The Man Who Rode Halley’s Comet

I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”  ~Samuel Clemens, 1909

 

Hannibal, Missouri – Hometown of Samuel Clemens

Born in Florida, Missouri in 1835 just 2 weeks after Halley’s Comet closest approach, Samuel Clemens was the 6th of 7 children born of Jane and John Marshall Clemens. Only four children would survive past childhood, his older brother and older sister, Orion and Pamela, and his younger sibling Henry. Though born in Florida, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri (less than 30 miles away) when he was very young. It was growing up in Hannibal, the people, the place, the experiences, that would shape his most popular works: The adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

A ‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read” 

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

Samuel Clemens, of course, was more well known by the moniker MARK TWAIN. Twain, a pen name based on a unit of measurement in riverboating, was one of many that he used. Prior to settling on Mark Twain, he signed sketches as “Josh” and was often known as the humorist Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.

A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”

A tour through Hannibal today will lead you to many Mark Twain landmarks as the city has fully embraced itself as the home of the man William Faulkner called “the father of American Literature.” There still stands his childhood home, and even the fence that would be the inspiration to the infamous whitewashing scene in Tom Sawyer. 

Tom Sawyer’s Fence
Grab a brush, and get to work!

Just across the street you’ll find the home of Laura Hawkins; the inspiration for Becky Thatcher. One of the tiny homes that Tom Blankenship, Twain’s best friend and the basis of the character Huck Finn, has been restored and can be visited as well. 

Becky Thatcher’s Home

 

In ‘Huckleberry Finn’ I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly how he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as any boy had.”

Huckleberry Finn’s House
The home of Tom Blankenship (Huck Finn)

The museum in Hannibal offers a wonderful exhibit where you can walk through his most famous works. Including A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Roughing It, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. As well as a look at his time on the riverboats of the Mississippi; where he got the pen name we all know him by today. 

Mark Twain was the nom de plume of one Captain Isaiah Sellers, who used to write river news over it for the New Orleans Picayune. He died in 1863 and as he could no longer need that signature, I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor’s remains.”

The Origin of Mark Twain

Mark Twain was well traveled doing speaking lectures — that bordered upon what we know today as Stand-Up Comedy — around the world and everywhere within North America. Within the United States, he held residence at one time or another in Missouri, Nevada, California, Connecticut, and New York (where he and his wife are buried, side by side).

 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

 

Travel is education.

It was due to his experiences growing up in a slave state in the pre-civil war era that shaped Mark Twain into the pro-emancipation, abolitionist that he was. Twain was also known to support the women’s suffrage movement and fought for worker’s rights. He also advocated for disability rights. Twain’s working partnerships and friends included people like Frederick Douglas, Helen Keller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Prudence Crandall, William Dean Howell, among others. To further his own point about travel and bigotry Mark Twain’s opinions on Indigenous people, of various lands, grew more as he ventured around the world and saw the trauma left behind by imperial colonizers.

There are many humorous things in this world; among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”

All right, then, I’ll go to hell.

He was Presbyterian, but was critical of organized religion in general, especially late in life. So much so, that his most critical writings were not published until well after his death.

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” 

Besides being a writer, a miner (which he was no good at), a riverboat pilot, a speaker, and an activist, Twain was also an inventor. He shared a friendship with Nikola Tesla and was one of only a few people who ever spent extended time in Tesla’s lab. Twain would go on to patent a few inventions of his own including one in use today: The elastic hook closure for bras. A patent which he filed under “An Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments.” He had hope that it would do away with suspenders, which he hated. 

“…for the vest, pantaloons, or other garment upon which my strap is to be used.”

During the final year of his life he would write (dictate) his autobiography. The first edition was 736 pages long, but the notes were compiled by others and the order changed from which he recited it. It was not published in its intended, non-chronological form, until 2010 and became an unexpected hit, which put Samuel Clemens, a.k.a Mark Twain, in the very limited writer’s club of having a new bestselling book in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Mark Twain died in his home just one day after Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to the Earth in April of 1910. 

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” 

Mark Twain’s Desk

After his death Mark Twain went on to make appearances in television and film including Star Trek, Touched By An Angel, Holmes & Watson, and Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues**

“It is no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

 

He lived a legendary life. He grew, he learned, he observed the world and all its good and bad. He wrote much of it, and spoke on the rest. He was not a perfect man, but he lived an extraordinary life, riding a comet through history. 

Mark Twain reading to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

“I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.”

Mark Twin on the Enterprise

**Disclaimer: Samuel Clemens may not have been the actual person portraying Mark Twain on screen.

 

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

 

Young Love, Old Earth

by M.D. Parker

The blue trimmed, off-white building came into view. The over-painted brick wouldn’t give up the textured detail of the stone underneath even if Calvin had been touching the side. A sign near the corner of the school said something about Building future minds since 1949. Calvin passed the sign with the hollow thump-thump of skateboard wheels over cement cracks. He guided himself in a long arc toward the entrance. Steering clear of the meat of the parking lot, where those who already had cars were pulling in to join the fray. He already had Dad on his side; even showed him which car he wanted. Tonight was the time to start working on convincing Mom.

