The Desert Syns

A collection of excerpts and short works of fiction from my up and coming novel.

Nadia’s Tale

The chains clasped to the cuff around Nadia’s ankle snagged on a rock, and the fell in the mire for the second time that day.

A voice called playfully behind her, “Watch your step, Nadia. The rocks are slick.”

“My chain was caught, you bully. You would think that after fifteen seasons I would be used to these blasted tools of imprisonment.” She shook the water off her body and pulled pieces of moss out of her hair. She turned around and watched her best friend in her whole world, Damien, work to loosen her chain from under the rock that had caused her to stumble.

“Oh Nadia,” Damien exclaimed, his tone suddenly switching to sympathy, “you’ve torn your wings again.”

Nadia looked over her shoulder and saw a twig had run straight through her left insect-like wing. She tenderly pulled it out; tender not because it was painful but because she didn’t want to do anymore damage to the wing. She had no feeling in the thin membrane portion of the wing, only in the stalks.

“Well,” Damien said, “at least it will mend quickly enough. But it will be a chore to fly for a while, especially if you’re carrying anything heavier than a grape.”

Damien and Nadia were faeries, although if you mentioned the word faery to any of their kind, they would have absolutely no idea what you were talking about. Born into slavery, the only word they knew to describe themselves was “slave.” Sometimes they would say “our kind” or “our people” but they certainly had no idea of the meaning of faery.

These faeries were probably a little different from the ones you’ve heard about before. An adult is about the length of a human hand, and they all have wings, but because of the harsh rules of their captivity, it was very rare to see one flying. They were all naked, which you might think is silly and embarrassing, but an animal doesn’t realize its nakedness. The concept is similar with the faeries: if you have done it your whole life, and everybody else does it, they find it no more strange or shameful than we do taking our shirt off before we have a swim.

There wasn’t a single faery in the entire village that wasn’t a slave. They assumed this was true for the entire swamp in which the village was located, but none had ever left the village, therefore there wasn’t a single faery that was absolutely certain anything existed outside the village. Most of their kind believed there were other villages, but they also believed the entire world was made of swamp.

The slaves only knew of two kinds of creatures in their world, besides the unintelligent beasts of the swamp. The faeries were the slaves, and the Nadu were their masters.

The Nadu were a race of toad-like creatures that walked on two legs and stood 1.5 to 2 meters tall. They wore clothes made from fish skin and algae tied together with bits of twine. For weapons, they fashioned spears from reeds and sharpened fish bones. A few of the Nadu who played the role of slave driver also carried nets shaped like badminton racquets, only the netting was woven spider web, with razor sharp barbs of poison that instantly paralyzed anything it touched.

Nadia, Damien, and the rest of their kind had always served the Nadu. From the time they were born, a silver chain was attached to their wrist or ankle, and was never removed. The chains were enchanted in many mysterious ways, but one such way was that they were impossible to break.

Or so the slaves were raised to believe.

Though Nadia and Damien could not see their master through the bog, they knew he wasn’t far away. Their chain’s were always connected directly to their masters, like thin silver leashes. The only way a chain was ever removed was death, either the master’s death or the slave’s.

Nadia and Damien had been best friends their entire lives. Both were born into the service of the King, and therefore they were afforded the most luxury a faery of their kind could have. Everyone in the King’s court had a bed of moss to sleep on and with all the leftover scraps after a royal banquet, they ate pretty decently as well.

Damien was a general manservant, though he would acquire the position of cupbearer once his mother died. Nadia, on the other hand, hand-fed the queen. This may sound demeaning if I describe it to you, but it was one of the very few jobs where a slave could use his or her wings. For almost every other slave, including Damien, the punishment for flying was death, because it was perceived as an attempt to escape.

Nadia loved being able to stretch out her wings, even if it meant flying bits of food back and forth from the royal plate to the royal mouth.

The servants of King Doku, the king of the Nadu, were afforded luxuries, but this wasn’t to say he was a kind king, or even a just slaver owner. In fact, he was quite the opposite: viscous and malevolent. Despite this, even an evil master knows that slaves will do more work if they are well fed and will do less work if they have crushed wings and crippled limbs. Even the cruelest master avoided killing any of his slaves; the village was completely cut off from the world by the cruel swamp, so there was no slave trade. If a Nadu lost a slave, he or she would have to wait until another was born, then try to buy it from the owners before the enchanted chain sealed its fate.

That afternoon, Damien and Nadia were gathering fruit for the night’s feast. There were other slaves harvesting grapes and mushrooms as well, but they worked solemnly and silently, moving from one crop to the next. Both the friends knew that if they didn’t have each other, they too would have been miserable that afternoon.

