nomads: bar for the lost

“When did you know you were lost?” he asked.

“Well…I, um…I don’t know,” she stammered, caught off guard by his question. “I guess it was right before I hit the tree.”

She stared at the wine glass in front of her, swirling it out of habit. Juicy red slid up the sides.

The bartender let out knowing grunt, “Guess it was a little late then, huh?”

Gentry arched an eyebrow without meeting his gaze. “Yeah,” she shrugged. “I guess it was.”

She spun around the bar stool to evade more questioning, trying to piece together how she ended up at Nomads: Bar for the Lost.

She’d set out that morning beach-bound to visit her sister, who was spending a month at the coast, a sort of post-divorce sabbatical. She’d found a marsh-front bungalow in a quiet seaside town and quickly realized she wasn’t cut out for solitude. Grabbing a few postcards from the Center Street post office, she sent one to Gentry, urging her younger sister to come stay for the weekend.

She’d promised sand and seashells and peach sangria. And that was all Gentry’s overworked and underpaid ears needed to hear. She packed a bag, poured a week’s worth of food into the cat’s bowl, and was on her way.

Wanting to slip into beach mode, Gentry opted to power down the GPS and map out back roads to get to the shore instead. Four hours into the drive, while running low on fuel, she grabbed the map from the passenger’s seat to try to figure out the best town to stop and fill up.

And that’s when she realized she was lost.

That’s also when she stopped watching the road for a second too long and accelerated her ’93 Pontiac Sunfire straight into an oak tree.

Stunned from the impact, it took Gentry a moment to refocus. As smoke billowed from the hood, she tried opening the door, only to find it was jammed shut. She dragged herself across the console to the other side. The passenger side door opened enough for her to squeeze her body out, grabbing her phone from the floor board on the way.

Backing away from the wreckage in a daze, she checked the phone. No service, naturally. And with few alternatives in sight on that lonely road, Gentry began to walk back toward the direction from which she came.

She had only gone few, sluggish minutes when she saw the sign.

Nomads: Bar for the Lost – Turn right 0.1 miles

When she arrived, flinging the door open wide, the bartender barely looked up. But he poured her a glass of wine before she ever sat down.

Now she pondered the strangeness of the establishment: how it existed in the middle of nowhere, the bartender’s apathetic questioning, the fact that the wine she’d been sipping on since she arrived never seemed to diminish.

She swiveled back around to face him. “I could really use a phone, if you have one that gets service out here.”

He paused, considering her request. “Phones won’t do you any good here. You can’t call out.”

“What do you mean, you can’t call out?” she retorted.

He leaned on the bar with both hands, lowered his face until it was just inches away from hers.

“Look. You don’t come here to make phone calls. You don’t even come here to drink wine. You come here because there are only two places left to go. You’re waiting for your ride to which ever one you’re destined for.”

Gentry narrowed her eyes, trying to process what he was suggesting.

“I hate to break it to you, but you must have taken a pretty bad blow in that crash. But hey, at least that part’s over with, right?”

She shook her head with clear defiance. “No..No…No…No…No,” she whispered.

“There’s nothing else you can do, sweetheart. Now you just have to wait.”

Gentry’s voice grew desperate, pleading. “No. No. NO. NO! NO!”

The bartender threw his hands in the air. “You don’t have to believe me…It won’t change the truth though. And it definitely won’t change what happens next.”

Still shaking her head in disbelief, she looked him in the eye, “If it’s true…if what you’re saying is true…how did you end up here?”

The corners of his lips turned up at the thought.

“I got here the same way you did, doll…the same way we all do…I didn’t know I was lost until it was just a little too late.”

 

gargleblaster: why do birds suddenly appear?

black crow, beak open

“Lousy, good-for-nothing scarecrow. Blasted crows peckin’ every damn tomato the frost didn’t nab.”

“Ain’t no point in fussin’ if you cain’t do nothin’ ‘bout it.”

“Betcha I can scare ‘em off.”

“Howd’ja figger?”

“I’ll make that there scarecrow look more like you.”

 

Photo credit: WildnisPhotography via Etsy

Gargleblaster #160: Answer the question “Why do birds suddenly appear?” in exactly 42 words.

infinitesitale – two

Mema was just 22 when her dad died. The two were close; quite possibly, she was the favorite of his four children.

As my granddad, who we call Pepa, drove her home from the funeral, he warned, “You know, everything you see is going to make you think of him.” To which Mema responded, “You’re right; it will. And everything will be a beautiful memory.”

That’s the story as Pepa retold it to my sister and me 60 years later, as we drove him home from a new funeral. Now he was the one left with all the beautiful memories.

 

 

Infinitesitale: An extremely small story. 100 words or less. This was a second attempt.

the farmer’s daughter

da vinci's study of the womb

Winter seemed reluctant to release its hold. But DeVera could still feel the subtle shift of the distant star drawing nearer, and with it, the warmth needed to bring her world back to life.

