Dragonsnort: The Continuing Story of Brooke Nescott

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Brooke Nescott's disinterest in life is erased by a mysterious stranger.

Submitted: November 30, 2009

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Submitted: November 30, 2009



Dragonsnort: The Continuing Story of Brooke Nescott
by Devon Pitlor
I. A cigarette outside an airport
Brooke Nescott Albritton stood outside the small airline terminal in Aristock and watched the little jets take off for Philadelphia, their only destination. Her mother's remains were somewhere on one of the planes. Brooke looked into the sky and smoked a cigarette. She could not see the logos on the planes, but she knew that her mother's flight was due to take off within the hour. It would land in Philadelphia, and Brooke's mother's casket, already decorated, would be transferred on board a larger flight to Milwaukee. Brooke inhaled her cigarette and thought about her mother. They had always been friends, but when, at age 49, her mother had suddenly been stricken by a cerebral aneurism and had died suddenly, Brooke stopped feeling as if her mother were actually real. Because she wasn't, Brooke knew. Her mother was dead, and only an artificially preserved remnant of her was on the plane and headed for some family ceremony in Milwaukee. Brooke had no desire to attend nor to accompany her mother's body anywhere. As far as Brooke was concerned, her mother was still in Aristock, if only in memory, and perhaps in spirit as well. Attending a funeral full of weeping relatives was not something Brooke planned on doing. She had never been in Milwaukee in her life, and she had no plans to go there now.
A heavy mist obscured the departing aircraft, and Brooke, out of some kind of respect, decided to stand a little longer outside the airport and have another smoke. Then she would go home, and another misguided drama would occur with her husband Adrian. Brooke knew she had a specific role to play in this drama and was preparing herself theatrically. She would need to act first surprised, then sad, then consoling. She would need to assure Adrian that everything would be all right, which it probably would not be for Adrian, but things were, however, going to be more or less all right for Brooke. And that was the problem which would require some acting skills.
A lull in take-offs came, and Brooke finished her last cigarette, tossed the empty pack in a trashcan and planned for the hundredth time to quit. She knew that before seeing Adrian, she would have stopped at a convenience store and bought still another pack. In all her years of smoking, Brooke had never bought a carton, though that would have saved her much money. She purchased cigarettes pack by pack, every time with the intention of the new pack being the last pack, which it never was. 
Brooke wondered if she should have shown more respect for her mother and not smoked or maybe accompanied the body northwards, but she checked the thought. There was nothing one could do for the dead, and she barely knew her Milwaukee relatives, and didn't want to start weeping along with them now. Besides, she had a role to play.
II. The tears of Adrian Albritton
Brooke and Adrian had been married since 1998, and that made three years. It was now 2001, and a sense of recklessness seemed to hang over the country. The new president, a son of a previous president, had just that month come into office, and while Brooke did not particularly pay attention to American presidents, there was something about this one that provoked her immediate dislike. There was something that rang of jocular cowboyism in his very manner. He looked like he was itching for a war or some chance to order someone to shoot a gun on his behalf.
In the years since her marriage to Adrian, there had been prosperity, and Brooke had found a job somewhat suited to her degree in microbiology. She had become a licensed histotechnologist and sat all day in a lab slicing and dying samples of diseased or mortified human tissue, often announcing the imminent onset of tumors and other life-threatening ailments to those who would inform total strangers that they were soon going to die. It was a detached enough job, and Brooke, albeit having other plans for herself, did not seem to care, that is, as long as she didn't have to confront the unfortunate ones herself. And she didn't. All she dealt with were their tissue clippings, and those could have come from a Frankenstein monster for all she cared. 
On that windswept late January day, Brooke sensed that the prosperity of her early adulthood was rapidly coming to an end. Some vague, impending catastrophe leaked out the corners of this new president's smile. The world as Brooke had always known it was going to change, and the somber snow clouds which hung over the Aristock airport seemed to signify that a new and darker era had begun. 
 Her husband, Adrian, for his part, had been happy enough also---or at least in matters that concerned his better than average job as a junior partner in a law firm that dealt mostly with very dull insurance claims. He had successfully passed the Pennsylvania bar the year before and had no trouble in finding a position. But a black shadow---one that Brooke knew all about---hung over Adrian, and what Adrian would learn today would have a profound and perhaps devastating effect on him. Brooke knew what it would be and prepared herself. Leaving the airport, she mechanically pulled into a gas station and bought another pack of Camel Wides. She had one dangling in her mouth when she parked her Hyundai in the driveway of the split level house she and Adrian had recently purchased. Shit, she thought with some disgust, this isn't going to be easy.
