[What follows is the first part of a short story I’m working on revising. The rest will follow over the next however-many-days-it-takes. I might put some editing notes in the posts’ comments. If you’re looking for such things, look for them there.]
I remember, when I was a kid, riding in a car with green, leathery seats that got very hot in the sun. The car was green as well, although a different shade, and it seems to the me of my memories that most of the cars back then were that color. It was a popular trend, or maybe my child perception was skewed.
At any rate, the car was green, the seats were green, it was summer, the sun was hot, and the seats were hotter. We had the windows open to let the air in and my mom was driving to town on an errand.
The road was a winding black hardtop that looked down into sharp ravines between the hills; drops that seemed (to me) to go down and down farther than anything in the whole world. Every drive, I would look down and out from the tiny back windows of the two-door and think about what it would be like to go sailing off the road and into the ravines, tumbling over and over and finally exploding at the bottom, like on TV. A little morbid, but we lived a long way from any other kids my age — I had to make my own fun.
So, with the sun beating down and my boredom rising, when I saw a goblin shambling along the bottom of a ravine with an old, rusted sword balanced across his shoulders like the yoke of a wagon, I didn’t bother mentioning it to my mom. Even at that age, I assumed I’d imagined it.
I believed that for the next 23 years.
~ The Call ~
My cell phone rang while I stood in line for lunch, the screen showing OUT OF AREA instead of a number. I thumbed it open to stop it from ringing and muttered a terse “This is Sean” into the mouthpiece, which usually clears up wrong numbers in a —
“Hey bud, how’re you doing?” My mom was only person in the world that called me ‘bud’, a lukewarm leftover from my preteen years that she tended to drag back out when she was feeling down.
“Hey, I’m good. What’s up? Something wrong?”
“Oh, you know…” Her voice wavered a little bit. A bad sound. I stepped out of line and headed for the door. “Been a little crazy here the last couple days.”
“What’s going on?” I didn’t try to keep the frown out of my voice; it wouldn’t make her feel any better if I did.
“Well, we can’t seem to track down your dad.”
I stepped into the watery sunlight and pressed the phone against my ear to block the white noise from passing traffic. “I lost you for a second. You can’t track down Dad’s what?”
“No, we can’t find him.” I heard her set something metal down on something solid. She was wandering around her kitchen, fiddling with things. It was a Tuesday. She wasn’t at work. “It’s been two days.” She paused. “Or four, I guess. Three and a half.”
I scowled at the pavement. “I don’t understand what you’re telling me. Is he traveling?”
“No, he’s been home for a couple weeks.”
“Did… what happened? Did you get in a fight or something?” It sounded surreal even as I said it.
“No, of course not.” She, the properly-raised Midwestern wife, sounded vaguely insulted by the idea. “I went to bed a few nights ago and your dad stayed up watching TV. When I got up he wasn’t there. I thought he’d gone out to get some work done before it got hot.” I heard her move something else across the counter. “But he wasn’t.” Her voice crumbled, and she took a breath that sounded like a series of tiny gasps – the kind you hear little kids make between knee-scrape sobs.
She sniffed into the phone. “You still there?”
“What? Yeah.” I shook my head. “Quit… quit moving things while you’re on the phone — you can never find them later.”
“Okay.” Her voice was small and sounded further away than it should.
I let my eyes move from the sidewalk to the sky. “I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon.”
“Are you sure?” She sniffed again. “I know it’s a long ways.”
“Yes.” I made sure not to hesitate, but let my answer stand for both of her statements.
“Okay. Where should we pick you up?”
I started down the street, heading for the back parking lot. “You won’t, I’m driving out.”
“Oh honey, you can’t.”
“It’s the only way I can,” I replied, unable to keep the tightness out of my voice.
“It’s such a long ways.”
I checked my watch. “I need to get moving if I’m going to make this happen today. Okay?”
“Okay.” She’d given up arguing, which told me more about how bad it was.
“Call me if you find anything out. Be careful,” I finished, and ended the conversation wondering why I’d said it.
Several hours later, filling overnight bag and leaving messages with various people about an unspecified family emergency, I still didn’t know.