Stepping off the board, he kick-stomped it into his hand. He paused, looking up at the school’s attempt to use the bright color to distract from its looming presence. Pleasant colors to hide the natural angst of every one of the future minds being built.

“Hey, Cal.”

He turned his head. He grinned as she strode the final few steps toward him. A clamminess slickened his palms as he readjusted the hold on his skateboard. He drew in a deep breath. She looked at him, glanced at the ground, and smiled as she lifted her head up. She knew. He knew she knew, but they both pretended that they didn’t.

“Hey. ‘Nother day of servitude at the day-prison. You ready, Mads?”

“Nope. But no one is giving me a choice, are they?” Madeline’s rhetorical sarcasm lofted through the air and she took her first step toward the doors.

As Calvin’s eyes fought a losing battle to not follow Madeline’s march away into the hub of social conformity, the world around him brightened. The sidewalk suddenly illuminated as if by an extra sun. The light gray of the cement reflected the glare as it grew to blinding proportions, joined by an array of brilliant color. The rapid increase of purples and oranges, of blues and greens, overtook the morning’s yellow-white hue. His head turned away from her and up to the sky. His mouth fell open as his vocal cords squeaked out one last word…

“Mads–”

Madeline had already turned to see it.

The sky ripped apart, like a tear in the middle of an overstretched vinyl seat cover. The rip was growing; a swirling mix of every color they ever had a name for poured through the wound in the sky and forced the gap even wider. No sound accompanied it, but in their minds Mads and Cal could hear a torrential ripping sound as it rattled their souls.

Every color spread out from the tear as a blackness filled the center of the growing rift like the iris of an eye; a cold dark nothingness of an iris. The gash filled the whole of the visible sky with the trailing end dropping below the horizon. The black opening slowly gained color of its own in the center of the center. A steel gray flecked with various greens shaped itself into a circle. And like the first pimple before the school dance, Calvin and Madeline watched as the circle became a sphere and started to bulge through the blackened center of the kaleidoscope.

The sphere grew in size and appearance of closeness. The green of a hundred variations splashed across a gun-metal gray surface. The prism of color that tore open the sky gave birth to a planetary orb as the sky cried in silent agony. The orb slipped through the great tear. The rip began to draw the colors back into itself as the hole shrank as the last of the orb was free from it.

Other students, and teachers populated the grass and front steps of the school building. Gasps could be heard, vulgar inquiries of the divine were made, and others remained frozen in the same mouth-agape silence as Mads and Calvin. Nearly the whole of the orb could be seen above the western horizon, and it filled the illuminated sky in glaring contrast to the morning sun on the eastern horizon.

Then, the Earth itself took its cue and groaned under their feet.

A great wrenching sound twisted itself from the miles below them. The world screamed with a voice born of breaking glass and snapping wood and crumbling brick. Some ran in every direction with unknown destinations. Calvin fell. His ass hitting the ground harder than he would have liked, if he cared enough to notice. Mads hollered, but he did not hear it. His own shock and the sound of the second level of the school lowering itself to the first floor, stopped her voice from reaching its target. Car alarms screeched. Buildings collapsed into rubble. Trees were ripped from their ancient roots. Calvin’s eyes turned away from the orb for a single moment to see the nearly two hundred year old tree in front of the school join the dying world around him.

Mads was still beside him. He realized she held his hand. Together they watched. He was reminded of a freight train as a new sound wormed its way into the world. The barreling, chugging, crunch of a sound grew and climbed to an octave a hundred times louder than anything else. The screams and whimpers of people scampering about were muted. Power polls and their exploding transformers could only be seen, not heard.

Mads and Cal turned away from the orb in time to see most of their beloved day-prison swallowed by the Earth as it opened in a jagged line that disappeared into the streets beyond the school. The freight train noise paused. A single moment of stillness before rising again in a crescendo that would claim Cal and Mads as they locked in their first, and last, embrace. With closed eyes, their young souls merged as they breathed each other in.

The Earth cried as it claimed them.

They never let go of each other.

 – 

 

THE CARETAKER

by M.D. Parker 

 

 

Chapter 1: YESTERDAY

 

He knew where to leave the trail. He had made the hike every week for years. The ageless canvas pack, with its sew marks from the multitude of repairs, rode over his left shoulder. It always felt awkward on his left, but the right shoulder ached more and more with each passing year. He wondered if old age might finally be catching up with him — if only a few decades late.