And it wasn't. As Brooke had predicted, Adrian's eyes were full of tears. He sat in the main room gazing at a sheet of paper that he had brought home from the urology clinic, a clinic that he had failed to visit for three years. Although Brooke harbored a certain affection for her husband, his tears confirmed long before he spoke something that reassured Brooke about a defining incident that had occurred in her life in the spring of 1997, the year she had graduated from college. Adrian was crying, but Brooke had to conceal her quiet joy and attempt to cry along with him.
It was his fault, the childlessness. She knew it was. Justine and the two representatives from the unknown future had told her so. But she had hidden this information and gone to multiple examinations herself, only to find, as she knew, that her eggs were perfectly intact and that she was fertile as a March bunny. Adrian produced no sperm. It was a congenital condition, and nothing could be done about it. Adrian was blaming himself. He had come from a large family, and there had been no fertility problems for "generations" although it was doubtful that anyone in Adrian's family knew anything about any generations other than those who could walk and talk in the present.
Brooke dutifully played her role. But the new information more than validated the reality that Justine, an unwelcome time traveler, had revealed to her four years before: She would have no offspring with Adrian, and, furthermore, their marriage wasn't going to last much longer. By marrying Adrian, she had rescued a future era from the dictatorial servility which would have sprung from her distant descendants, the further offspring of another boy she liked, whose name she now often had trouble remembering, a boy who had since 1997 vanished into the general population of the Earth and was heard from no more. 
III. Brief intervention from author
The details of Brooke's encounter with representatives from the future is detailed in a story called Desperate Inquiry into the Love Life of Brooke Nescott, and if the reader desires more information on the rather astounding events of the year 1997 and Brooke's role therein, he or she is advised to read the story without further hesitation. If not, be assured that this current story---part of the continuing life of Brooke Nescott---can stand alone and that what is about to happen to Brooke will be more or less independent from the events of the above-mentioned episode. Let us just accept the fact that on that icy late January day in 2001, Brooke was secretly happy that she had "saved" a future world from catastrophe in her choice of husbands. Adrian's infertility was a blessing. But not for Adrian.
IV. Infertility
Infertility affects some people differently than it does others. After Brooke got beyond her "surprised" act, she segued into her "momentarily sad" act, which was followed by her actual attempt at being a consoling force to her abashed husband.
"We can always adopt," she suggested, lighting another Camel. 
Adrian waved away her smoke. He hated her smoking but tolerated it out of a true affection for his wife. But now, how could she smoke in such a painful moment? He kneaded his fists into his forehead and then pounded the sides of the sofa. Impotently, thought Brooke. There was nothing his breast beating could do to change things. 
Brooke sat down beside Adrian and wound her arm around his shoulder and stroked his ear. His shirt was wet from tears. He kept mumbling questions about "How could I be infertile?" and “It‘s not fair." Brooke got nowhere with this brand of consolation, so she jumped up and finished her cigarette in the kitchen while Adrian continued his prolonged lament. She was sympathetic but relieved. Her week-long drama of four years before had been real, and she did not regret her choice in the matter. She liked kids and she even liked Adrian a little, although the prognostic was that she would not remain married to him. She would have no trouble at all trying, however. Adrian, although infertile, was smart, successful, sexy and funny. Maybe she could beat the odds and stay married. Maybe she couldn't. The thought of adoption even inspired her, mainly because she knew absolutely nothing about it and felt that it was only a matter of going into some sort of baby emporium filled with unwanted children, choosing one and taking it home. Of course, adoption was never that easy, and Brooke for reasons that soon became very evident would never have to learn that.
Finishing her cigarette, she returned to the still sobbing Adrian. His lack of manly acceptance of the inevitable was starting to bore her. After all, her mother's corpse had just been whisked off by jet, and they both had jobs to go to tomorrow. Was Adrian going to cry all week? All month? All year? He needed to get over this self-pity soon. They had a steep mortgage to pay.
As ever, the bedroom seemed like the best answer, and it was ironically in the bedroom that Justine’s and her companions' prophecy was further corroborated. She took Adrian by the hand and led him off the sofa and toward their bed. She undressed quickly and made sure he did too, helping him with his belt and shirt. And then nothing. Adrian could no longer perform. His infertility had translated almost instantly into impotence, and it was an impotence that would last for the remaining eight months of their doomed marriage. It was the impotence that would, naturally, drive the expected wedge between the couple, who both being in their mid-twenties, were not about to survive domestically on quick kisses and handshakes. However, these did ensue for the next few months, until Adrian, frustrated beyond hope by his inability to perform, moved out and into his own room somewhere down in the college section of town. By September, they would be signing separation papers and dividing what few possessions they had managed to jointly acquire. 
