slip inside with the windows down, or even cracked. Unlocked, the doors would fly open and he would be sucked into the night. He has nightmares about that; he’s in a small passenger plane and the doors suddenly open. He doesn’t have his seatbelt on and he’s sucked into the night sky, where he falls to his death, only he doesn’t fall to the land below. He falls into space, into the stars themselves, and floats forever into the depthless cosmos.
He checks the doors again. They’re locked. All of them.
He’s outside again, only this is a dream and not real. Part of him is aware, part of him isn’t. These two parts switch at random while existing independently of each other. Neither has any doubt that this is real and isn’t real.
He’s laying on a driveway. Springtime, the leaves green instead of red and orange, the tar beneath him warm with the sun. Behind him is the only house near or far, large and white. The lights are off. There are no streetlights, and cars pass every few hours, sometimes not until the morning, and by then their light ruins nothing.
Night is incredibly dark, or would be if not for the glow of the stars. The moon is half-full and pale white, unseen when the stars are out in such abundance and intensity. Clusters infinitely deep, more stars in that tiny pocket, the size of his thumbnail, than there are grains of sand on the Earth. He tells that to the girl laying beside him.
Their fingers are laced, their hands warm and soft and fitting perfectly together.
Present-day him, Green Lanes him, wants himself to turn over and look at her, just turn your damn head and see, please, for the love of everything, please. But he doesn’t. He stares up at the stars. He has always wanted to be an astronomer, to not just see the skies with his naked eye, but study it all, immerse himself within it, become part of space more than he’s part of this world. Only he’s horrible at math.
“I’m horrible at math,” he says.
He remembers, somewhere deep down, the sound of her voice. A startled, timid yet excited musicality. A quick thinker so that her words are quick and witty. A beautiful singer, he thinks. So much beauty, more than he could ever hope to withstand.
“You’re the first person to ever do this with me. Look at the stars, I mean. Everyone else thought it was silly, that I was silly. A waste of time.”
His turn to speak. “There’s nothing silly about this. Not at all.”
She turns to him; he feels her eyes studying his face. “You really don’t mind this? Just sitting here, staring at the sky for hours?”
He feels her touching his face, finger traveling down his cheek. “We could lay here, and life would be good. We wouldn’t need more.”
He wakes in his car thinking of dolphins. Dolphins carried the old man’s soul through a wormhole of swirling colors, only now he knows that the colors were not colors at all, but stars. Countless stars soaring mind-numbingly fast, blurring and streaking and blending into each other, creating color.
Dolphins carry the souls of the dead through the stars, to the stars, but why?
And why, when the old man was delusional in his final moments, is he so sure of the truth? The old man was not just dreaming, but seeing.
Or maybe he’s just very, very tired.
Darkness outside. Dolphins riding the waves of the stars, silently crossing seas of fire and oceans of lights and celestial swirls and structures without structure, compositions of pinks and oranges and greens and every color imaginable. Dolphins swim from one galaxy to another, bearing the creation and destruction of stars. Bearing souls.
The jukebox is unlit and silent the following morning. It doesn’t glow, and it doesn’t hum. When he presses buttons and turns knobs, the jukebox does nothing. No music. No one is walking back to Daisy.
He stops driving when fire blazes across the road. Well, he stops long before that—long enough so that he and his car are safe, at least from the fire. He saw the fires from miles away. Although the land isn’t flat—hills come and go and the road swerves between them and slopes over—it is barren, the trees and grass long behind. Most of the trees. Some still stand in clusters and copses spread far and wide, but these trees look nothing like the trees of old, when of old only means a day ago. But it feels longer. Much longer.
He has come far, maybe. Out of the car, he feels like he has come nowhere at all. He pulls the hood of his coat up around his head and stares ahead, blue eyes bright beneath a sky without sun, or even a hint of sun. Endless gray, ground to sky and everything between.
The ash falls harder here. More than once he turned his windshield wipers on. Ash sticks to his coat, dotting him black and gray, and the ground, sooty, displays footprints of everywhere he has touched. There are no other footprints. Just tire treads, also his own.
Fire crosses the road in a wide arc, perhaps a mile long and nowhere near as thick. He could drive through it, he thinks, but does not know if he wants to reach the other side.
He coughs, ash in his lungs, and the fire bursts toward him and rises higher. He takes a deep breath and the flames flee and lessen. Coughs, and the fire jumps alive again, this time with color. Not warm colors like the autumnal trees, but every color, colors a fire should never burn, and when he squints and focuses and gazes into the flames, deep within, he sees dolphins arching their tails and flipping their flippers and bottling their bottlenoses.
And then he realizes that none of this is real but a dream inside a dream, and it is night and stars don’t just fill the sky: they burn as if yearning to plummet down from the darkness to destroy the world below. They burn bright white like snow aflame, alabaster infernos, a white so hot it sears out eyes and scorches the soul.
One by one the stars explode, the sky a little brighter, a little whiter, until darkness fades and white is everything, and he screams as his skin blisters and melts off the bone and his tongue shrivels up and his eyes burst like the yokes of eggs, and his teeth, pure white and all that’s left of him, and everyone, fall to the asphalt, playing the song of the dead.