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One fine summer day, while Couple strolled on bicycles through an alleyway near midtown, they came across a Scamp camper parked in Neighbor’s yard. Couple found the camper both cute and cozy, so they asked Neighbor if they could see the interior. Neighbor, who had always hated camping, said “Sure” with a smirk. It wasn’t until four months later when the authorities unearthed the Scamp camper near a long-abandoned ore mine, finding Couple both cute and cozy inside, cuddling next to each other like napping kittens. Meanwhile, Neighbor had absconded, relocated, and purchased the latest model of Scamp campers.

As the tiny tot stepped out from under the tunnel’s shadow, gazing into the brilliant yawning beyond, the Earth shuddered, wincing as a rarely so-frigid nor’easter slapped its masculine shoulder, while a quake rocked its mountainous back and ground its massive multi-plated underbelly. Meanwhile, Prophecy spoke in a whisper, cowering, its boastful tone suddenly absent, with voice now filled with both fear and disbelief.

A first thought was now emerging for the little tyke, as memory and knowing blended as one. In years to come he would hark back, time after time, to this moment in his life. As he stood in awe at the vast surroundings, his first word crept its way up his throat, anxiously tumbling over his tongue, and spurting out of his little mouth in a popping spit bubble. It was not the typical first words spoken by endless generations of children, either that of the unconditional “mommy” or the worshipful “daddy”. The first word this little wonder spoke: “Mine!”

His life on the dusty floors of his parents’ small three-room cottage in County Clare would provide a child’s share of amusement, but colorful hand-made toys created only limited opportunity of imaginary control and gain. But now, as his tiny fingers reached out to clutch all that stood before him, he could feel the welling of something beyond his own imagination while an unknown hunger consumed him. The gray-stone walls of the centuries-old Carron fort lay before him geometrically arrayed along a rain-covered pathway leading to the Irish horizon, to the west just beyond the wind wild trees. But it was the commingling of the drifting clouds, those of both rain-filled black and sun-hued gold, that conjured up an unbeknownst sense of energy that would compel the scallywag many years off to commission an artist to paint such a landscape in glorious detail. The blending of such a scene, he would later conclude, had told him of his divine right to part the curtains, so to speak, revealing what lay beyond them: that of both his destiny and triumph.

In time, the bars of the wee lad’s thatch crib would no longer hold his curious spirit. There were things to do, like scouting near the cliffs of Moher, moving like a ghost through the inland fog. Or embracing the forlorn limestone terrain, while chastising the calm open sea as it conspired with the reflective moon. One day, the wee lad would spring to his feet, laughingly, holding a dying field mouse by the tail in a firm grip filled with a child’s blind rage. His parents would convince themselves their only child knew not any better. They would insist upon his having a proper Catholic upbringing, the Church providing both the nurturing and control a young mind required. But such ideals would not take.

All of ten, he would begin to doubt the promises of righteousness and redemption. In a darkened tool shed, the ruffian would demand God’s intervention as a stray cat lay at the ready between the prongs of a pitchfork while he steadied a scythe above it. “Show yourself!” he demanded. “Can’t see you because you’re not there,” he would conclude, lopping off the animal’s head to ensure God’s lesson on mercy had no influence on his decisions.

In his twelfth summer would come accusations relating to the mysterious cliff death of the youngest daughter of nearby O’Moilan House. Suspicions would abound with the discovery of the child’s body washed ashore and signs of ritualistic sacrifice near the ruins of St. Cavan’s church. Eventually, with a great deal of pressure from the community, his parents would be compelled to send him off to boarding school on the mainland. While there, the rapscallion would devise, unconsciously, an ethic-less approach to profit from the most bitter of schoolyard enemies, pitting them ever more strongly in opposition. He would secretly encourage each of the antagonists to escalate the confrontation, selling to each one his methods of one-up-man-ship for the price of a pouch of pearly marbles or a week’s worth of lunch tickets, methods for which he had barely labored to secure, almost as if he had acquired them while still in the womb. And with such amorality, his perception of right and wrong withered to a blur, eventually becoming imperceptible.

His resolve would be accentuated by the international-terrorist killings of his parents at a Belfast railway station, ultimately leaving him without the strictures of convention. Society, having regressed due in large part to the bankruptcy of most social programs throughout the European Union, would provide little comfort or solace, leaving him to embrace his street-orphan status and to map out his own future.