He paused for one last look behind, verifying that no one was within sight, before he stepped around the rock outcropping and dropped into the wash. The recent wind and rain had brushed the sandy wash smooth, leaving only a graveled whisper of his own tracks from the week before. The rains had been heavier this winter than anyone had expected, but the season was changing. Yet, he could still feel it in his shoulder and the ancient joints that bent his legs. He could smell the damp building in the air, though he didn’t expect a full rain. He felt the humidity crawl across his skin, dampening the pits under his arms. A line of sweat slid down his back and he felt the moistness building high in his crotch. He stopped, wiped his arm across his forehead, and pulled a water bottle from his little canvas sack. One large swallow rolled down his throat before he splashed some onto his thin gray hair. He drank a second time from the bottle before dropping it back into his sack, slinging the pack onto his shoulder, and sidestepping around the scraggly scrub brush.

His arm caught the spines of an acacia bush, and the bush refused to yield. He yanked free from the cat-like claws. He looked down and his eyes widened when he saw the thin drops of red popping through the long white line the thorns had drawn on his bare forearm. He dropped the pack and pulled the handkerchief from his back pocket in one motion. He dabbed his arm as his chest hauled in deep breaths. He sat himself on the dying gray-white log of a fallen Joshua Tree holding the rag tight on his arm. A clicking howl from some distant world met his ears. 

Knowing that the sound was borne of his imagination did little to comfort him as he lifted the rag and looked at the long scratch. He scanned the ground, searching, with frantic haste; no drops had made contact with the sand or rocks under him. He wet the cloth and dabbed it across his arm, wiping away any of the thin blood trails attempting to find a path down his arm to the sand below. The rapid breathing only subsided when he pulled back the rag and found no new droplets forming. He flexed his arms a few times and watched the cut. He had to be sure. Could not risk spilling any of his own blood this close to the boundary. He shoved the damp handkerchief into the front pouch of his knapsack, and waited a few more moments until his breathing had fully returned to normal. 

Following the path of his previous footsteps, he left the dry wash and stepped through a cluster of old rock formations. There, his tracks were joined by another set; prints shaped like the clubs on a deck of cards. It looked like more than one came through. He scanned the nearby tiny caves and crevices, but saw nothing. Coyotes hid well in the middle of the day. As he came through the cluster, the bottom half of the mountainous formation he’d been marching toward came ito full view. The large boulder pile looked more like a giant’s toy blocks kicked about in a temper tantrum, than a proper mountain. This way or that, he thought, jus’ glad I won’t be climbin’ over it. 

On the other side was the fence line. There he would find the posts set in place more than a hundred years ago. ‘No trespassing’ signs that were much younger than the fence, but ancient in their own right, would be tacked to him. Signs that were put there by people who knew not what they should fear trespassing against. His destination, however, was on this side of the mountain, for the signs were not enough to protect those who would disregard the fence’s purpose. He drank a third time from the water bottle.

He found the first stop quickly. Tucked up beside an stunted oak that was infested with the hanging piles of desert mistletoe. The mistletoe’s drab orange color stood in stark contrast to the decaying gray wood of the ancient desert sentry. He stepped around the tree. Careful to avoid a repeat, he reached around the needles of the cactus infested underbrush. Gently he stepped into a prickly pear, pushing it sideways, with his boot. It did not care how the blood was shed,nor its origin. 

Under the shadowed side, a dinner-plate sized flat rock lay embedded in the hard crust of graveled sand. He lowered himself to his knees. He opened the pack beside him and removed the small plastic quart of black paint. He set the container down. He reached in the bag and pulled free a small paintbrush. The bristled head was no bigger around than his pinky finger. He unscrewed the lid on the paint. He took the brush in his hand, and drew in a slow deep breath. A second deep breath followed. His hand steady, he dipped the brush in the paint, and began to trace over the remnants of the flaked color already on the stone. With each stroke he studied his work. His eyes squinted down to make sure each centimeter of the symbol was correct. The off-centered ‘J’ with what looked like fingers to him, hung down from the cross bar at the top. Inside the hook an extra swirl like the keys on those big brass horns he had seen marching bands carry. An additional flared line came off the right side, and he was done. It was perfect. It was exactly as it needed to be; exactly as he had done a hundred times before. He hoped he was right and the rain would be soft, or not come at all. He knew he’d have to change his schedule over the next few days to come back and check it. He knew better than to take chances.

He replaced the lid back on and dropped it back in the bag. His knees popped as he stood up. He carried the brush in his free hand as he walked to his next stop a few hundred yards away. There he knelt down and repeated the process on an oblong chunk of rock, with a new symbol. Beside the rock an old tin can sat pressed into the coarse sand, its rusted red as dark as venous blood. The metal was so thin he could nearly see through it; just another ghost of the past held to this place. Things die slower in the desert, like me, he thought.