As it was, though, Nadia was quite in love with Damien. There was no such thing as marriage among their kind, and even having a child was considered an act of slavery instead of an act of love. Bearing a child was only done under the permission, or rather orders, of the master, and it was only done if it seemed economically viable. A child would just be another mouth to feed for three seasons before it was ready for even the smallest of tasks.

As the two faeries gathered dreasae seeds (these were fruity seeds that grew like an inside-out pomegranate), Nadia longed to be out with the hunting party. It was the one thing she was never allowed to do, because it required the master to travel along with the hunters, and her master, the King Doku, never left his throne. The only time she could gather food was when procuring produce from the garden that grew right outside the royal chamber.

“Nadia?” Damien asked. “Do you think there are other villages like ours?”

“I think so,” she replied, uncertain of his train of thought. They wouldn’t dare talk about this near the Nadu, and probably not within hearing range of the other slaves. Most were loyal to their own kind, but it was known for faeries to suddenly disappear if they said something risky to the wrong person. Damien and Nadia had a feeling that one of their own was working for the Nadu, but they had no idea who it was, and therefore kept all their conversations between the two of them. “Why do you ask?”

“It seems strange, almost unlikely even, that we are all that’s left of this world. That the village of Nor’doku, in the middle of a swamp, is all that’s left of this entire world. Do you remember Jason?”

“Isn’t he owned by a royal guard?”

“That’s him. He told me the craziest story, and I’m still wondering if I believe it.”

“What did he tell you?” Nadia had stopped gathering the seeds for a moment, and was incredibly interested.

“He said that his master lets them fly.”

“Well, that isn’t very unbelievable-”

“Just let me finish, Nadia. Jason said that when they hunt, they leave the rest of the Nadu. His master, the one called Parsh, would tell all his slaves stories about the Nadu; these are stories that would endanger Parsh if the King ever learned. He claims, you know Jason claims that Parsh claims, that the reason we aren’t allowed to fly isn’t because they are worried about escaping. He gave a different reason, that the Nadu have always been jealous of our wings.”

“That can’t be true,” Nadia disputed.

Before Damien could reply, another slave called from across the swamp-garden, “Hey you two, get back to work. We need to start preparing this food before sunset.”

They walked and whispered, still collecting food for the evening meal. “Think about it Nadia, if these chains are unbreakable, why would flying look like escaping? Well, Parsh may still be jealous of our wings, but he figured out a way to fly.”

“What!” Nadia whispered, excitedly, “how?”

“The way Jason describes it, Parsh has built a contraption made from sticks and enormous leaves that he puts his feet into. He ties all the slaves’ chains into a knot, and grabs on to the knot. They fly as hard as they can, and eventually he begins to soar. You remember how much Paragon we’ve been having this season? It’s one of the hardest birds to trap, especially from the ground, but it seems we have it every ten days. Well, it’s a lot easier to hunt if you’re flying after it. Can you imagine Parish gliding after the bird on his flying machine, and spear in hand, soaring through the treetops?”

“You’re right, that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“And there’s more. Jason said that yesterday they were chasing a dragonfly, the largest one you could possibly imagine, but he said they flew too high, higher than they had ever gone before. He said that the trees rise higher and higher, but they end, and his hunting party flew above the tops of the trees. Everyone was shocked, especially Parish. Jason says that above the trees, you can actually see our day, and it shines like a giant flame in the sky. And above the trees, there is another canopy, but it hangs like a blanket, and is bright blue. He says that there are giant fogs, white instead of grey, that float under the blanket, or in the blanket, he wasn’t sure. The trees stretched all around him, and he said the world is larger than anyone could have ever imagined.”

“I don’t believe it,” whispered Nadia. She had stopped picking fruit and thought in the back of her mind that someone was about to yell at her for that, but couldn’t help herself despite it.

“Jason told me two things that I haven’t been able to shake from my mind. These two things scared Parsh so terribly that after falling back to the ground, he smashed up his glider and swore to never fly up again. Jason thinks that Parsh was afraid for his life, and forced his slaves to never speak of what they saw.”

“What on earth did they see?” Nadia’s wings fluttered, and she almost took off, she was so enraptured by Damien’s story.

“Two things he saw and he will remember until he dies. One was that the trees end. They go on and on and on, but there is a point where they thin out, then end altogether. Do you see what this means? The swamp is enormous, but it ends, and there is a whole other world out there. The second thing he saw was smoke. Not just any smoke, but way out in the distance was an enormous pillar of smoke, like a camp fire, but way too big for being so far away.”

“What do you think it means?”

“I think there are other creatures in this world, capable of building fires with trees instead of sticks and moss. Perhaps there are giant Nadu that live on the outskirts of the swamp, five times larger than the ones we have here, or maybe,” and at this point his voice dropped to a whisper of a whisper, “there are enormous beings that are like us, flying around. Maybe they are like us, but free.”

