Salvation By Joseph D

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
One of my favorite short stories of mine. By short, I mean really short.

Submitted: September 11, 2012

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Submitted: September 11, 2012

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Moving through the trees, I realized how much the forest had changed since my last visit there. The trees themselves were different, taller, but slowly, painfully beginning to die. This I could tell from what they whispered in the breeze. Nothing saddened me more than this susurrus. The howling, wailing sound was similar to that of my sister, before another end.

I remembered everything from the moment before, to the moment after. It had been raining. As the rain fell outside, the drink fell into my mouth, liquid fire spreading down my esophagus, into my belly, into my blood. Somehow or another, I managed to find her, after she walked out on me, telling me I was no more than Dad ever was, a drunk, a deadbeat, a man without a family. I pulled over, and my wife opened the door. She was even worse off than I was, her attraction to Cocaine caused her more grief than I ever thought whiskey could cause me. My sister got into the car, and I raced her home.

I thought of this, and I fell to my knees. Nothing could stop the tears from coming, even now, years afterward. I sat back, pulling my knees into my chest, holding myself as I let the emotion flow. I pulled a handkerchief out of my pack, pressed it to my eyes, and tried to build a psychological dam to usurp emotion. I stayed there for fifteen minutes after the waterworks ceased, just listening to the death tones murmured in the forest, hearing the sound of silence, to strong in a forest this big. I thought there ought to be at least some animal moving, some twig being snapped, anything to let me know I was not alone, yet I knew that I was. Then I commenced my hike again, wishing to make the treeline by nightfall.

Night fell, and I hadn't made to much progress. I stopped in a clearing, with a creek running away from the peak, twisting sideways down the southern slope. This was on my left. On my right was a small field, just large enough for my simple camp. I stomped out some space in the grass, near the bank, but far enough away that I wouldn't fall in if it was another hard night for sleep.

I dreamt farther along the road I drove that fateful night. I remember how the headlights felt around the last turn towards my Mother's house. I ran the bright, ominous red light, towering from it's perch above the intersection. The black Cadillac Escalade never saw me, and I never saw it. I heard the crunch of plastic on plastic hit the rear passenger door of my Pontiac Grand Prix.

I woke up in a cold sweat. I clamored out of my tent to wash my face in the creek. I scooped that clear mountain water to my face, but all I could think about as I felt cold clarity slap my cheeks was rain, that horrid reminder of my past, the tormentor of all I knew. I stood up, my face was clean, but my conscious was still as guilty as it had been before. I glanced to my fire ring, and saw the fire had died. I knew, from experience, that after that dream, there would be no more sleep this night. I stoked the embers, and went through the process of creating fire, the enemy of water, the defeater of dreams. I stared into the fire, and watched the flames dance. The night was cold, so I wrapped my blanket around me, waiting, wishing for the glow of sunrise to break my revere.

Finally, after hours of watching the skyline, the sun sent it's messengers into the morning sky, signaling the stars to hide, calling forth the blue heavens. I ate a quick breakfast, then broke camp.

I shot out of the car, unscathed, but could not walk. I fell to the concrete, to drunk to get back up. I saw blue and red lights blaze into the black sky, igniting the raindrops, commingling beauty with fear. My eyes closed without my knowing, wondering if the world was still the same.

There were no paths anywhere in the forest, so all I had to guide me was memory. I knew why my journey was so important, but I also knew the pain it would cause. I stepped across a branch of the stream, then thought about water again, so I filled my canteen. I decided I had made good progress, so I stopped to soak my feet. My lunch consisted of fruits and berries, the perfect lunch to ease the soul. Any soul but mine.

I woke up in the county jail, for only the seventh time, but this time was different. I heard my Mother outside talking, telling the officer why she had to see me. I guess he understood, but suggested she wait another day or two, to let my drunken brain really get the message. I slept those two days, with fear unbearable weighing me down. What was so important? What was this inner feeling of wrong? I had so many questions that I could not answer. Answers that came didn't make sense, my Mother had never visited me before in this place. I could not place my fears.

The sun hit it's pinnacle, and began the long trek towards the western horizon. I knew I had to hurry, because I had to be back within a week, and I wanted to stay at least two days on top of the mountain. I could only see the next trees in front of me, the forest far to big to see. I continued on my path, reaching the treeline about an hour before dusk. I made camp. No stream this time, and still no sounds to give away the presence of animals. I slept soundly that night, no dreams haunting me, reminding me of my past.

That morning, I knew I'd make the peak right at nightfall, known as the place of healing. I ate a hardy breakfast, then broke camp for the third time thus far on my trip. I started my walk, and memories flooded my brain again.

Finally, they let my mother see me. She told me what had happened. My sister had died. Killed, at my hand. She hated me, despised me, for taking her only “valuable” child. I had been a failure, as had been my older brother, serving life in San Quinton. Where I would “soon be headed.” My court date was a month away, and the authorities sent me to a holding cell until that dreadful date.

At noon, I was more tired than I expected I would be, so I set down my pack, and slept. The sleep was restless, there was a rock underneath me, but when I woke three hours later, I felt much, much better. I continued on my path, up through the cliffs, the switchbacks, reminding me of the Judicial system.

My Public Defender wasn't good at making plea deals, so I just plead guilty. A week after, I was sentenced to ten years. I went willingly, hoping that time would pass quickly. I knew my wife would be gone before I returned, and I signed the divorce papers in my first year there. They shaved my head, and I studied law, looking not for loopholes, but to distract my mind.

Moving onward, I began the final ascent to the top of the mountain, the halfway marker on my journey. Snow was on the ground, even now in May, so I changed quickly into Winter clothes. The cold bit at me, calling me back to the darker recesses of my mind, drawing the pictures for me, even as I walked.

Showers were miserable, everyone knows why. I came out of prison on good behavior in my eighth year, knowing now my true self. You would be surprised what you find out when left to yourself for eight years. I knew now that my wife was a cover, and that was a surprise to me. I vowed on my sister's grave that I would not take a lover.

Topping the mountain, I could finally see the cross. I spent the night one hundred yards from the graveside, knowing that healing would work best in the morning. That morning, I approached the marker, the reminder of what I had done, and watched the sunlight spill onto it.

I spent two days in prayer, healing my soul, breaking the many psychological dams I had made over the years. Finally, at dusk on the second day, I began to cry. Not the tears of self pity I had had before, not like every other time I cried, but tears of grief. I cried through the night, until the tears would not come any longer, and even after that point, reached and crossed, dry eyes just bleeding air, I called for more water, but I found none. Finally, I fell asleep, demons no longer haunting my heart, memories no longer inhabiting my daily life, water holding no fear for me, fire holding no unusual comfort. I trod back through the forest, past the dying trees, past the creek, both friend and foe, down the southern slope, I made my careful way.


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