With the touch up paint on what he thought of as the ‘squashed bug’ symbol completed, he tucked away the paint and brush into his canvas knapsack. The paint was nearly empty. He would have to make a drive to the store before he could venture through the eastside. A fresh can of paint would do all the ones he still had left to check and leave enough for touch ups if the rain came harder than expected. As he stood he was happy to only hear one knee pop. The paint had flaked more than he had hoped for. He knew the sigils on the rocks had probably not been doing their job. 

“All fixed up now though,” he said. 

With his water bottle in hand, he slung the bag back over his shoulder and reminded himself, again, that he’d have to deviate from his schedule and come check his work if it did rain hard. He had thought about waiting until after the rain, but he knew it had been too long since he’d checked on these two. He scolded himself for how long he had let them go without being checked. 

“Yup, you’re gettin’ old, Jack.” 

The trip back through the wash and around the rocks slowed him. The afternoon sun was bearing down. That time of the year in the high desert where the days got hot, the nights would freeze your bones, and the wind was as sharp against your skin as if a thousand shards of glass rode upon it. 

It was rare, but it did happen. Those moments in the middle of the day, when an animal more accustomed to the night, would make an appearance. As he rejoined the main trail he was greeted by one of the desert’s oldest residents. Its thin fur matted down. The gray and brown of its coat blended into the rocks and sand under its feet. It lifted its snout and Jack halted. It had found the remains of a hiker’s granola bar. The wrapper held down under one paw as it looked up at him. Its tongue swept across its snout, pulling a crumb between its jaws. Both man and coyote sized each other up.

“You stay back from there. You know better. You know what’s o’er them hills. Go back the way you came old fella, an’ I’ll be goin’ my way. Ain’t no reason for us to be botherin’ one another. Long as you stay away — don’t be disturbin’ him.” Jack held his eyes at a squint, his brow crinkled down. 

He changed up his grip on the water bottle. The coyote did not move. The wrapper under his paw was already coated in dust. Had to be around for a day or two before becoming the scavenger’s midday snack. Man and beast regarded each other for a minute, neither yielding any ground. Jack snapped his feet forward and hiked the bottle up.

“Go on, git outta here! And stay away from there,” he said, his voice raised to a shout. It came out gruff and graveled.

The coyote yielded. It snatched up the remains from the ground and took off at a trot down the path. It retraced its marks along the trail a few yards before darting sideways into the brush. It looked back every few feet until it disappeared into the rocks even farther to the west. Jack watched it until it was out of sight. Then, he drank the last of his water before heading back to the trailhead where the old pickup truck awaited his return. 

The door of the truck squalled in protest as he climbed in. Two turns of the key and it finally came to life. He forced the long granny-shifter into reverse and released the clutch. Jack watched the rearview as he drove away from the trailhead. 

Home tonight, town tomorrow, and check those wards I done as soon as I git the eastside all finished up, he thought. 

He caught the next gear and the fifty year old truck picked up speed. He stopped watching the rearview mirror, but he could still feel that guttural clicking sound echoing somewhere in his memory.

 

Joshua Tree National Park

 

 

 

 

THE SPRING ROAD AWAITS

Matilda (motorhome), the Mothership (car), and a jug of sun tea. Life is good, when it’s good.

We waited. We hid. We isolated ourselves. We wore masks and we social distanced (at least 10 miles from anyone every chance we got). Then we got our vaccines, and so did most of the family. So, how about a spring drive to see the ones on the east coast to start our summer? We could take a month, drive slow, enjoy the sights. Easy. Simple. No rush, no fuss, no hassle…

What was that saying about the best laid plans?

We started off in Oregon, along the Columbia River Gorge. We stayed along side the river and watched the windsurfers, played games… and spent a small fortune saving the lives of both dogs. Rusty, and Frankie, being explorers like us, both managed to get into something that made them deathly ill. They each spent 2 days in the animal hospital on IV antibiotics and fluids, and were sent home with lots of fun drugs. 

*** We pause this blog to give a special shout out to everyone at The Columbia Veterinary Hospital for the amazing care and compassion they showed our fur-kids. There may have been tears of gratitude as we drove away with them.***

These windsurfers were amazing!
It looks like a ton of fun. And like I would probably break my body as I was drowning.
Some serious Jesus moves going on here.

After all that fun we thought, hey, the worst part is behind us, smooth sailing from here (Pro tip: Don’t ever assume it will be smooth sailing). Farewell Bend, the Oregon State park along the Oregon/Idaho state border was our next stop. This time, we simply took some pictures, played with our reinvigorated doggos and relaxed along the Snake River.

Farewell Bend, an Oregon State Park.
The Farewell Bend of the Snake River along the Oregon/Idaho border.