Nadia shivered; the idea was just so amazing she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around it. She caught the eye of another gatherer, and quickly returned to work, this time in silence. Still, she thought about it all day, and into the night.

As Nadia lay, trying to sleep, a feeling washed over her. It was a mixed feeling of dread and wonder. She had no idea why, but she was absolutely certain that something large and incredible was about to happen. Something wonderful and terrible at the same time. It would have been impossible to predict the future, and she couldn’t have known the rise that the slaves had begun to feel as this story was spread.

Little did she know, other slaves of Parsh’s had told the same stories to the other faeries, and the same feeling Nadia had was being shared by their entire tribe.

Little did she know, the revolution was about to begin.


The Tale of Nat and Daagon

In Times past, there was a Snake that lived in the Fields of Tan’barr, roamed the Hills of Q’alynn, and feasted in the Gardens of the Broken Swords. This was before the transformation when Serpents still walked among the Inhabitants of this World.
How this wretched Creature came into existence, the Ancients know not. What they do know is that his Name was Daagon, and his was a Soul of pure Evil.
Now, there was also a Girl in that time named Nat, and she came from the Village of Tan’llil, outside the Fields of Tan’barr. She loved exploring the Fields, and the surrounding Woods. All the Adults in the Village warned her of Daagon; they told her how much he loved to eat the Fingers of little Children, and the Wings of Kiras, that were kept as Pets in those Days.
In her Innocence, she could not believe that such a Beast could possibly exist, for in her Village there was no hunger, no murder, no war, and no thievery. She would cringe and cry when they told her such Stories, but still she would go out into the Fields.
Nat loved to play Games, and she would do so often. She would imagine something that she thought particularly clever, then she would begin the Game. Just when the Villagers would grow weary of her Games, she would invent a new one. Her Activities, Tricks, and Games would bring delight and awe to those in her Village, because she was special. Everyone knew that about her; she had the gift of making things happen, just because of who she was.
Her favorite Game at this time was to go out into the Field, so far that she could no longer see the Village, and release her Kira. Then she would hide, and wait for the Kira to find her again. She would trick the Kiras (for they are not too bright, as you know) by placing her Cloak on a Bush and then hiding in the tall Reeds. Her Kira would swoop down and become convinced that she had disappeared all together. It would fly off to the other Kiras in the village and tell them that its master had vanished into thin Air. Then those Kiras would start a ruckus, and start flying out in search of her. The Sky would grow dark and the Wind would come alive as hundreds of Kiras took flight.
It did not matter that she had done it a thousand times before; she was able to trick the Kira every single time, and every single time it would end with her being found rolling around on the Ground, laughing until tears rolled down her chubby Cheeks.
It came to pass that she was in the Field, about to play her Game of Hide and Seek, when Daagon came crashing through the Grasses. He stood much taller than Nat, especially while on his Hind Legs, and was clearly of intimidating size all around. He had a Mouth full of gigantic Teeth and Claws sharp as Razors. Daagon’s Eyes were the Color of Blood, and his Scales were Glacier Blue in the Sunlight. He lowered himself to look Nat in the Eyes.
Her Kira had started to shrink into the Hood of Nat’s Cloak, but finding that Nat seemed to have no fear of the Serpent, summed up the courage to sit upon her Shoulder once more.
“Why do you not fear me, Child? Surely you know who I am.” His words came out slimy with hot and putrid Breath.
“You are Daagon,” she replied courageously.
“And surely you know what I am capable of.”
She shook her Head, for in fact, she did not know, at least- not for certain. She knew that nobody in her Village would lie to her, but a story out of Ignorance? That was a whole different and entirely probable Matter.
“I eat little Girls that wander too far from the Village, and choose to play in my Fields.” And with a sharp glance to the Pet on her shoulder, “I tear off the Wings of your precious Kiras, and crunch up their Bones between my Teeth.”
“That’s not true,” she replied very matter-of-factly, meeting his Gaze once more, “because surely no Creature is capable of something so terrible.”
There was a sort of Energy in the Air at that moment, and the Daagon blinked curiously. It was as if, because she said it, it was the Truth. And now that he thought about it, he never really had met any Children from the Village, so he had never really eaten any of them. And though he cooked the Kira in a good Stew every once in a while, he wasn’t cruel in the way he went about it. Certainly he would not enjoy plucking off their Wings while they still had Life.
“You may be right, Child. I wonder, what else do you know about this World? What else can you show me?”
She knew what he was asking. So once again, she sent her Kira high into the Air, and placed her Cloak on a Bush. Then she climbed onto the Back of Daagon, and they went thundering into the Woods.
The Kiras searched for her far and wide, but she was never seen again. At least, not by the Villagers of Tan’llil.

