Prologue

So if you’re a writer, tell me a story, he said.

I’m afraid I can’t.

Can’t you? Did you run out of stories?

Run out? They’re backed up in my head like subway riders at rush hour turnstiles. They come and go like the flashes of light in the tunnels. They give me sidelong, seductive glances and then are gone at the next stop, or the one after, without looking back. Dozens, dare I say hundreds, every day.

So tell me one.

That’s just it. I want to tell you all of them. What would just one mean? How can I pick? Would it be the right one?

The right one?

The one you need to hear.

The boy laughed, a bright chattering bell above the trundle of the subway train. What if I want to hear all of them?

Well. How far are you going, my friend?

I’m going to the end of the line.

Unfortunately the next stop might be mine, or the one after.

Then you better get started.

Do you want one with a moral, or do you just want to be entertained?

How about one with a superhero?

Ah, a little of both. Alright then. Once there was a small boy with unruly blond hair and green eyes. A green that you don’t see very often — never, in fact. Aventurine.

His name was Sebastian.

One day his father accompanied him on a class trip. There they were on the 4 train, Sebastian, his father, his teacher, and the entire first grade class at St. Athanasius School. Across the aisle, leaning against the door reading, Sebastian saw a young man, perhaps a college student, scruffy and unkempt. Sebastian couldn’t take his eyes off this stranger, and why do you think?

His eyes were the same shade as Sebastian’s. Aventurine. The sort of green you never see. The sort of green Sebastian had been searching peoples’ eyes for since he first realized exactly how uncommon they were.

Are you finding this one interesting so far?

I don’t know yet. Just tell it.

It all started when the doors opened at 14th Street…

.

©2014 Jason Anderson

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A murder of crows

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Yesterday afternoon an unusual event, around here that is, as I cleaned house. A scattered bleating of crows turned quickly to a sustained chorus. Both cats lept to attention, riveted, ears cocked: general quarters. Their watch drew me to the window, and the sight of dozens of crows gathering on nearby trees. The cacophony was remarkable, and when I slid open the window, deafening. Frigid air and bacchanale washed inward against me.

For a time more and more joined the party, til the winter branches flourished with a black spring, and the mad-inspiring refrain grew louder still, becoming like an iron wedge driven into the brain. When the very last had alighted, everyone fell silent – a leaden silence, the sound of loss.

I went back to chores after a few moments and when I returned to the window later, the branches were bare. The murder had gone off without so much as a whisper.

The cats had returned to their bunks, hoping either for undisturbed rest or another interruption.

Frozen (Part 2)

(Part 1 can be found here.)

January 7

I had nothing to do with whatever happened to my father. Probably he just got drunk one time too many. It happened every day, as far back as I can remember. Worse after what happened to mom, but it happened before too. He was a life-long drunk, and that’s the best I can say about him.

January 9

I wonder if they find you frozen solid whether they thaw you out for the autopsy, or they just leave things well enough alone? They gotta do an autopsy. Nobody just freezes to death except drunks, but sometimes even drunks are already dead when they get frozen. So they gotta find out why it happened.

January 11

I’m still in Columbus, Ohio and God knows why. The trade show is long over and I can’t even tell my boss I’m still seeing prospects here with a straight face. It’s Columbus: it’s worth about two full days and that’s it. Unless you’re staying for “other reasons,” he said. “Personal reasons.” Pretty transparent code for ‘not getting paid.’

I went back last night to the club where I met Aaron. No idea why. I didn’t see him, but I saw something else that looked right up my alley. As we were about to leave (I’ll call him Matt because I’m not going to remember his name), there’s Aaron directly in our path. Out of nowhere. He and Matt were friends – I guess ‘were’ being the operative word. Aaron must have been fucked up because his eyes were too shiny in the flashing lights.

He said that I told him I loved him, and I said “I did?” and then “Oh yeah, I did.” And then I had to explain to him how when you do these things, sometimes you say things because they make everything more intense. It’s an experience you’re creating. Matt seemed to get it without any more explanation, but Aaron was beyond livid.