With tenderness Brooke informed Adrian that "Everything was all right" and that she loved him and didn't care, but in reality she knew she did care and would care a lot more as the weeks rolled on. She stood beautifully naked in the neatly appointed bedroom and lit another cigarette. She wondered whether her mother's remains had made it to Milwaukee and who was blubbering up there at the very moment that Adrian was looking at his flaccid member and sobbing in their room. The adoption issue was never brought up again.
V. Mary Ann Nescott
Mary Ann Nescott had never quite recovered from the death of her husband Corbin, Brooke's father. Corbin was a professional soldier and had been one of the first to die in the assault of Kuwait in January of 1991 when Brooke was still fifteen years old. The entire invasion had cost very few lives, but it was in Corbin's military nature to be in the front of every fray, so his death by incendiary explosive was not particularly shocking. Over the years, Corbin had been often deployed to places where Mary Ann and Brooke did not follow, and it was for this reason that Brooke had never gotten to know her father very well. If she had smoked at the time, she probably would have smoked during his funeral. She had just adopted an attitude of not caring much, and her father's seemingly boundless patriotism did not penetrate her emotions. In fact, she had been passively against the war in Kuwait because, as usual, she had a boyfriend a few years older than her who was violently opposed to such outlandish military interventions. 
But Mary Ann had been much different. She had become reclusive and strange in the months following Corbin's death. She took up reading tarot cards and visiting Spiritualists and eventually became convinced that her late husband was not only a hero but a man of such bold character as to traverse the boundaries of the grave and return to her with some sort of solace or message. She placed blank sheets of paper in closed bottles, only to open them days later waiting for messages which never came. She acquired a little tabletop sandbox and spread clean sand in it, all in hopes that Corbin would grace her with a tracing. Her Spiritualist friends assured her that Corbin was constantly nearby and that sooner or later he would make his presence felt either through some physical manifestation or through a symbolic act which Mary Ann would immediately recognize as coming from Corbin. Nothing of the kind ever materialized, so Mary Ann became more withdrawn and morose as the years passed. For her own part, Brooke became more boy crazy and for a while drew most of her identity from the power she seemed to exert over the young men in her school. She took up smoking one day just before graduating from high school and lit up one of her first cigarettes in her mother's living room immediately under a framed and decorated military photo of her deceased father. As an adult now, she recalled how the smoke billowed up and even clouded the glass covering the photo. That would have been a good time for her father to have come back, she mused. He could have stopped me from becoming a nicotine addict. He never did.
After a time and after a certain amount of indoctrination from well-meaning Spiritualists, Brooke’s mother settled into an immutable state of bitterness against her deceased husband. She was convinced that Corbin had had other interests than her during his lifetime and, moreover, that he simply did not want to come back and give her the signal that all was well on the other side. Once she confessed to Brooke that what she really wanted was for Corbin to return in some form and confirm that he loved her. Mary Ann was always more or less starved for love, and she had always harbored suspicions about her husband and his activities in far away places.
A week before her sudden death, Mary Ann had been confined to her bed with a huge headache. Groaning from under an ice pack and no doubt experiencing some delirium, she told Brooke that “The son of a bitch just didn’t care. He could come back if he wanted. All the dead can, but your father doesn’t give a damn.” The whole idea repulsed Brooke, who really didn’t want to see her father or get some sort of cockeyed message from beyond the tomb. Brooke told her mother that it didn’t matter to her, and her mother said that it should matter. It was not the first time in her life that Brooke had been told that she should care about something that she had no feeling for. Guilt tripping ran in the Nescott family, and Brooke was lucky that she had always known how to sidestep it. But her mother kept on moaning and said something further: “If anything ever happens to me, I promise in view of all that’s holy that I will come back and let you know that all is well.” 
Brooke took a deep drag on her cigarette and shrugged her shoulders. A week later her mother was dead.
VI. Brooke’s indifference. 
By August of 2001, Adrian had only become a faint memory. Brooke had crossed his path a few times when she chanced to visit campus, but Adrian, still languishing in self-doubts, impotency and psychic pain, turned his head to the side and pretended not to notice her. Even though their divorce was not final, Brooke had once again been seeing a couple of guys. Both of them seemed fertile enough, and no voyagers from the future came to pester her about the results of possible descendants should she ever have wanted to become more serious with one of them. Life had become very routine for her. She remained in the house she had bought with Adrian and somehow managed to meet the huge monthly note, but she knew that soon she would have to put the house on the market. 