The Tale of Pan and Dog

It is said The Plains of Myrian were unusually cold in the time of The Rebellion of Sai. His famous conquering is known to have lasted three days, so I believe it is safe to say to that it remained cold in the Naorthlands well beyond his time. In fact, some say that it remained bitter and deathly so until the third rising of the Morning Star that year; the very day that you, Pan, were born, in the city of Myria.
I was given to you as a gift by the Duke of Traan, my father, to watch over you, and protect you from the evils of this world.
Your story is one of legend among my people, Pan. My father knew you were special, but he never would have dreamed that you were the one.
“What happened to your father? Why are you-”
Hush, now, and I will tell you, but I must start from the beginning.
When I was first entrusted into your care, the day of your birth, I was a little over three arms tall, and completely covered in fur. I was quite unrecognizable under the layers of brown and, black and white. You may not know this, but to receive one of my kind as a gift was an unspeakable honor among your people, as it should be. But for the Duke to give his only child away, this was unheard of.
I was three years old when our roles as caregivers were inexorably switched, when assassins from a cult named The Order of Bitter Thorns came to claim your life. I became your eternal guardian, and you were then entrusted into my care.
I need not remind you what they did to your family, and your whole city. So that we never forget, I buried your mother ten paces east of the old Blue Fruit Tree, that grows even now, its roots digging deeper and deeper into the earth, protecting your ancestors until the Great Flight that will take us all.
You stayed with me in my village, as granted by the elders, but we did not stay long. You probably didn’t realize what was happening at the time, so I will explain this to you now.
It seems that you are incredibly special, but your gifts come with a horrible price. The price is the greed and corruption of others. They can’t accept what is before their eyes, so they seek to destroy the goodness in you. They fear what you are capable of, so they will never stop hunting you. The elders of my village knew this, and so they begged us to take flight, for the Order of Bitter Thorns was close on our heels after the slaughter of Myria. My people would have fought to the death, every last one of them, to protect an innocent such as yourself, if they thought for a moment that it would do any good.
But I knew just as well as the rest that running was the best way to save your life, and the lives of my people. So they picked up their homes on their backs and started making their way into the mountains, which still held captive the frozen wastelands.
While crossing the Pass of Shatan, they heard a roar of falling snow, and watched in horror as an avalanche came crashing over their heads. It is said that all perished in that cursed act of nature. It is also said that I am the last of my kind, which is why we do not speak the name of our people anymore, for it is not written that we should be remembered.

A tear came to the Guardian’s eye, and Pan stood up from his spot by the fire, and curled up in the warm coat of his companion.
“I will remember you,” Pan whispered in his Guardian’s ear, “no matter what is written. I will always remember my Dog.”
The Guardian chuckled at this. When Pan was two, he had named him Dog, and the name stuck. Being the same age, he did not see anything degrading about this title. It was better than Cat, or Pet, or any other number of things a two year old could come up with.
Soon, Pan’s breathing grew heavier, and he fell into a deep sleep. The Guardian watched over his unlikely companion curled up next to him.
Pan was bundled up warmly against the cool night, his mittens made from the skins of sea-lizards, and his giant fur coat made from the fur of his own people; sheared, of course, not skinned.
This was an incredibly difficult task, considering there wasn’t a steel blade in this world that could cut through the fibers of his people’s fur. Only the metals of Arghan were strong enough to withstand such a task, and even then, there were only a number of forges that could work with such metal. At least, there used to be, but the secret died with his ancestors, his parents, his brothers, and his sisters.
Though it is rumored that the ancient secrets have been dug up once more, but from a different part of the world. He quickly dismissed such thoughts. He had heard of such from a drunkard at the tavern outside the White Gates of Talmouth. Nonsense.
It was not as though his people were invincible anyways. The Pass of Shatan served as a painful reminder. Though it was nearly impossible to slice through the fibers, a well placed blade or arrow could stab through the coat, in between the protective hairs. That was why he still wore armor.
Speaking of which… he thought, looking over at the breastplate leaning up against the rest of his equipment. He studied the giant crack that spread across the entire width. It was barely held together by two metal patches, but it could not withstand much more. I guess that should teach me not to mess with the barbarians of the East. But then again, he mused with a smug grin, the absence of an arm should teach him not to mess with the Guardian.
He would not sleep this night; he knew this already. But it didn’t matter. If necessary, he would go weeks without sleep. So, he passed the time tossing sticks on the fire, and soon his concentration was lost in the flames.