Aaron doesn’t ever say things he doesn’t mean, I guess, or just doesn’t appreciate it when others do it. He’s a real girl, that one. He cried and made a few threats, and vanished into the strobe lights and the silhouettes jerking around like puppets on the dance floor.

January 12

I know sometimes weather is only weather, but tonight it is snowing like it can’t snow this hard without a purpose behind it. Snow is quiet but it’s always the quiet ones, and if you were paying attention in the first place you could’ve told that the quiet one was the angriest. You should have known, and so it’s your own damn fault. That’s how it’s snowing tonight.

January 15

There’s no point in saying I wouldn’t do something again if I don’t know why I did it in the first place, is there? I just don’t know and it’s eating at me, but not in a sin and repent kind of way. I want to know what was going through my head that made me lash out like that.

What if a guy works his whole life to do things right and good and then something like that can come all of a sudden out of nowhere and ruin everything? That doesn’t make sense to me. Where’s the God in that? How can you build, and plan?

I got a call this morning from the FBI. Agent Lam, it was, asked me to come to their local office tomorrow to answer more questions. I asked if I was a suspect and Lam said I wasn’t, but because of my relationship with the victim I could be very helpful. So, another night in Columbus, Ohio. Maybe my last, we’ll see.

There’s nothing current on the internet about my father’s death. The shelf life of a story about a drunk or a junkie dying in a ditch is very short.

January 16

On the way out of the hotel this morning I swore I caught sight of Aaron’s shaggy brown hair around a side street. But I was only a quick glimpse and I haven’t ever seen him in daylight, so I was probably mistaken.

Memory shadows. A sign that I gotta get out of this shithole. The walls close in a lot quicker in small towns. I’m going to L.A. next. I could live for months in L.A.

The FBI interview wasn’t anything to write home about. I guess that’s funny in a way, since there’s no one left at home to read it. Except my brother Jim, but he’s probably already gone back to Atlanta. He knew better than to email me again.

Agent Lam asked the same questions the sheriff did, stuff relating to my father. Then about the dates of my trip here, which he already knew but I guess he was just trying to trip me up. He asked why I was still here in Columbus and I told him what I already told you, I had no idea. Then he told me that some nineteen-year-old guy named Jared Wilson was found dead, overdosed by the river and frozen solid. I said I never heard the name, but when Lam showed me his picture I recognized him immediately.

I knew his name wasn’t really Matt, I told you that. Lam didn’t exactly show me his yearbook photo – it was the “after” photo instead, and I’m surprised I still recognized him. Somehow under all the ugliness of what overdosing and dying and being frozen does to you, he was still beautiful. He was an angel. I recognized him.

Lam said someone saw me leave with Matt/Jared the night before he died. I told him the whole sordid story, and I also knew exactly who fingered me.

I told Lam that Jared was good friends with a guy named Aaron Jacobs who was a waiter at Athena next to the convention center. That Aaron was upset that night because Jared left with me. And I left it at that.

Someone’s knocking on the door as I’m writing this – how’s that for drama. Well, if this is as far as I get and I don’t write any more, I’m sure you can figure out the ending for yourself!

©2012 Jason Anderson

Frozen (Part 1)

January 1

I’ve been on the go most of my life. I love the open road – it clears my head and soul. They say life on the road is lonely, but I don’t find it so at all. I meet more people in a day on the road than most folks meet in a month.

I get to a new city and I feel like it’s only the beginning. A clean slate. I love being in a place and knowing I wasn’t born there and I’m not going to die there. I’m just passing through.

I arrived in Columbus, Ohio, today, fresh from a rare layover in my least favorite place: home. That’s Rochester, New York. But Columbus is a great city. Everything’s just so and very clean, and the people are friendly — at least to your face, and when you’re passing through that’s all you need.

I’m not saying they’re not friendly down deep – I just don’t know. I’ll be staying in Columbus, Ohio for a few more days. Maybe then I’ll know.

I’m a salesman for a major aircraft parts manufacturer. No, life on the road isn’t lonely, far from it. My job lets me fly first class and stay in the best hotels everywhere, and I always know where to find company, if you know what I mean.