The men she’d been sleeping with were, at best, unremarkable. They only served to pass the time, and Brooke felt the passion of life draining from her every fiber more and more as the days wound on. She found herself being less and less curious about things like current events and things in the news. Of course, as the reader may have guessed, the major American current event of the decade was only weeks away. Brooke continued to avert her eyes from televisions when the “reptilian” president was in view and continued to feel as if the entire vitality and force of her country and society was rapidly being drained by nefarious dynamics that she could not identify. 
“I need to care,” she said to herself out loud into the mirror one day. “I need to feel something.” So far her mother’s promise to return with a beyond the grave message had not been fulfilled, and Brooke hoped it would not be. Several Milwaukee relations had sent her strong messages of protest about her absence at the funeral. She had answered none. People were always telling her she needed to care, and, in point of fact, she simply did not care about much of anything. But a voice within her suddenly piped up one day as she walked down a busy street in Aristock and said “Start caring!” Brooke’s response was to look all around herself for something to care about. By the most unusual of coincidences, she was standing directly in front of a funeral parlor when the need to care about something suddenly jolted her. She stopped on the pavement and lit a cigarette. A couple of men in dark suits immediately approached her. They were ushers at the front door of an ongoing funeral that was taking place at that very minute. One shoved a flyer in her hand, a sort of program.
“Justin Babcock,” it read, “taken by the Lord at age eight to serve as an angel.” This was followed by an adorable picture of little blonde Justin. There was no explanation of exactly how the Lord had chosen to take the child.
One of the ushers, assuming that Brooke was part of the family, urged her to finish her cigarette and get inside before the ceremony began. Brooke, her curiosity piqued, stubbed out her smoke and walked into the immense hall, her head appropriately bowed in respect for the dead Justin Babcock of whom she knew absolutely nothing. A line formed down the center aisle for viewing the diminutive body. Brooke joined it. To each side of her was weeping and nose-blowing. The line moved slowly as if a cashier were at the side of Justin's coffin ringing up purchases. Brooke, trying to find a reason to care for something---anything--trudged along slowly. An unseen organ droned out the solemn strains of Albinoni's adagio, a dirge that probably would have given Justin the creeps in life. Brooke reached the casket and looked inside. Sure enough, there he was. Blonde-locked Justin Babcock, dead by unknown causes and most assuredly now an angel by God's own side. He looked almost playful lying there, as if at any minute he would jump up and want to swing from one of the long drapes covering the parlor windows. Brooke kissed her fingers and touched the boy's cold, waxy forehead. She pretended to say a prayer and turned back toward a seat in the rear row. The minute she sat down, a black-garbed woman grabbed her hand and told her "It will be all right." Brooke nodded. It would be all right.
The organ droned on and the viewing line finally diminished to zero. Everyone was seated, and a heavy pall of misery hung over the attendees. Brooke noted that most of them seemed stooped and slouched forward. Of course, the death of a child so young was no occasion for joy, but this crowd seemed to be a bit too immersed in sorrow. At any moment, Brooke expected to hear the screams of wailing women break out. Instead, a black garbed minister of some unknown denomination came forth and delivered a series of blessings and prayers. He read from some book in the bible which Brooke, not being the slightest religious, could not identify. Then he called for testimonials, and a string of keening adults came forth singing the virtues of the dead Justin Babcock. A scoutmaster in full uniform complete with rows of dangling merit badges came up and said that Justin's boots were always the best polished at jamborees. A bent hag stumbled laboriously to the casket side only to say that Justin loved his oatmeal with "real" maple syrup. Her comment didn't seem to be worth the enormous effort she had put forth to reach the altar.
Suddenly, the ageless and veiled woman seated next to Brooke grasped her arm again and almost pulled her to her feet. "Go say something," she urged. "It will make you feel better."
For some strange reason, Brooke complied. She walked briskly up to the front and, standing before Justin's casket, said that he was always a "good boy" and that "he died too young." The moaning crowd assented. Then she sat down. On the way back to her seat, Brooke noticed a young man who seemed totally out of place in the proceedings. He had a shaved head, a nose ring, huge ear buckles, and tattoos all over his bare arms and on the visible part of his chest. He looked like some kind of Metallica throwback but somehow seemed more authentic than the rest of the somber audience. Brooke also noticed that he was watching her. At some point he caught her eye and made a cigarette gesture with two fingers. The signal said "Let's go smoke." It seemed like a good idea to Brooke, who arose and politely walked outside into the street. She knew the pierced man was following her.