The Guardian awoke to a flash in the sky. It felt familiar to him, but he couldn’t recall ever seeing anything like it before. A chill came over his body, which disturbed him. He didn’t get cold chills often, and when he did, it was always a bad sign.
Then something else occurred to him: he had fallen asleep. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he had indeed woken up. And he had a slight memory of having nightmares, or one long nightmare, but no memories of what those awful dreams held.
He felt a cold wet against his skin. Looking down, he saw Pan, still curled up against him, but his skin was pale, his brow was soaked with sweat, and his face was scrunched up, as if he was hiding from something frightening.
“Pan! Wake up, child!”
He blinked a couple times, then sat up quickly. “Oh, Dog, where am I? Where are the Keepers?”
“You’re safe with me. You’re alright. It was just a bad dream.”
“I felt too real.”
“I know they can feel real-”
“No!” Pan looked at him sharply. “I’ve had dreams before, I know exactly how real they can be. This was different.” Then his features softened.
“I’m sorry, Dog. I don’t know what came over me. That wasn’t very kind.”
“I forgive you, child. I know you’re not a morning person.” He smiled gently, and Pan smiled back.
The Guardian looked around the camp. All of their tents and gear were still packed away; a useful benefit of having a giant fur coat. Since both of them were up anyways, they could get an early start and be at their destination before midday.
“Secure your pack, Pan, we’re going to set off early.”
“I guess it’s too early for breakfast, isn’t it?” He got to his feet, brushed off the snow, and looked around. “Have you seen Mr. Stick?”
“Who is- oh, right. Check by the bundle of weapons; I think I placed it there last night.”
Pan walked over to a large skin tied together with ropes. Sure enough, his walking stick was laying on the ground next to it. Dog walked over, his armor already adorned, and his pack already on his back. He hoisted the large bundle of swords over his shoulders.
After the shattering of his breastplate, the Guardian had started to collect the swords of his fallen enemies. They had no money, but they needed something to trade for a new set of armor. He must have had at least eight or nine swords, with a handful of daggers and boot knives.
The Guardian picked up his true treasure: a beautifully carved wooden bow, with what looked like the shape of a she-demon, naked and stretched out along the handle. He still remembered its former owner, a huntress with beautiful red hair, and a green woven cloak. He hadn’t intended for her to die; she was caught in the crossfire of a skirmish in the Outlands.
The thought of keeping the longbow had crossed his mind, but it would be impractical. It was much too large for Pan, and much too small for his beastly hands to yield. It was likely that he would just snap it in two. No, he would sell it, along with the other orphaned weapons. All weapons without a master.
They finished collecting their belongings, and started heading toward Yale, the city of Minstrels. He had heard many things about this area in the Eastland Province. The cities should be well stocked for the winter. War had not plagued these parts for generations, so they had time to build in sciences, and architecture. These cities were supposed to be quite the spectacle, and a popular sight for travelers. This brought in trade, which is exactly what he was looking for.
“Yes, Pan?”
“Where are we going after we get your armor?”
He had thought about this, but honestly didn’t know. They had shaken off the Order months ago, so they were no longer fleeing, but they still needed to keep moving. It wouldn’t be too many more weeks before they would end up at the coast, but what then? Visit other countries. He had heard tales of the dangers, but was it really worse then the trouble they find here? Then again, there was always…
“You know, Pan, I’m really getting tired of the snow. How would you like to travel South, and travel in the jungles for a while?”
“Really? There’s no snow in the South?”
“In some of the mountains, yes, but not where we’re heading. We’ll stay along the coast, where we can catch fish along the way.”
“No more Manah?”
“Hopefully not, but we’ll keep it just in case. I’ve never fished before; I may not be any good at it.”
“Of course you are, Dog, you’re good at everything.”
“That’s not true. I’m not good at any instruments.”
“What about the Bobo Drum?”
He smiled. “You got me there, Pan. I guess there is that one. Well, I’m not good at sewing.”
The thought of Pan’s enormous Guardian trying to hold a needle in his gigantic paws sent him doubling over with laughter. “Silly Dog,” he got out in between the gasping breaths filled with giggles. Seeing his friend laugh so enthusiastically made the Guardian feel a little bit giddy. Soon, even he was laughing along. Pan eventually stopped so that he could breathe, and wiped tears from his eyes.
That was well needed, thought the Guardian. A good laugh is like a good cry: everyone needs one every once in while, and it was about time for a good laughter.
“Who are the Keepers?”
Pan stopped and furrowed his brow. He looked as if he was trying to concentrate really hard, or possibly dig something up out of his memory. “I don’t know… why?”
“You said it this morning. When you woke up, you asked me ‘Where are the Keepers?’”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember my dream at all. It was an awful dream, I remember that. I don’t remember the dream, though. I don’t even remember saying that.”
“Hmm, I guess it does not matter. If it was more than a dream, than you will find out soon enough.”
They continued eastward, traveling with good speed. The sun was shining, and the snow was starting to slush on the surface, which made the icy paths slippery. They had made it thus far walking on the frozen winter, but the Guardian no longer trusted the constitution of the continually-thinning layer of ice.

Chapter 1. A Depressed Man With A Bible Tells A Story.