“Two can play at this game,” the little troublemaker would declare, envisioning how he would eventually wrest control from the two main forces engaged in the War on Terror – The Axis of Righteousness and the International Terrorists. He immediately acknowledged “patience” as his main ally. The whelp would resort to a life of crime, petty theft and burglary. These acts would provide a means to define his convictions, sharpening the edge of his determination.

The rogue would eventually reach young manhood, aesthetically pleasing to women in both appearance and deceptive demeanor, preying upon them, particularly those older and of position, catering to their vanity, proffering his services. But one indiscretion involving the misappropriation of funds of a cabinet minister’s sister would end in this punk finding himself conscripted out in the deserts of Arabia where the War on Terror had been raging for nearly fifty years, a time that would become known as the Apocalyptic Age. With both callousness and false submissiveness, the faux-loyalist soldier would aspire to a leadership role, his vision of domination still well intact.

While engaged in combat there would be boundless opportunities for mass manipulation, as he would work up his fellow nomad-like militants to attack the enemy as merciless as a pride of lions circling its quarry, and as heavy and hard as the blows of a chain gang’s sledgehammers, while his superiors turned a blind eye. And all that they would capture, land and property, he declared belonged to the nations making up the Axis of Righteousness, while plotting his method for gaining control of it all. But the truest measure of how he would elevate himself to greatness would be by inflaming one village against another, thus creating civil war up and down the front.

By design, his military unit would become isolated from the normal chains of command. Hence, it would become a fighting element on its own, engaging in guerilla warfare. Even the top generals of the Union, though recognizing the warrior’s indiscriminate brutality, would confess privately that his methods had advanced the cause of the Axis of Righteousness against terrorism. They would promote him to lieutenant colonel.

He would return to the people of his homeland as a great hero, both humble and solemn in his words and deeds. Eventually, he would secure a seat in the Union’s government. The profiteers’ minds began to race, dying to know what his Euro-dollar potential would be over time, while the ubiquitous and ever-evolving media wondered what god-like mythology they would use to both fabricate and to elevate his greatness and stature, spreading both throughout the world. But the great hero would have plans of his own. He would increase his popularity, exponentially, by engaging, first hand, in a campaign of destruction upon the legions of terrorism. Like no other public figure before him, he would lead the charge across the battlefields upon the heathens that would make up the southern hemisphere. “Extermination” became his battle cry as he would rally the multitudes of the north, whipping them into a cultic frenzy.

The heads of nation states would provide, whole-heartedly, the resources, the manpower and weaponry needed to take up such an undertaking. He would prove himself in the Middle East, devastating the tyrannical governments supporting the terror that raged throughout the world for so long.

At the end of several seasons, the ghoulish warrior would level many great third world cities, wiping out multitudes. Historians would credit him with the victory of good over evil, and the overthrow and elimination of terror. While in small corners, he would be castigated as the greatest mass murderer of all time with the conservative declaration of one billion deaths to his credit.

With his greatness assured and the people firmly behind him, the recently promoted general would see to the reconstruction of the southern hemisphere, accomplished through the works of his own divine hands. Additionally, and with the backing of several nations’ militaries, he would demand all the heads of state to give way to the will of the people and allow him to serve as the leader of the north. With mandate firmly in hand, he would be triumphantly ordained as such on the sixtieth anniversary of 9-11.

For now, that is all in the future. With so much time for such thoughts, and now newly pre-occupied, the little sprout pulled down his trousers and peed on his world to come.

1863, Rock Dell Township, Minnesota

The others had heard many times Cornelius Thorsen’s boastful retelling
of his grandfather’s greatness in having for decades bred Fjord draught
horses on Tandberg Farms for the whole of Northern Europe’s agriculture
industry.

“Then why would your family move to America, forsaking your rightful
inheritance?” Peter asked in a whisper just barely above the night’s
shadows. “And why is your father a miller instead of a horse-breeder
like his father before him?”

But Cornelius had already moved on to another tale.

“Without my help,” he explained, with cold, blue eyes, “the captain of
the Helvetia would not have been able to come full rudder, hard to
starboard. And, instead, the ship would have rolled against the froth
of a gigantic breaker and foundered.”