VII. Dragonsnort
The largest tattoo on his arm read "Dragonsnort," and that was how he introduced himself. He lit an unfiltered cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into the humid August air. Organ music and weeping sounds still issued from within the mortuary, but Dragonsnort waved them off with his hand. "Bunch of phonies," he said. "Everyone--except you--probably knew that Justin's stepfather was jealous and unbalanced. Any one of them should have called DFCS months ago."
Brooke asked the inevitable question, and, yes, it was true. Justin had been strangled by his mother's second husband---and for no particular reason other than the stepfather was tired of her giving Justin so much attention that he felt was his. According to Dragonsnort, Justin’s mother, dead now herself, had simply taken the boy shopping too many times. The new husband didn't like that and killed them both. It had been on the news.
Dragonsnort explained the whole thing dispassionately and then lit another cigarette from the stub of the first. "Too bad about stuff like that, but it happens, and no one ever seems to be able to stop it. Just another dead kid. Cute yes, but dead. They will all go home and be glad it wasn't their kid. You don't know a damn thing about Justin, do you? So do you plan to attend the graveside ceremony and throw in some dirt, or would you like to walk somewhere with me and hear about your mother and father?" 
Brooke was briefly shocked that Dragonsnort knew she was just a stranger and a drop in. There was something real and animalesque about Dragonsnort. His eyes were yellow, but not a sickly yellow, more like those of a snake. His multiple tattoos seemed to be almost luminescent. He exuded a kind of sexual magnetism too, and Brooke, still recovering from Adrian's absence, found herself both curious about why he was there and who he was.
"I'm nobody," said Dragonsnort. "I'm just like you. I just dropped in, and for no particular reason. All I do is ride with the guys and play in the group."
Brooke took another long drag on her cigarette. "The guys? The group?" she asked, cocking an eye. "You seem to know a lot about Justin. And what about my parents? Are you from Aristock? Did you know them?"
"No and no to your last two questions," said Dragonsnort dismissively. "I kind of know them now. Though there isn't much to know. I may really disappoint you."
Brooke felt a sort of unspoken terror rise up in her chest, but she had endured strangeness before with Justine and her representatives from the future. She felt she was vaccinated for life against weird encounters. "The guys? The group?" she repeated.
"Motorcycle gang I guess you would say...and a band to boot. Death's Messengers. You probably have never heard of us. But we do play in some of the clubs, sometimes real early in the morning after all the other bands are done. Maybe you need to get out more. Maybe you need to come and see us."
The funeral was breaking up, and the guests were filing solemnly out of the mortuary and toward their cars. Justin would have a procession led by a bona fide hearse, something Brooke had not seen in years. 
"Maybe the burial will be interesting," she ventured. "I mean the lowering of Justin into the ground."
"The part where they throw his favorite toys into the hole is probably the best part," said Dragonsnort.
"Do they still do that?" asked Brooke.
Dragonsnort shrugged his shoulders. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. He didn't really know.
Brooke gazed at his strange wandering eyes and decided to play along. "How are my parents doing these days?" she asked.
"Not bad. They are hanging around. I suppose you have already guessed that. We wrote a song about it once. The dead who drift here and there and never go anywhere. It had some kind of rhyme like that." Dragonsnort lit another filterless cigarette and shoved the packet into his boot. "I'll tell you about your parents if you meet me in my favorite place..."
"Which is..." interrupted Brooke.
"At the far end of the lake on a private dock," said Dragonsnort. He handed her a little map drawn on the back of the funeral home's calling card. It was as if he'd been planning the meeting all along.
He told her to meet him at sunrise in one week from today, which was September first. "Just a quiet place to talk," he said. "Don't come if you don't want to. You can get there from the park on foot.” 
VIII. Saturday, September 1, 2001
Brooke Nescott awoke early to a pitch black pre-dawn morning in late summer where the temperature seemed to fluctuate between gusts of warm and stagnant periods of cool. Outside of her house, the trees seemed to capture a kind of sticky mist which distorted the lights of the town but illuminated nothing. Part of the world was already awake, and Brooke, unaccustomed to rising so early, became aware that pieces of the world never really slept. In the distance, she perceived the movement of unseen people, people who worked on Saturdays, people who were starting cars and going off to places that they probably hated to perform tasks that they no doubt despised. The sounds of gunning motors filtered down from the raised freeway bypass, and streetlights flickered in the early dawn. Savage truckers throttled their rigs in a rabid frenzy to meet delivery deadlines. Her promise was to meet Dragonsnort before sunrise at the far end of Baygrove Lake, part of which was city park. There was a dock, he said, although she had never noticed it. It was most likely there. Things that people said were there usually were. There was a boring and predictable regularity to what people told one. If Dragonsnort said there was a dock in the hidden cove at end of the lake, there probably was. 