The letter was completely trashed. It was tearing in three different spots along the folds. All that was white got replaced by brown or darker. One corner was completely shredded from where my cargo pocket took a 7.62 round from the back through the front. The letter reminded me of a map you find of your home town in a car you’ve had for twenty years. Brittle and ancient.
I carefully folded up the letter and with a smirk, kissed it softly. Then I placed it neatly back in my pocket Bible. How long had I been carrying it around? Five years, maybe more, though this copy was less than a year old. The original is with my lawyer, folded up with my will.
It was last August when I discovered the irony in the name “will.” It seemed to take one to make one. I really hadn’t the motivation to draft a will until I returned from a 19 month deployment, my second in five years. My parents are gone, my older sister married rich, and my younger sister was attending an art school on a full ride scholarship in Southern California. She needed neither money, nor possessions, so a will had seemed pointless. Of course I had no kids either.
But I had seen the face of war twice. I decided my life must be worth something to somebody, besides the two grand the government gives me every month, so I came up with a will. Everything that wasn’t going to be sold was going to my little sister, and the rest of the money would go to present or future nieces and nephews.
It was while I was taking an inventory of valuables that I found the letter I had written to Sarah when I first joined the military. It was tucked inside an ancient book of Edgar Alan Poe’s Poetry (one of which I had always believed was a first edition) that I received from her great-grandmother. I foolishly decided to add it to my will (the letter, not the book), along with an amendment granting her a small portion of the wealth I had been saving up.
I still have no idea why she continues to have this effect on me. It’s been way too long a time for me to still think about her this way, to say the least. I’m a Staff Sergeant now, for God’s sake. People’s lives are in my hands. Every choice of action could potentially lead to a life or death situation. I have a virtually pristine record to uphold.
Of course I’ve “moved on.” I’ve been with countless women since. Still, I find myself too many times wishing they were her. I’d just close my eyes and I’d be kissing her again. I’d imagine that it was her cool fingers trailing idly up and down my bare back, tracing the muscles and connecting the freckles. Popping the pimples. It was her head against my shoulder while we drive across the country.
It’s amazing what an obsessive loser I am. I get caught up in the destructive cycle of getting attached and pushing away. I usually end up crumbled in a pile of self hatred by the end of it. For a while there it wasn’t uncommon to wake up with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels, and a loaded M9, cocked and ready to go, still in my hand. That said, it would be unfair to place the credit of my self-loathing all on her. That’s a problem that stems from deep into my childhood, though Mr. Jack, Sir Morgan, and Señor Cuervo, played the righteous scapegoats during some of the rough history. Depression, alcohol, and firearms: not the best recipe for my current job description.
I admit, blaming my childhood is way too juvenile for me to actually say out loud (what am I, a serial killer?). Not that I talk about my feelings much. I think the last five years have taught me to take responsibility for my own actions.
When my mom was fifteen, she got pregnant from my biological father, but she couldn’t raise the child financially. She couldn’t abort it, due to moral beliefs, so she gave it up for adoption. At seventeen, she got pregnant with me and my twin sister, Erin. (I know, right? Evan and Erin. It wasn’t fair: I was called Erin all the time, but she was never called Evan, because it’s not a girl’s name!)
My father decided to marry her. He had some money, so they kept me and my older sister (by about two minutes) around. My mother would never admit it but she always felt like shit over giving away my older brother, something I didn’t know until it was to late to do anything about.
When I was eight, my dad disappeared. I saw it coming, even being so young, but for some reason my mom didn’t. No goodbyes, no letters, he didn’t even take his stuff. He just disappeared.
Mom tried to involve the cops. She screamed bloody murder, but it’s hard to convince police that it’s unusual for a man to walk out on a 25 year old with two kids about to hit puberty. By this time, she had had a third child, another daughter, that was two years younger. Her name, Leilah. My mother went from alliteration to Eric Clapton. At least it was a pretty name.
Years later, my father never showed, and one by one, we moved out to go to college and various other things. I knew my mom was heart-broken, but I was in a state of reclusion, so I never knew how much, until the day after my sister left to live with an Aunt in Santa Fe, and my mother shot herself in our family room.
I was still living in town then, and made it a habit to see my mother as often as I could. I was the one who found the body.
While I waited for EMTs, I found myself in the bathroom, hugging the toilet, trying to breathe through the torrents of vomit. It wasn’t the bloodied mess. It was the fact that she was murdered. By me, my sisters, and my dad. We killed her. I could have come over sooner, I didn’t have to work so late. I could have told her I loved her, just one more time.
I tore the medicine cabinet from the wall and threw it towards the tub. My eyes were red, to match my vision, I guess. Rage and grief oozed slowly through my veins like crude oil. Like heroine cut with maple syrup. When the cabinet hit the tub, the cheap porcelain chipped, leaving a crescent gap like a cruel smile in the edge. The mirror shattered into little teeth. To enhance this mockery of my display of emotion, red cough syrup spilled in the tub, painting the mouth with crude lips that melted off the gaping smile.