But for now, the young one had no choice but to stay inside, commit to her studies under the guidance of the elder.

“Bring the anatomy books, child,” Demaurus called from the cavernous study hall.

DeVera obliged with haste, rushing from stack to stack of texts piled high along the walls, pulling each one with the foreign word printed across its spine, hoping they would all be filled with exotic pictures of the plants and animals of earth, or even the humans themselves.

“An-at-toe-mee,” she rolled the word around with her sharp tongue as she reached for another volume. “An-at-TOE-mee. An-AT-toe-mee.” She tossed the syllables about, trying to land the tricky inflection Demaurus had mastered so well.

Her gnarled, smoky arms strained from the weight of the books, and she heaved a heavy sigh as she set her selections in front of Demaurus for approval.

Can’t we do art instead, elder? She pleaded with her mind.

He raised an eyebrow at this request. In human tongue, he commanded.

DeVera hesitated, pulling together the right phrases and asked again, this time out loud and in English, Demaurus’ favorite of the earthly languages.

He nodded, pleased with her efforts, but replied flatly “No. Today is anatomy.”

Demaurus tugged at the third text down in the stack and handed it to the child. “Page 42,” he directed.

Sitting down and spreading the book across her lap, DeVera flipped through the pages, following the numbers along the bottom. Forty-two was the start of the text’s third chapter, “Study of the Womb.”

DeVera’s round mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide as she began to take in the hand-drawn images before her. Little bitty humans, like peanuts in their shells, were sketched from every angle across the pages.

She traced a bony, grey finger along the rough lines. The tiny, delicate ears. The five baubles of toes on the end of each soft, smooth foot.

Humans are just . . . beautiful, she thought to herself.

An impatient cough from Demaurus tore through her wandering thoughts, “Read, child.”

DeVera’s soft voice stumbled through the technical text, the elder correcting her pronunciation along the way. Em-BREE-o. FEE-tus. YOU-ter-us. Uhm-bill-eh-cul cord. To DeVera, it all sounded too fantastic to be real.

At the conclusion of the first section, she looked up at Demaurus, Who is responsible for these drawings?

He sighed at her for slipping back into mind-speak, but answered the same way, Leonardo da Vinci. A human from long before.

Did he practice medicine? she questioned.

No child, he was a great artist, an inventor, a mathematician, a genius.

Can I be a great artist too? 

DeVera’s thoughts carried with them a tinge of hope. Demaurus could feel it just as he could feel her words. Sitting down beside her, he tried to summon patient tones. Destinies are never easy to explain.

Child, you are the farmer’s daughter, the last one of your kind. This is why you must study the womb. One day soon you will grow your own crop: human beings so perfect, those of earth will not be able to resist loving them, believing them, following them without hesitation . . . even to their own demise.

Your time has almost come, DeVera. And your harvest will be our salvation. 

Nodding numbly at the answer she somehow already knew to be true, DeVera stared out the window at the frozen tundra stretched before her.

More than anything else, she wished that she was just another peaceful babe floating safely in her mother’s womb, in a world where she could be a great artist, inventor, mathematician.

Or anything other than a reaper of souls.

 

infinitesitale – one

Forever had always seemed impossible. But as they tore away from the chapel, high on champagne and confectioner’s sugar, he began to believe they could actually make it.

He admired her from the passenger seat, wishing it hadn’t taken him this long to figure it out. So many infidelities. So many lies. So much lost time.

A sudden acceleration followed by a sharp turn shocked him back to the present.

Crashing through the guard rail on the bridge, he looked at her with panic-stricken eyes: “Forever?” they pleaded.

Hers narrowed in response: “‘Til death do us part.”

 

Infinitesitale: An extremely small story. 100 words or less. This was a first attempt.

the last great act

painting of a woman walking on a highwire
“Auf dem Hochseil” (On the Highwire) by Wilhelm Simmler

Without a word, she dropped to the ground.

Those that had gathered below let out a unified gasp. Mothers drew young children into their bodies to shield their innocent eyes. Business men with slick hair and shiny shoes, already late for afternoon meetings, emails piling up  in their inboxes, remained frozen with shock. Some turned their faces in anguish; others buried their heads into their hands.

But Nathan refused to look away.

He had arrived at the corner of Bristoff and West 1st an hour earlier, just as he’d been directed in the letter. And there he waited, holding her words in his sweaty palms as the blue ink began to bleed into his skin.

When she appeared, stepping off the edge of the highest building with confidence and grace, he had to squint to make out her sleek silhouette. Even then, he could barely detect the slight line beneath her feet, the highwire splitting the sky.

In the letter, her words had been pleading and honest.