The first city bus run of the morning would pass directly in front of Brooke's house, and, uncharacteristically, she decided to take the bus to the lake.  If she drove, she would arrive too early. It would still be black night, and Dragonsnort had been adamant about meeting just before sunrise, although Brooke had no idea why. Maybe it was just a ploy to make a mundane existence and an equally mundane meeting more exciting. If so, it was working. The thought of a sunrise meeting on a pier that she had never visited inspired her, and inspiration of any kind came very seldom to Brooke these days. The huge headlights of the bus pierced through the darkness. Brooke needlessly raised her hand to stop it. It would have stopped anyway. She was standing under a bus stop sign, one that she had scarcely noticed in the past.
The driver nodded to her. Saying "good morning" probably would have been too much. There were too many early morning passengers for him to do that. His good-mornings would probably start to melt and turn to mush in his mouth. A nod was much better. She paid the fare and took a front seat. About half the bus was filled with silent, sleepy people sporting blank stares and glazed eyes. They were going downtown for whatever reasons. How many stories, real stories, were behind those flat, lifeless eyes? Brooke paused to wonder, then turned around and stared straight ahead. It didn't pay to be too lively. This was not the time of day to be lively. This was the hour to be lumpy and miserable and sullen. Brooke was going to hear something about her dead parents, but these people were already dead and drained of all human vitality in their own special morning ways. Brooke needed to fit in and play this role. She assumed the ubiquitous hunched-back posture that most of the passengers seemed to favor. She became part of a pack, a herd. She had a secret and clandestine meeting that day, something that none of them knew or cared about. It was her mystery. She would guard it closely. The lowing herd was about to make a slow stampede. She was not going to be trampled.
As the bus passed through the end of her bleak subdivision, Brooke peered wonderingly into the barely lighted houses. Inside, people were preparing for another Saturday, perhaps a day of shopping or going to games where balls were thrown around, perhaps mechanical family visits where old times were endlessly rehashed or where unresolved domestic disputes still smoldered. Faint lights flickered in upper story bedrooms. The ceaseless flashing of televisions, no doubt many of which had been left on all night, punctuated the still and humid blackness of the nascent day. Beyond the residences, shops of all sorts waited like sleeping spiders to capture the nearby residents as they emerged. Within hours they would be illuminated and filled with endless loops of nasal music and the tinkling of raw coin in a legion of ringing registers. The retail traps would snatch their prey from the now dim streets and parking lots. Among the awakening eateries, the iconic promise of something vaguely Mexican, Italian or composed of processed potatoes glowed, signs announcing the special supersizing of meat on buns covered with an endless variety of stuff, each trying to outdo the other but each becoming nonetheless an endless repetition of the one before. A huge french fry with a happy face hung from one store front. This was the land where a french fry could become humanesque and beckon humans to enter and eat it. This was the land of hollow aspirations toward insipid flavors that never dared to aspire higher than what ketchup, mustard and slathers of mayonnaise could confect, a passing parade of uniform and conventional mediocrity, calculated to entice the same robotic souls each day as they passed through the hours of the workday and punctuated their lives with mouthfuls of timid sameness.
Through the reflected glow of the bus windows, Brooke saw an America she thought she knew, a place that deep within her she had always wanted to avoid but, being an integral part of it, she never could or would. She, too, was trapped in an endless loop of earning, buying and eating. She, too, had suppressed any hope for a more vital and meaningful tomorrow into whatever recesses of her mind such stupid aspirations were stored and forgotten. This was the plastic, anaemic and vacant America which ran from house to store to house again and eventually to grave, the world that Justin Babcock now would miss. The world that her mother's sudden illness had relieved her of enduring. The world her father would have no doubt claimed he fought and died for. Like slick vinyl paneling, it stretched on and on, street after lonely street, each soon to be populated with autonomic beings who had long ago beaten their more impulsive instincts into quiet submission and now languished in an enforced contentment that they could, unlike Brooke's parents or the emblematically sacrificed Justin Babcock, just go on and on each day until life extinguished them painlessly and without undue vengeance against the timidity of their lifeless souls.