Bottles of pills had flown out and were rolling around like little plastic orange mice, trying to find shelter from the glaring bathroom fluorescents. At first I was sure that my vision was skewed, that somehow my blind rage was causing me to see more containers than were actually there. From a habit I picked up as a kid, I visually divided them into groups of seven and started counting. I always counted in sevens, though I don’t know why. When given a long string of numbers, and told to memorize them, the average American can only remember seven. Four plus three. There were thirty one bottles on the floor. Four groups of seven, plus three. I started sorting through them. They all had long names, sometimes two (Zolpidem that was really Ambien, naproxen that was also naprosyn that was really ibuprofen). She had the whole pharmacy. Pain killers, anti-depressants, hormones, oral steroids, antibiotics, paralytics and muscle relaxants, antihistamines and even epinephrine. I stuffed as many in my pocket as I could. This was a part of my mother I had never seen before. I had to know the driving force behind the trigger.
I went through her personal items, but couldn’t really find anything except clothes. No Bible, no cross on the wall, no photo albums, no journals, no computer. Nothing.
I felt sheepish as I opened her underwear drawer. It was the last place to search, and I knew she sometimes hid things in there. Ten years ago, I found a Super-Nintendo controller that she had taken away, to motivate me in getting grades above failing. As I remember, it didn’t work, mostly because I wasn’t ever a big fan of false motivation, and partly because I knew where the damn thing was.
The underwear was all modest, of course. Everything from Target, and nothing from Victoria’s Secret. I heard sirens, and started to shut the drawer, when a photograph caught my eye. The hair styles and the fading made it look like it was taken in the early 80s. I saw my mother, and my father, and me right in the middle. The emergency vehicles started pulling up, and the photo slipped from my hand, falling face first on the dresser.
I stared, and blinked. It read Julia Wood, Michael Drake, and Edward Drake- 1985. What the hell? Edward? Michael was my father, which means Edward was my brother. But the kid in the photo was at least a year old. My mother said she gave him up at birth. She didn’t even name him.
Well, apparently she had. He did look a lot like me, but when I looked closer, I saw it wasn’t me. Did I have a cousin I don’t know about. No, the dates matched up perfectly. My brother born in 1984, the picture of a one year old in 1985, then Erin and I in 1986.
Riding in the HMMWV (Hum-vee, as we say it, because it sure as hell can’t be called a Hummer), I pulled that picture out of the back of my pocket Bible. It was the relic that marked my quest to find my long lost brother, Edward. It was in better condition than the letter, being laminated, then sheathed in plastic, but that didn’t save the corner being sheared off by the same round that wounded my letter, not to mention my Bible. It was annoying not having page numbers anymore. Despite my religious college experience, I never was able to memorize the Biblical canon, and the bullet rendered the Table Of Contents virtually useless.
Needless to say, shortly after my mom’s funeral, I applied for college. There wasn’t anything keeping me around anymore, so that fall, I headed off to the Bible Belt and attended a Christian College, where I met Sarah. You remember, the one from the letter… all that, just to full circle back to her.
I asked her out weeks after I met her. We were the couple you loved to hate, always in each other’s arms, the cutest thing since a basket full of kittens. It seemed like we were perfect for each other.
Then our first hiccup. I was so distracted with her that I didn’t find a job. My college fund went down the drain, and I was forced to live with a friend a couple hours away at the end of the semester.
This put more than a strain in our relationship. I had to leave her, with promises that I would visit often, find a job, and return to pick up where I left off the following year.
We stuck with it for a while, but I became bitter without her constant healing presence, and frustrated that after 8 weeks I still couldn’t get a job at the local Wal-mart, or anywhere, for that matter. The anniversary of my mother’s death didn’t help.
Finally, I got a coffee shop job, something I was familiar with already, and I was able to buy a ring for her. I called her dad, whom I had met several times, and liked to no end, and he gave me his blessing. That summer, I invited her out for fondue, and sparkling cider; she was against drinking of any kind (oh, sweetheart, if you could only see me now). I put on some Delerium, got on one knee, and proposed like pro.
She said yes.
That August, for reasons I still don’t understand, I was getting ready to go back to school, when I received a call from her. She told me that we were rushing things, and we needed a break.
I told her we could take things slow, and not end it, but she had decided not to go back to college.
September 15, I joined the Army.
My obsession disturbs and annoys me. If I could figure out how to erase all the memories, I would. Better to have loved and lost? Bullshit. You don’t build up just to tear down. And besides, do I even remember her face?
A pang ran through my gut as her beautiful image flashed across my vision. Oh yes, I definitely still remember her. Red curly hair, frizzy when she first wakes up. Killer body. Perfect smile complimented by perfect lips. Eyes that remind me of everything I love about a good rain storm. God, give me a life. When will it end?
The HMMWV hit a good sized rock (not the greatest of miracles when traveling down a hardened dirt goat trail), jarring me back to reality. Which, I had to say, wasn’t much; my reality consisted of a lot of sand, dust, and rocks. Oh, and the taillights of the armored vehicle in front of us.

