A JOB OPENING
“Life is like a carnival ride. You can play it safe and ride the merry-go-round. It's predictable.
But myself, I’ll ride the roller-coaster every time. All its lights and thrills, its ups and downs, twists and turns, and rushes and brushes with death.”
- Victor Standish
I made my way in a rush from the burning mansion. Mother called me her “precocious poet” what with how I talked and thought. Seeing how she abandoned me in that Detroit playground when I was seven, I kind of figure she hates poetry.
I looked up at the beauty of the full moon beginning to hide her shy face behind the scarf of that black cloud. I burned it into my mind for times when I needed something, anything that breathed of beauty.
How deeply we love everything that can’t last:
the dazzling fire of a winter dawn, a crisp, fragrant spring breeze, the fragile flight of butterflies, scarlet and gold autumn leaves, a kiss … and life.
Mother once said that some lives, conducted with grace, are beautiful arcs bridging this world to eternity. But you’ll have to forgive me if I want to stay on this side of that bridge.
I mean from the day we're born we should all be afraid … but not of dying. No. We should be afraid of never having lived. I sighed.
By doing, I learn what to do. By going, I learn where to go. One day, by dying, I'll learn what it meant to have lived.
I felt like I've never had a home, you know? I’d traveled around so much that I felt related to the country, to all of America really … but to no one in particular. And that made for a loneliness that went down clean to the bone.
Not that I was blind to America’s thousand and one faults. She was an ocean of bones from sea to shining sea in whose depths a million victims were buried. But her beauty without Man spoiling it took my breath away.
And sometimes you ran into heroes unawares:
the single mother working as a waitress into the long hours of the night, the Vet who ran a gym for troubled kids, or the grandmother taking care of the children of her uncaring daughter who had broken her heart but not beyond loving lonely children in need.
But they were few and far between. Mostly, you ran into predators who looked at you like you were the Special of the Day. So far I had kept myself uneaten. So far.
I went cold. There were slitherings behind me in the brush. Oh, crap. I picked up the pace.
I always believed that we lived in a magical world of which science understood only the tiniest fraction.
And that we exist, that we think and love and hate and yearn, is probably the most amazing thing of all. There are thousands of different insects and species of plants beyond counting, but up until tonight I felt that there was only one consciousness in this temporary world that could build civilizations and contemplate its purpose in profound ways —
The mansion had proven me wrong. The slitherings got louder behind me. My ears perked. Voices. Men’s voices. Angry voices. Just beyond that tangle of bushes to my left.
I slowed. The sounds of the slitherings behind me got louder, closer. From the direction of the voices came the smell of bad booze, talcum powder, sweat, fresh-turned dirt, and the unsettling mix of Old Spice and embalming fluid.
I saw movement behind me. Crap, I didn’t really have a choice. I slid through the bushes as quickly as I could with no thought about being quiet.
Three men were tossing a bloody body into a fresh-dug grave – an unmarked grave. A tall fourth was overseeing the job, his sneer shattered by my entrance. It from him that I smelled the disgusting mix of Old Spice and embalming fluid.
He was tall, dressed in a starched military uniform with no insignia left – though I saw the darker places where the patches had been. I see well in moonlight. Too well, for I saw the murder in all their eyes turned in my direction.
The man tossing in the body did so as if the blood-dripping thing was made of stuffing. He was a Goliath of a brute with all the kindness of curdled snake venom in his eyes.
Bear hide covered him in a tunic as if he could find no store with clothes large enough for him – which was probably true.
The rummy next to him smelled like he had been marinating in Wild Turkey for a century or so. His lined face sure looked it. He stepped back with a squawk and a curse, bumping into the third man who scowled disgustedly at him.
He had the lithe grace of an athlete. Lean hard muscles corded under the bronze skin of his massive arms like corded rope. I could hear the voice of my dead teacher, Sensei, murmuring, “Body of a high wire artist, eyes of a killer.”
I flashed a smile I didn’t feel. “Need a hand? I need a lift.”
My heart plunged like the stock market as Goliath turned to Old Spice. “Do we kill him?”
My right fingers twirled the ball bearing in them. ‘You first, Bruno’ I thought. Old Spice shook his head slowly and stretched out his first word.
He smiled at the grave. “It would appear we have a job opening.”