Downtown arrived. More lights burned. The bus lurched to a halt. The driver grunted something to no one in particular. The herd to a one rose as a mass, a lump, and slouched out the door, each taking a separate path away from each other toward the caves of labor which would enclose them for the next few hours. Brooke remained alone on the bus. The driver looked at her suspiciously, but even his suspicion was languid and subdued. "All that's next is the park," he said. "It's dark. Do you want to go there?"
Of course, I want to go there, Brooke shouted in her mind.  A pierced moto-ganger who played in a late night band called Death's Messengers was waiting for her along with the sun on a pier, and he would tell her some nonsense about her dead parents---or maybe he would kill or rape her, but it was "something." Something as opposed to the nothing she had known all her life.
Brooke looked at the driver and smiled a yes. There was no need to speak. The gray and lumpen people of the night didn't speak, so why should she? Her smile was sufficient. It said "Take me to the park." The driver sighed, shook his head slightly and drove on into the caverns of the unfinished night. The park with its lake was not far beyond. A tiny volcano of hope began erupting in Brooke's chest. She was alone and venturing into a dark terra incognita, and that pleased her immensely, although she took every pain not to show it. 
IX. Dragonsnort
Brooke arrived at the long jetty on the far side of the lake by following a little footpath and crossing some undeveloped property. The first hints of daybreak were beginning to line the eastern horizon which was at the far end of the lake from the dock. Brooke hesitated at the start of the jetty and peered into the lifting darkness. A faint mist was rising from the still lake. Only tiny ripples brushed against the stay poles of the dock, and no one was visible anywhere on the structure. Perhaps she had arrived too early, but five minutes later, she knew, would have been too late. The August sun was not far under the gleaming horizon. And then she saw him. Dragonsnort. He stood at the very end of the long and angled pier. His silhouette seemed bold and more real than any of the shadows she had seen hunched and huddled that morning on the bus. His chest was broad and his arms were long. For a brief instant, Brooke believed that she could see the warm yellow of his darting eyes, something which had mysteriously attracted her upon the first meeting at Justin’s funeral. Dragonsnort did not move to meet her. Instead, he awaited her arrival at the far end of the pier. As she neared, he turned his entire body toward her and took both of her hands in his and lightly kissed her forehead. His kiss seemed to burn on her skin for a minute, and she tingled at the touch of his hands. As the light became brighter with sunrise, a glowing aura caused by the sun limned his figure. His many tattoos become brighter. Something was flipping over in Brooke’s stomach. What was this magnetism that he exerted on her? And who, other than a stray oddball, was he anyway?
Dragonsnort motioned his head toward the first crescent sliver of the rising sun, which had now turned orangish-red in the fading mist. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. Brooke, overcome, agreed that it was. She didn’t feel much like talking because she knew she would stammer or say something stupid or something to ruin the minute. She just stood there beside Dragonsnort and watched the sun do its daily thing, something she had missed for years. It may have all taken place in several minutes, but to Brooke it filled a highly charged eternity, and a pleasant one at that. The comatose world had become electrified with meaning, and she knew it was because of Dragonsnort. The sunrise alone would not have affected her so deeply. Finally, he released her hands and sat down with his legs dangling off the side of the pier. He beckoned for her to sit beside him. He stared into her eyes for a moment and pursed his lips. Brooke felt like she was going to burst. The man was a total mystery. If he had pushed her into the water as his next act, she would not have been surprised. As it was, he hung his head and started talking. His words had a certain distant and echoing ring to them, a vibrant tone which seemed to issue from a point long forgotten in her past.
“Bad news,” he said. “Your father, who is still around at times, has nothing to say to you. He said thanks for the locket and your picture, but that was it. He said that when he was alive, he never quite knew what to say to you, but he did love you just the same. Now that he’s just a remnant drifting about, he has nothing big to share or relate. He did not have much of a message for you.”
Brooke was only briefly shocked by the mention of a pendant locket with her grinning photo at age fourteen that she had once given her father to take into battle. Not even her mother knew that she had given it to him.But it figured that Dragonsnort knew something about it. Dragonsnort obviously knew the dead on a personal basis. 
“And your mother…” he continued. “Not much there either. She wanted you to quit smoking or something….”
The mention of smoking caused both Brooke and Dragonsnort to remember their cigarettes. The sun was fully risen now, so the magic of the moment was over, and cigarettes were in order. Both of them lit up and endeavored to blow smoke away from the other one’s face.
“Your mother said that she was sorry for paddling you for sucking on that rusty key you found in the street. You know why she said that?”