Next Stop: Milner Recreation Site in Idaho. Without discussion, we apparently decided to follow the Oregon Trail in reverse as we slowly tootled along the Snake River. Just a few feet away from where the greatest ol’ motorhome, Matilda, sat, were the very ruts carved by wagon after wagon during the westward expansion (and the sad land theft from indigenous peoples) of the United States. Being so close to hundreds of year old history that you can see and touch is quite a feeling. 

Wagon wheel ruts from along the Oregon Trail. Maybe the doggos had preemptively tried to die of dysentery. 
The Snake River in the Milner Recreation area near Burley, Idaho.
Frankie (Doodle Dandy), the Great Tree-bone hunter.
Rusty, making a sport out of watching Frankie work her ass off swimming for tree-bones.

Remember that pro-tip earlier? Well just enough time had passed that we felt like we were truly on the road again. Then we stopped somewhere and a squeal like the banshees of legends greeted our ears. Matilda began losing power and we were forced to pull off the road. We breathed in a sigh of relief at realizing it was just a thrown belt and we could get it fixed and back on the road ourselves (this part of the story doesn’t end here).

Our next mini-adventure found us under the bridge, like trolls. GPS said we should be somewhere else, but it was occupied. So we explored, and we found a hidden, off-grid gem. A gem that turned into an extra couple days stay because our dear Frankie had to return to the vet. The minor infection in her ears that we thought would clear up with the drugs from the previous trip had gotten worse, and was now a full-blown double ear infection. Fortunately they have vets in Utah. The Wasatch Hollow Animal Hospital took care of our little lady (Thank you so much!).

Think bridge trolls are cool? You should see him troll on the Internet.
Rusty meandering through his retirement age like a good boy.
She is always tracking down the tree-bones with ease.

Okay, is that enough headaches now? Should be good to go now, right? Right? We had plans for two stops, one in Wyoming, and one in Nebraska, before making the final jump to our family on the east coast. And yet, nothing went according to plan. 

Just before the town of Rawlins, Wyoming, Matilda broke down again. The banshees had returned and it sounded as if our very souls were in danger. It turned out that the previous belt failure was not due to an old belt, but rather a smog pump that had seized up. After 2 days on the side of the road as we tried to track down a part, we were able to make our way to the Dugway recreation site about 20 miles away. 

Memorial Weekend brought us a patriotic visitor, flying over the North Platte River in Wyoming.
A neighboring camper brought his half Bernese Mountain Dog, half really big bear to peacefully enjoy the river.
Where the antelope roam, indeed.

Think this part of the adventure is a simple buy a new part and replace the old one? Oh no, that would not make for a juicy story. Nope, we had to discover that the shop that had installed the previous pump had duct-taped the back of the pump together. Not only did they duct-tape the main air line to the pump, but they also skipped installing the check valve or even the right high pressure air lines. In all, we learned that we had previously paid an $800 bill for a shoddy installation of the wrong parts.

But wait, there’s more… 

We were forced to wait for 4 days to find out if we could even order the part, only to find out that it was available for 2 day delivery the whole time. At least we now had a nice quiet spot with a decent view. The only advantage to living our life when Murphy comes to visit. 

Dammit, Murphy.

Is there any good news to talk about for the last 2 months? Sure there is.

The wildlife that visited us was amazing. We spent the majority of the 2 months alongside a couple of rivers, and the seclusion was wonderful for both of us, our writing, and our dogs to run and play. 

Mourning Dove looking for it’s love.
American White Pelican
Beetley Buddy
Red-Tailed Hawk
American Bison
American Bison
Bald Eagle
Pronghorn Antelope. Dat booty, tho’

So now what? Well, we cross our fingers, leave offerings and say prayers under seventeen different religions and spiritualities, check the dogs’ temperatures, triple check every belt, fluid level, electrical connection, and then hold our breath as we turn the key and get moving on. The Traveling Writing desk will not be held back (at least not for long). 

The road awaits.

 

 

JUST HERE FOR THE DOGS
(A writer’s life update)
by M.D. Parker

Where the magic happens… now off to find a magician.

While there is plenty of travel-related stories and pictures coming soon, I thought I’d take the time to update people on the world of being a writer on the road, during a pandemic, who got in a fight with his muse, and who has been reevaluating the entire craft and his place in it.

First, let’s tackle the “big” project, THE GENESIS ECHO novel (cue ominous music):
I’ve been working on this saga for 4 years off and on. I’ve completed the book two times, and am currently trying to rewrite and massively overhaul the entire thing. I’m halfway through that. I’ve also managed a full novella, a short story, and now I’ve tried making my #BrickBuiltStories revolving around the same saga, which is of course part of my larger RorriM universe.

My other writings, political essays, and random flash fiction all have suffered and stumbled as badly as the main work in progress.

…and a spring just broke on the trampoline.

Sales of my anthologies and my novella are at or near zero for months.

I’m discouraged.
I’m burned out.
I’m exhausted from the dread of the real world, and desperately finding a way(s) I can make an actual difference for the better.