I’m not kidding when I say it’s the life I always dreamed of.

The only problem with Columbus, Ohio is the temperature. A body could freeze out there in a few minutes flat! But that’s no different from Rochester.


January 2

I never know who I’m going to meet next on the road. For example. Today I met a sheriff and three deputies. They met me at our booth on the show floor and wanted to show me a photograph. The sheriff asked me if I knew them man in it. I immediately said yes – he was a cousin of mine. My father’s cousin.

I answered few other questions, where was the last time I’d seen him, when was that, how close was our relationship – until it hit me and I said, “is this a murder investigation?” “Not yet,” was all one of the deputies said. He was really cocky and looked at me as if he already had the handcuffs on me.

Then the interview was over – they didn’t even tell me what they knew.

(Later)

I don’t know what it is about a young body. Some people are so captivating that you don’t just want them, you want to be them. I’m not good enough with words to do it all justice.

Aaron I think was his name. Or Eric? I met him at a club and by 12:30 he was finally drunk enough to care about the names I dropped – people I’d met over twenty years of selling to the government and private aircraft owners. Meaning rich people.

So it started like any other night, but back at my hotel room I found he was something special. Flawless skin, creamy and smooth except when covered in goosebumps. Soft brown shaggy hair. Ropes of muscles from top to bottom, long sinewy muscles.

Perfect, honestly perfect. And the heat, the heat radiating from a body, carried on each breath – there’s nothing in the world like the heat from another human being.

This kid also knew how to make you think he gave a shit even when he didn’t. When he kissed it was like he was reaching for the back of your soul. And he was even sort of classy. Well, I said I knew how to find company.

I looked on the computer after Aaron or Eric was gone and found an article on the man the sheriff asked me about. His body was found frozen in a ditch near his home in Rochester. I laughed before I could catch myself. I already knew what happened. Another drunk frozen dead in a ditch. It’s not exactly original.

I’m surprised at how quickly the police tracked me down. I guess today everything is interconnected and they can get information from all over the country at their fingertips.

Ten years ago when my mother was killed their leads stopped dead in the suburbs of Rochester. I wonder if the police are less motivated when they know nobody else is overly interested in finding out what happened? They also didn’t have any real suspects. Back then I don’t remember the term “person of interest.” Hell, I bet we were all pretty interesting back then, the whole damn family.


January 4

His name was Aaron. No, I didn’t suddenly remember it. I found out when I read it on his name tag as he took my order at a swanky restaurant next to the convention hall.

He’d given me his real name – who does that? He actually tried to talk to me, right there at the table. I would think he’d know better. He knows better now.  I created a little bit of a scene but the guys with me were co-workers and not prospects. I don’t think poor Aaron knew what to do, he just scurried away like a rat off a sinking ship.

But then he came back a few minutes later. He continued to serve us politely and courteously, I’ll give him that, and for that my co-worker decided Aaron deserved a forty-percent tip. Kid knows how to tug at the heart strings as well as any salesman.


January 6

I have to be honest with you now. The man in the photograph was my father, not some relative of his. And now I lied to the police and said he was a distant cousin, and that’s easy enough to check and they’ll be back. Why sometimes I make things more difficult than they had to be. I just didn’t want to say it. It’s a long story – well, if you’ve seen more than a few movies, or one single movie on Lifetime, you already know the story. Can we leave it at that? I just didn’t have it in me to say it.

I got an email from my brother Jim about funeral plans. On my personal email, which I tell everyone I never check even though I really do. But I don’t feel the need to reply to Jim since I never check my personal email.

©2012 Jason Anderson

Prodigy

“Prodigy” by Jason Anderson

The man looked up from his funny-looking guitar with pursed lips. “Lately it does this below 23rd Street. I can’t figure it out.”

The subway car was empty save for Jon, the musician and an old lady at the other end, asleep, wearing a plastic rain hood with pastel daisies that looked like the kind that stop feet from slipping on shower-bottoms.

“What’s the next stop?”

“Oh we get there,” the man said. “No worries. It just takes a while.”