“No idea,” said Brooke, still wrapped within the aura of Dragonsnort.
“To let you know that I am for real. I think she was searching for something private that only you and she would know, and she came up with the key.”
“Figures,” said Brooke, still captivated with Dragonsnort’s eyes. “My father dug up the locket and my mother dragged out the key. Funny how he forgot the locket when he was sent off on his next mission. I found it on his dresser and ended up giving it to this boy at school. And, as for the key, well, that was no big deal. I was about eight at the time. Wonder why she couldn’t have thought of something better?”
Dragonsnort wound a muscular arm around her slim waist without explaining why he did it. He pulled her a little closer to his body. Brooke willingly snuggled against his hard torso. The bare skin of his arms felt electrified and enticingly vibrant.
“I know about the dead,” he said. “Don’t know why exactly. It comes with the music, I guess. Me and the guys started spotting them here and there, and after a while some of them gave us messages for the living, and I have yet to hear a really important message yet. Your parents didn’t have anything to say about….about anything. They are just dead. All I saw of them were the images they projected to me. Most of the time, the dead look like formless shadows, and they don’t have clothes. Clothes do not go on beyond the grave. Tell you something else too: They need to make themselves look older because what they really want to look like is young.” 
“Wouldn’t you?” said Brooke snuggling deeper.
“When I die, I’m going to look just like I do today,” said Dragonsnort.
“And no other dead soul will recognize you,” laughed Brooke. 
“Whole lot of nothing, I guess,” she continued. “What kind of a message should I have expected anyway? The winning lottery numbers? Nothing to say in life. Nothing to say in death. Very logical.” Brooke paused, searching Dragonsnort with her eyes. “Say, what brought you to Justin’s funeral? Do you just hang out where people die so you can get their messages? You figured the kid had something to say? Come to think of it, what did bring you to that funeral?” 
Brooke had only one answer that she wanted to hear, and she heard it.
“You,” said Dragonsnort. And then he kissed her on and under the lips. 
X. Conclusion: Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Brooke had taken the day off because later that afternoon she was showing her house to a potential buyer.
The morning, the sunrise, belonged as did that of every free day to Dragonsnort. 
They made love just at sunrise on the pier. Their timing was always perfect. At one point, Brooke said “It doesn’t matter who sees us unless it is some innocent kids, and they should be in school anyway.” Dragonsnort agreed it did not matter. “Are my parents watching?” asked Brooke as she got redressed.
“Are you kidding?” said Dragonsnort. “They don’t have any further interest in things they can’t do anymore. In the case of your parents, their main concern is avoiding one another, and I’m not sure exactly why.”
“I really don’t care,” said Brooke, now locked in Dragonsnort’s tight embrace. She liked it that he didn’t just jump up after sex the way so many other guys did in her past. She liked to prolong the warm feelings that surged in after intimacy. Dragonsnort was good at that.
They lay together watching the clouds cross the morning sun and smoking cigarettes. Finally some rowboats started bouncing on the lake. The morning was passing quick. In each of the rowboats there was an annoying commotion. Radios were playing and people were shouting from boat to boat at one another. Sirens began roaring in town, multiple sirens, and police cars began flashing their lights which Brooke and Dragonsnort could see from afar. The people in the rowboats were making so much noise and movement that a wake of waves struck the dock.
A wild-eyed man with a radio stuck to his ear paddled desperately up to the pier. He had a story to tell about something that had just happened, and the whole world needed to hear his story, especially Brooke and Dragonsnort, who looked as if they had no clue.
Jets…crashes…hijackings…buildings destroyed…the country “attacked.” The man blurted out the details and then blurted them out again. He screamed at some others in a rowboat and paddled off to recount his story of horror to them if they hadn’t already heard it.
Brooke rolled over languidly. She traced the lines of the words Death’s Messengers with her finger on Dragonsnort’s chest. Then she kissed the silver stud that pierced his navel. Then she kissed his ear. Then his cheek. Then his eyes, each one separately, again and again.
Then she sat up. The sirens, radios and police lights grew more intense. Brooke lit a cigarette, one she had taken from a pack in Dragonsnort’s boot. She put it into his mouth and then lit one of her own. 
I am with Dragonsnort, she thought. I am happier than I have ever been in my life. I am with Dragonsnort. 
She lay back down beside him and whispered in his ear: “All this commotion. The herd is restless. But I am with you. I am with Dragonsnort. So about all this other stuff…this invasion I really don’t care.”
And she really didn’t. That’s what made the moment so perfect.
Devon PitlorNovember, 2009

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