So, that’s where I’ve been at… it’s like a party… in a dumpster… that’s on fire. Yay! 

All good here. Nothing to see…

So, what does this mean going forward? Well, I’m about to disappoint 4 of you. THE GENESIS ECHO and the larger RorriM universe are going into hibernation. I’m going to lock them away in a mental closet. For how long? I have no idea. Maybe a month or two, maybe a year, maybe a decade. I need to recharge, wrap myself in the joyous parts of the craft and create. I just need to create. I wish to bring imaginary people into existence and share them with you. I know, it sounds like I have a god complex, but my name does mean “next to god” or “godlike” after all. 

I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.

I have projects in my mind, notes and ideas jotted down. I have a bookmarked list of more than 50 websites or articles to start research on various horror inducing topics or science fiction explorations. Sometimes those things intermingle. I know I just started my new Brick Built Stories series, but I am going to change it into something more akin to travel and fun. Maybe some shots of Lego Me exploring the place where the real world and the plastic brick world meet.

A lot is happening. I hope you’ll stick around as we continue to write on the road, with our furry companions.

What? What’s that you say?

Oh – you were just here for the dogs – Yeah, us too. 

Rusty enjoying a wee bit of snow before going back inside to lay in front of the heater.
“Found a stick on the ground and now I’m gonna use it. All this power that I found, gonna totally abuse it! Gonna hit so much stuff–do not get into my way cuz I found a stick and I’m using it today!” – Frankie

And don’t forget the food!

This is what my wife sticks around for too.

 

The  Long  Blink
by
M.D.  Parker

 

The cloud reminded him of twirled cotton candy at the fair. It even had a straight tail to make the stick that would become coated in the sugary goo of a young child’s fingers. He inhaled deep and instantly he felt the sharp edge of pain. 

Blood had dried and soaked through again on Joel’s shirt. It had been a light tan color. He had snagged it from his closet without thinking about where he got it. The logo of his favorite show was faded. He had nearly forgotten she had gotten it for him; once, long ago. Maybe if he hadn’t been the way he was, she’d be sitting here with him now. Maybe if she hadn’t been the way she was, she would have wanted to say goodbye. 

He looked up in time to see the cotton candy cloud turn itself into something that resembled a mangled car. He felt the cool damp on his right hand. 

“Guess we should be honest in times like this ‘eh girl?” She licked his hand and looked up at him. “Yeah, we should. I was as bad for her as she was for me. Don’t matter though. I mean, well, not anymore, I guess… right?”

Her blue-gray eyes stared at him and he wondered if she was asking him for clarification, or giving him the eye of approval. Seven years. It would have been eight in less than two months. His longest relationship outside of his parents, he mused. Joel lifted his hand and stroked the line of white that broke the gray and black patches of fur along her back. He had always thought it looked like those Olympic ski jumps when she reached out her front paws stretched her back. 

Joel looked down at the mess that was his left side. 24-36 hours they say. No watch, no phone, nothing but a necklace around his neck, his pants, shirt, and Laskie with her leash. The sun was getting lower. It had been just before midday when the things got to him. 24-36 hours when it is passed on by bite or scratch. 

He felt tears welling up again and hugged Laskie closer, she made a cooing sound and rolled herself over demanding that Joel rub her belly instead. He complied and the tears held their place inside the well without overflowing. 

‘Laskie’ – what a silly name in hindsight. He had thought he was so clever when he came up with it (Lassie-as-a-husky), and she had lived up to the name; She followed him everywhere. Joel found himself only going to this bar-n-grill down the road from his apartment. They had this nice covered outdoor section that was dog friendly. Also in hindsight it was one of the reasons he annoyed her so much that she left. He never ventured into new places, and Laskie got more of his attention and care than she had. 

“Can’t change that now can I?”

Laskie responded with a soft yowling sound he’d come to associate with approval. Laskie’s approval was important. 

24-36 hours they say. When the blood becomes infected through a cut or bite, it takes a little longer. More direct transfer of infection is quicker. If their blood gets in your mouth or eyes; less than 12 hours that way. Happened a lot during the first couple of days. People thought the movies were finally coming true. Zombies they said. Except they weren’t, were they?

A distant explosion, loud enough to break his trailing thoughts, but far enough away to not be felt rattling the ground beneath him, echoed around. Every muscle in Laskie’s body tensed.

“Betcha that was the gas station.”

Laskie looked at him. Eye to eye he saw her twitch and her eyes turn away as they darted around.

“It’s okay girl. Doesn’t mean anything to us right now.” He rubbed her head and the muscles slowly eased up. she vocalized her concern followed by an approval of Joel’s method of calming her. She nuzzled his hand when he stopped. He wondered how blood shot his eyes were getting. 