Jon turned and looked past the pale young face in the window into the blackness beyond. “But this is the express.”

A hard laugh. “There ain’t no express, kid. We go where we go.” He adjusted his battered Australian cowboy hat, briefly revealing a greasy pile of black hair.

Jon looked at the man through squinted eyes. “The announcer said this was the express.”

The man with the funny guitar cocked his head, a strange expression on his face. “The announcer knows what he’s supposed to know. Doesn’t mean he knows.” The man returned his attention to the guitar and strummed a few rusty chords, grimacing. “Where do you think we are?”

Jon considered. It had been a long time since 23rd Street. A lot of blackness had passed. “We must be in Brooklyn by now.”

The man didn’t look up. “That look like Brooklyn to you?”

Jon looked over his shoulder out the window and exhaled wistfully. More blackness. “No.”

“Where do you go?”

“What?”

The man finally looked up again, his black eyes catching the fluorescent light under the brim of his hat. “To school.”

Jon stiffened, and could tell from the man’s expression he caught it.

“Yeah, I forget the times we live in. Forget it.” The man returned to his guitar but looked up again when Jon spoke.

“Do you go to school?” Jon asked. Conversation might pass the time.

“Me?” The man laughed. “Look at me, do you think I go to school.”

The man was older but not old. It was hard for Jon to tell. Without the short scruffy beard he could be forty. Without the ruddy, leathery skin he could be thirty. From his eyes alone he could even be Jon’s age.

“It’s possible.”

“Of course it’s possible. But I don’t. Haven’t since I was your age.”

“You’re supposed to tell me it was the biggest mistake of your life.”

“I’m not your dad. What do I care? Drop out. Ride the Q train for a living. You can do better, but you could do worse.”

In the long pause there was no clacking or screeching of wheels on tracks, no bending or rocking of the car. It was if someone had set the Q train on a skating rink surrounded by blackness and given it a gentle, perpetual shove into night.

“I play the violin,” Jon said, not really sure why. He bent to pat the black case beneath the plastic seat, between his legs. The man’s eyebrows arched. “I’m pretty good.” The confidence in his own voice surprised him. “What kind of guitar is that?”

The man, smiling, held up the strange guitar, whose small round body reminded Jon of a snare drum. The strings ran straight as railroad tracks across it. “You never seen a banjo before?”

Jon shook his head. “I’ve read about them, but I never saw one before.”

“I guess they don’t have these in a symphony orchestra. How fast can you play, kid?”

Jon’s face was illuminated by a devilish smile. He laid the case across his knees and undid the latches.

©2012 Jason Anderson

The Cobs (A Very Small Story) by Jason Anderson

By Jason Anderson

His father always reminded him wherever he saw a cob’s web he was safe. Cobs could sense monsters and Other Scary Things, and they never, ever made their webs in harm’s way.

He wondered how cobs knew. He didn’t know much about them, anything else, really. He’d never actually seen one. But their webs were proof they existed and as bellwethers they were always right, even in the darkest spaces that smelled of ghosts and burnt dust.

He stared at the bare scraped-paint walls of his empty closet. From two of the four high corners dusty veils hung like tapestries. There was no monster here. There was no sign of how one might have escaped to avoid detection, except through the door, and monsters don’t use doors. That was one of the few things he knew for sure.

His closet spent years stuffed to the gills with clothes, toys, games – a jumbled pile just perfect for hiding a monster of the kind he knew lived in there. Somewhere, somehow. It was another thing he knew for sure.

But where was the monster now?

A small, bright red plastic brick lay in the back corner among light blue paint chips, missed in the packing. He stepped gingerly through the doorway, crouched down with exaggerated care and took it in his short pudgy fingers. Far above his head, the cobwebs waved.

No sound. No sudden movements. No razor-sharp claws or needle-like teeth flowing with thick saliva. Nothing pierced his body.

He stood and tiptoed out of the closet. Silence. Maybe the monster had been an illusion all along. Maybe monsters only live in the night crevices between toys and games, and not in empty spaces in the light of day. The only thing he knew for sure was that it was not there.

He missed it.

©2012 Jason Anderson