Nathan –

I write you requesting a specific favor. And in return, I offer you the perfect angle for a piece in your underground pub (I’m afraid it won’t be suitable for the mainstream edition). 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the most recent sanctions. They’ve moved beyond guns and liquor and cigarettes to recreational pursuits. Skydiving, long-distance running, skiing, rock climbing, hang gliding, bull riding – all sanctioned. And the list goes on; there are hundreds more.

They’re saying it’s to protect us, to keep us safe from these “high-risk” activities. Can you believe that? They’re hobbies, for Christ’s sake! But that’s the world we live in: a dictatorship under the guise of excessive mothering! 

As she began to make her way across the wire, a crowd formed on the sidewalks and street corners. For a moment, the busy world halted mid-sentence, mid-stride, mid-latte to wonder at this figure walking across the sky.

This isn’t about risk, Nathan. No, no, no. It’s never been about that. This is about stifling what drives us, what gives us purpose. This is about stomping out our embers of passion. This is about breaking us down. 

Soon, it’ll be painting and singing and writing. They’ll say they’ve linked creativity to brain cancer; they’ll offer data from their own studies to back the claims.

That’s why you started the underground paper, isn’t it, Nathan? Because they took away your editorials? No more opinions, just the facts, right?

Only minutes had passed before marshals from the Enforcement could be seen from the roofs of both buildings – the one she had stepped off of and the one she was destined for. They waited eagerly for her arrival, like predators who had chased their prey up a tree. But she seemed not to notice their presence, focused solely on her act and nothing more.

Of course, the skywalk was on the sanction list. Hell, the old-fashioned tightrope made the list! But I can’t give it up, Nathan. It’s all I’ve ever known. 

I’ve got a plan to prove them wrong. And I need you there. I need you to cover the story. 

Come to the meeting of Bristoff and West 1st – in front of the old stock exchange – the first Monday in April, 1:55 in the afternoon. You’ll know where to look for me.

Please bring your camera – and don’t be late.

Yours,

Aurelia 

Suspended halfway between the two high rises, her progress stopped. Motionless except the wind whipping her ponytail with violent ferocity, she raised her head first to the overcast sky. Then shifted her gaze to what waited below.

Nathan felt the sudden, overwhelming sensation of his lunch rising in his stomach. It had not occurred to him before that moment that she had no intention of making it across.

Unrolling the wrinkled letter once more, he saw something he had missed: a postscript scrawled across the back in faint pencil.

The most high-risk activity of them all is denying ourselves what we love. We simply cannot survive it.

We have to let them know. We have to let everyone know.

Nathan looked up only to see her fold her arms across her chest before letting herself fall backward, the triumphant finale to her last great act.

Grabbing the camera from around his neck, he waited for his shot as she fell from the sky.

 

vacancy

When she finally stirred, light poured through the cheap blinds, draping the scratchy comforter on the hotel bed in even stripes of sunshine. Her head throbbed as the room spun around her. The stench of cheap bourbon and cigarettes hung in the air and mingled with something sweeter – like day old perfume or the lingering scent of shampoo on a pillow. It might have been mid-afternoon, but the clock next to the bed blinked 12:00 and gave no clues to the time of day.

Rolling onto her back and covering her head with a pillow, she groaned as snapshots of the night flashed in her head. A speakeasy with a password. A bartender with a crooked smile. And the darkest eyes she’d ever seen.

Trying to free herself from the memory of it all, she sprung up from the bed. Dropping two unsteady legs onto the floor and leaning on the doorway to the adjacent bathroom for support. She stumbled in, not quite willing to let go of the wall.

A shower. A shower would make her feel better. She turned on the water and sat dazed on the cool toilet seat as steam began to rise toward the hum of the fluorescent lights.

The water stung, pounding her shoulders in uneven bursts, but she didn’t budge as her wet skin turned pink in the heat. She looked unconvinced at the frail bar of cheap hotel soap. Surely it was going to take something much more substantial to wash it all away.

A good intention. A bad idea. A hotel with a room. A heart with a vacancy. And do not disturb. Do not disturb. Do not disturb.

But it was far too late for all that. She was more disturbed than ever before.

She tried to remember that saying about forbidden fruit, as she was fairly certain it would apply, but her mind was clouded and slow. All she could think of were the shape of the lips that bit into hers last night. The feeling of the tongue that swam inside her mouth. That made her body throb and her mind race. That made her want to somehow surrender and escape at the same time.

Stepping out of the shower she wrapped herself in a thin towel and avoided her reflection in the foggy mirror. She began piecing together her outfit, discarded haphazardly around the room. A black pump. A lacy bra. A braided gold hoop earring.

She spotted her top, halfway draped over the nightstand. As she grabbed it, a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. Hesitantly, she bent down to retrieve it.

A receipt from the bar. With a note on the back in rushed red cursive.

We all make mistakes, love.

But please believe me when I tell you,

this is not one of them.

Jessica