“We should get somewhere.” He looked around, wondering what was next. The sun touched the western horizon. Seven or eight hours, he thought, still got time. 

He stood, the ache grew heavy and his head light. 

“Not far, girl, we should… jus…”

He swore his lips still moved but the sound stopped. His knees filled with jelly and lowered the rest of his body back to the earthen floor beneath him. Sound returned as his breath grew louder in his ears. Each inhale stabbed at his lowest rib a little more than the breath before. The pain rolled out in waves blanketing him as he exhaled. She licked his face. 

Tears had slipped from their ducts and Laskie was removing them, as gently as she could. Using the grass as leverage, Joel pulled himself back against the tree, and she curled around his right arm and leaned into him. His eyelids slammed shut not even allowing for a single bounce in his nodding off. Laskie, laid across his knees, drifted in and out as the sun surrendered to the moon. Her eyes snapping open with each sound or scent that was not his or the tree and grass they laid upon. 

Joel dreamed. His mind taking a surreal journey and twisting every moment into one where he found himself dying over and over again. Laskie whimpered each time he mumbled or cried out. She never moved, he didn’t wake.

The first ray of sun came through the trees to the left and Joel’s eyelids began a slow march that matched the pace of the sun as it cleared the hills in the east. His thoughts a fog of presents turned into explosions and dinners that turned bloody. 

“Still light out. I must’ve-” the fog parted as a certain synapses found a path through, letting him know the sun was on the opposite side from where it used to be. 

“Fuck!”

Laskie jumped up. A single bark and the line of white down her back became rigid as she landed in a sitting position watching Joel. He ran it through. 

“Ah, Jesus. Oh, fuck… fuck. That’s what another, maybe, like nine hours?” He looked at Laskie, her head unwavering as her eyes followed every moment of his mouth. 

“So, um… let’s see – eight hours. Right, we’ll say a full eight hours before, and nine more now. SHIT!” He slowly lifted the tattered shirt. The blood was no longer free flowing but the wound was open. The edges were swollen and red with yellow puss the consistency of gravy. Deep, dark lines radiated outward from the wound stretching across his entire torso like a road map of the Los Angeles freeway. The hole itself, the torn bite, was blackish red and reminded him of the time he found a rotten London Broil in his fridge after returning from a camping trip. He was rotting. The flesh in and around the wound was dying, or was it already dead he wondered?

No.

Not dead. They all said zombies, but they weren’t, he knew that. No one was actually rising from the dead; they were just going brain dead from the infection. Brain sections shut off like switches. Joel didn’t understand it all, but he knew enough. Seventeen hours or so in.

“By tonight, I … Ah, fuck, I don’t wanna go, girl…” he stroked her head as the tears chased each other down his cheeks. Cries turned to silent sobs and he no longer cared about the pain his left side used to conquer the rest of his body. 

His vision began to change; a pinkish-red tint colored one half the world. The left side, always the left. They couldn’t explain it and he had no ability to understand their phony excuses. The blood vessels in the left eye were bursting, coating his eye in red as the tiny vessels leaked their content across the wet optical globe. Soon it would bulge and then would go dark, but only on the left side. This was it, he thought, the final hours have come. 

“I don’t wanna… Oh God, I don’t want this to happen.”

She licked his hand before her head spun. Laskie’s legs went taut as she leaned into the barely audible growl. 

“Hello?”

A voice called from somewhere behind him. Joel tried to turn his head, but the sound was coming from his left, back where they had already been. Laskie stepped between him and the sound. 

“Easy boy… I’m not gonna hurt ya.”

“She. She’s a girl,” Joel said with a cough.

The owner of the voice stepped into view. A large man with a face as round as his belly. His black hair disheveled, and a patchy stubble that covered his face betrayed any argument he may have given to being able to grow a full, even beard. 

“I’m Enrique.” he started to hold out his hand and step forward but snapped it back as his eyes grew to saucers and expanded his round face. “Oh shit man. Did they get you? You okay?” 

Joel didn’t move as Enrique jumped back. A haze was creeping into the space between his ears. Not like this, he thought, please go away before it…

“… is too late.” He didn’t even realize the last words of his thought had been spoken aloud.

“Shit man, they got you? You’ve been bit?” Enrique asked as he pointed to the drying blood mess of a shirt covering Joel.

Laskie stood firm but the growl had ceased. Her eyes did not leave Enrique and she held position between the two men. Joel nodded, or at least hoped he nodded. He tried to move his arm, but nothing seemed to happen.

“How long ago?” Enrique asked his right hand held by his side as he took one more subtle step backward. 

“Not sure, not… much time… left.” Joel felt his breath getting shallow. 

“Your dog?”

“Yeah. Her name… is Laskie.”

Laskie’s head turned to Joel, and back to Enrique.

Enrique held out his palm, “It’s okay girl.”

