[a recap of the first bit]
I remember a time when I was very young, riding in a car with green, leathery seats that got very hot when the sun shone on them in the summer. 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 I suppose, or maybe my child’s perception was skewed.
At any rate, there were several undisputed facts; 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 mother was driving us 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. 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. (We lived a long way from town and when it was only you and a younger sister for a playmate and no one else for five miles, you learned to entertain yourself.)
So, with the sun beating down and my boredom rising, if I saw a goblin shambling along the bottom of a ravine with an old and rusted sword across his back like the yoke of a wagon, I didn’t bother mentioning it to my mother. Even at that age, I assumed I’d imagined it.
I believed that for the next 28 years.
~ The Call ~
My cell phone rang, the screen showing Out of Area instead of a number. I answered with an abrupt “this is Sean”, which usually clears up wrong-numbers in a hurry.
“Hey bud, how’re you doing?” My mother was only person in the world that called me ‘bud’, among other things, a lukewarm leftover from my pre-teen years that she tended to drag out when she was feeling down.
“Hey, I’m good. What’s up? Something wrong?”
“Oh, you know…” Her voice wavered a little bit almost immediately and I knew it was going to be bad. “It’s been a little crazy here for the last couple of 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 glanced around me to see if I was standing in the shadow of a building. “I lost you on that for a second. You can’t seem to track down Dad’s what?”
“No, we can’t find him.” I could hear her set something metal down on something solid. She was wandering around her kitchen, fiddling with things. “It’s been two days.”
My frown had deepened. “You… 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 while I was saying it.
“No, of course not.” She, the happily-married, 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 the next morning he wasn’t in the house. I thought he’d gotten up and gone out to get some work done before it got hot.” Before the sun came up, more likely, I thought. “But he wasn’t out in the machine shed.” Her voice started to crack around the edges. “I know it’s a long ways, but can you come home? Everything’s just so strange.”
I couldn’t seem to hear her clearly; my ears were ringing and everything around me seemed have had the color washed out of it. So strange? What does that mean, Mom? I shook my head and tried to think. It remained quiet on the other end of the line.
“I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I made sure not to hesitate in my reply.
“Where should we pick you up?”
“I’m driving out.”
“Oh honey, you can’t.”
“It’s the only way I can.”
“But it’s such a long ways.”
“Yeah,” I said, “it is.” I checked my watch “I’ll call later. Be careful.” I finished, and ended the conversation wondering why I’d said it.
Several hours later, filling a single suitcase and leaving messages with various people about an unspecified family emergency, I still didn’t know.
[a recap of the first bit]