Prologue. A Depressed Man With A Gun Wears His Heart On His Sleeve.

Dear Sarah,
If I’m lucky, you’re reading this, and I’m dead. That being said, allow me to use the vernacular freedom that comes with the grave. It’s a curious thing about being dead: I won’t have to worry about hurting your feelings. So, allow me to be completely honest in saying:
You have no idea how much I miss you. I miss you so much, it hurts. I’ll be the first to admit that our last phone call was- well… considering it lasted about two and a half sentences, I’m not even sure why I’m bringing it up. I don’t think you realize how frustrating it is to face my demons, accept responsibility, and sum up the courage to work out our animosities, only to have you strike down every opportunity to rehabilitate our relationship with a curt dismissal of my very existence. I haven’t slept a peaceful night since the last time I knew I was safe in your arms.
If you think I’m being melodramatic, you may be right, but I also know that all attempts to bring some closure to what happened a year ago have involved me coming to you, and never vice versa. Why? Do you enjoy this self-medicated prescription of guilt to callus your drama queen existence? Or is it that you’ve forgotten me this quickly?
If you have moved on, I’m glad. Well, actually I’m not. I wish you were miserable. I wish that every time you’re in a relationship that takes a serious turn, you think of me and quickly back-peddle to the sanctity of a chick flick and a bowl of whatever-the-heck-you-like ice cream. I hope that every wedding you attend, you think of what could have been between us, and desperately try to avoid making a scene as you wipe the tears itching and irritating as they trickle one at a time down your still beautiful face (don’t worry about the tears, dear, it’s a wedding, and at best, no one will notice; at worst, you will be labeled “sensitive”). I hope a thorn turns in your gut every time you hear a sappy love song, or even a good love song, or any song of which we listened. Ever. I wish that every time you hear “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” you make a motion to switch the song, but don’t, because you’re a sadist and you love feeling miserable in happy situations (why does that infernal song remind me of you? I haven’t even seen that movie, let alone with you. It’s just another one of our songs, I guess). I hope that every time you lay on your mattress, your thoughts drift to us, and you have to resort to Vikodin and alcohol to find the comfort of turning your thoughts off, though something as simple as rest is always too much to ask for.

I hope you never love again.

It would only be fair, to look in the mirror and have my reflection stare back at you. My horrors.
But you are and probably always will be much stronger than I. Who am I kidding? Your misery only makes mine worse, because I will always believe that I am the source.
You know, my other letters were a lot more civil than this one. Positive, too. My other letters contained uplifting messages of hope, and love, and bringing Jesus to other members of my squad. No kidding, I passed out Bibles to those in need; it wasn’t a feeble attempt to try and impress you at all. No, that would be pathetic. It was simple desire and compassion for fellow man.
In the civil letters I confessed that I pray for you still.
You would know this if you had actually read my letters. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will read this one. In accordance with my dramatic nature, I marked it as “deliver on event of my death,” as it really was a last ditch effort to establish some base of communication with you. Unfortunately 1) it is a one-sided and final communication and 2) it may take some time for you to receive. I can tell you in complete honesty that I don’t wish to come back from all of this, so that you will receive my letter and maybe in some miracle you will read it as well. Let’s be honest, suicide is a coward’s way out, but the US Army effectively masks my cowardice with honor, a patch, and a uniform. Why die lonely and miserable in a bathroom stall with a pistol in your right hand and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in your left when you can die lonely and miserable in a desert, get a hero’s burial, and $400,000 in insurance to go to my sisters so they can forgive what a bastard I’ve become? I mean, God bless the US Army, but they should not have let guys like me into their sacred institution.
Side Note: I’m probably only bringing this up because I am cruel, but I did consider leaving you some of that $400,000, even if it was just enough to get you to read the note that came along with it. Unfortunately , though they don’t need it in the least, the money is exclusive to next of kin.
Well, enough said. May we meet again, in this life or the next,

Private First Class Evan Drake
82nd Airborne Division

P.S. I apologize in advance if we happen to meet in the next life, despite my above closure. I hate to think that I’m staining your perfect Heaven with my ugly Self. If I could do anything about it I would, but they don’t exactly just erase your name from the Book of Life. Or maybe they do, in which case I may be in trouble.

P.P.S. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway. I still love you. Though jaded a concept as that may seem now, in my death remember how pure the words were when I said them the first time. It’s never changed. It never will.