Laskie turned again to look at Joel. He nodded, this time he could feel the muscles in his neck work. He tried to speak, to tell her it was okay, but no sound came from him. She gave a long blink, a look Joel knew from every time he told her to do something. She would give him the blink and then turned to do whatever had been requested. She swung her head around and stepped forward sniffing at Enrique’s splayed fingers. She leaned into him as he moved to stroke her head. She licked his hand and he smiled, accentuating the uneven stubble across his cheeks.

Laskie turned away and stepped back to Joel, laying beside him as he spoke again, “She says… you’re okay.”

“She’s a good girl, I see, guess I’ll take that. Better than what some people think o’ me anyways.”

The two men half-chuckled. Joel broke into a serious of coughs. The ribs stabbed sharp with pain. Tears leaked from his eyes again, and he was sure that he would die from the pain alone.

“If only,” he said, again not realizing he’d given voice to a thought.

“What’s that?”

Realizing he had spoken, Joel tried ‒ and failed ‒ for a deep breath. He looked the man in front of him over with his one remaining eye. He was younger, by a few years. A backpack was slung over his shoulders and a large knife was at his side, flopping from a belt that held his baggy chinos up. His shoes, which under normal circumstances cost nearly as much as Joel’s car, looked brand new; barely touched by the dirt of the world in which they walked. 

“Hey man, I, I… I don’t wanna be cruel man, but I ain’t gonna stay here. You’re

 sick and, well, ya know what I mean?”

“Yeah… I know,” Joel said. 

Enrique shifted the pack on his shoulders and offered his hand out to Joel. Laskie leaned in faster and licked his hand.

“Wait. Please… can you… do 

something? For me?” his eyes fixated on the knife at the man’s side.

“Oh shit, are you askin’… I um…”

“Yeah.” Joel could see he was no longer looking at him. His eyes cast downward towards Joel’s feet.

A long silence hung in the air. Laskie stood again and faced Joel. Enrique stepped in and knelt before him.

“What’s your name, bro?”

“Joel.”

“Joel, I… I am very sorry for what happened to ya. Shit man, ain’t no one deserve this shit.”

Joel coughed as he tried to nod. The half the world that was not tinted red swam in a darkening haze. Laskie licked his face. He lifted his hands to her head, rubbing her face. She licked as she whimpered.

“You… be a good… girl, okay?”

Laskie’s eyes blinked slowly.

“Now?”

“Now,” Joel said as his eyes half closed. His eyes were too dry for tears to flow. He had not seen Enrique slip the knife out and into his hand, but he felt the point as he reached him. His eyes closed and his hands wrapped around Enrique’s. Laskie began licking furiously as the larger man leaned into the blade. Both sets of hands guided the shimmering steel into his chest. Aiming for Joel’s heart, Enrique closed his eyes and turned his head. 

Joel’s last gasp was lost in the sound of the long howl Laskie released. Her head leaned back to the sky, and the ski-slope stripe down her arched back shivered as the blade’s hilt stopped when it made contact with the skin. 

Time changed as they sat unmoving. When Laskie’s howl came to an end, Enrique, with one hand still on the blade reached up and stroked the face before him. He closed Joel’s eyes the remainder of the way. 

Laskie licked Joel’s face clean. When she dropped to her haunches before him, the stains of tears and dirt had all been removed. She threw back her head again and released one more low, mournful howl. Enrique, with knife still in hand, stood. He felt the tears run down his face.

“Shit, man I’m so sorry… I hope you rest easy, bro.”

He stared at the lifeless body before him. He scrunched up his face and took a deep breath. He hadn’t noticed Laskie move until she started licking his empty hand. He looked down at her and rubbed her head. 

“I’m sorry girl. Laskie? Right?”

She sat down beside Enrique’s leg, looking at Joel. He pulled out a rag and a water bottle. He washed his hand and wiped his knife as clean as he could. After examining his hand ‒ no cuts or scrapes ‒  he slid his knife back in its sheath and looked down at the dog with the white stripe breaking up the even blotches of gray and black beside him.

He turned and began walking away. Turning his head back to the man under the tree, he looked at Laskie sitting there, watching him.

“Well, ya comin’ or what?”

She climbed in Joel’s lap bringing her face up to his. Her wet nose touched his. She stepped gingerly off his lap and turned towards Enrique. Her eyes closed and opened in a long blink.


Follow M.D. Parker on Twitter @MDParkerwrites      

 

 

In September of 2016 we began an adventure. We documented our journey for our faithful reader (maybe two) on this website. For reasons, we had to move the website, and being the amateur web designer that I am…we lost everything down into a dark void of WTF do we do now? 

What we do now, we decided, is to follow the teachings of a great Sicilian philosopher…go back to the beginning. 

…and then I procrastinated.

 

Alright, alright! Welcome back to Write on the Road!