In the moonlight, Cornelius could see the unanimous look of disbelief
that even they, the solemnest of Norwegian fraternity, could not
conceal.

“It’s true! It took both the captain’s and my strength to right the
wheel and the ship’s course.” Then he placed his hand on top of his
head. “And that’s how I lost my cap, while crossing the North
Atlantic,” his hand lifting upward and away, like some object lost to
the trade winds.

“And I reckon you single-handedly ended the Sioux uprising of last
autumn.” Nels jested. Cornelius, ignoring him, turned to stare off at
the stable in the field surrounded by the dim-white speckling of sheep.

“Never mind all that,” Anders reproached Cornelius. “We’ve come all
this way because you claim that you and the pretty daughter of
Khristoff Middelson are as joined together as the birds in springtime.”

Cornelius looked into the three faces, noting how the sharp shadows
from the nearby bushes etched an intense expectation from one to the
next. For weeks, he had spoken boldly of how he and Kari had frequently
engaged in the tradition of nattfrieri, night courtship, in which
budding teenage boys and girls are permitted to spend the night
together, a usually tame approach to testing the waters of
pre-adulthood. Never mind that he had boasted how the occurrences had
taken place without the consent of either his or Kari’s parents. Never
mind that he was taking chances with Kari’s honor, should his friends’
loose tongues falsely bray throughout the community of her reputation
after this night.

“Get on with it then,” said Peter while Anders pushed Cornelius out
from behind the bushes.

“And remember,” added one of them, “you’re to bring back an item of
proof.”

“Right,” he whispered, while feeling the cool night air against the
sweat on his brow.

It was hardly uncommon for the children of sheep farmers to spend the
lambing season, all alone, up in the hills where the ewes found a good
mix of grasses and legume. Each member of the Middelson brood had taken
his or her place, in succession over the years, doing just that. This
was Kari’s year to guide the grazing flock from pasture to pasture, and
to be on watch for difficult birthings or ringwomb.

As Cornelius crept through the flock, he felt the nervousness of a son
of a miller, out of his element, trembling with every nose turning away
with indifference or shuttering when a hindquarter lightly hopped away,
parting the way for his advancement. While holding his breath from the
smell of sheep dung, he could hear the chuckling coming from the bushes
near the end of the field.

Nearer now to the back corner of the stable, Cornelius saw a lit lamp
inside. He hesitated long enough to realize he could neither go
forward, in the event Kari was awake, nor backward, for fear of the
ridicule he would surely encounter.

Just then, Kari stepped out from behind the stable’s opening. The light
from within the stable shone on one side of her face, covered in
perspiration, and ignited in Cornelius feelings a grown man would
describe as both wondrous and alluring.

“What are you doing here, Cornelius Thorsen?” She scolded, exhausted.

“I…I…”

“Never mind,” she snapped while taking him by the hand, and continued,
“I was going to fetch my Pa as one of the ewes is having difficulties
delivering. But you can help just as well.”

Cornelius felt a sense of satisfaction, while looking back toward the
bushes, as Kari pulled him into the stable. But it was short-lived as
he began to feel queasy once he gazed upon a ewe lying in a pool of its
own innards.

“But I don’t know anything about …”

“It’s your strength I need, Cornelius Thorsen. See these ropes? I’ll
tell you what to do. I’ve tried to pull it out by myself, but now I’m
too tired to pull any longer.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“We need to pull togehter on these ropes and save this little lamb. And
we must hurry.”

Kari smiled, nodding, as Cornelius got down on his knees beside her.
“Are you ready?”

“I think so.”

Kari handed him one of the ropes and they both began to pull. After
only a few moments, the lamb slid free from its mother’s womb and into
the world. Then Kari quickly cleared its throat and gently wiped it
down with straw.

Both Cornelius and Kari exchanged smiling eyes for a moment before she
asked, “Have you run away from home?”

“No. I’m…”

“Or did you come here on a dare?”

He stiffened.

“I heard the laughter of your friends in the darkness.” He saw the look
of suspicion on her face. “And that look on your face means you’ve come
to the right place.”

“What do you mean?”

“’Baa’,” she mimicked, while looking out at the flock.

“Oh, right.” He stood up and began to shift from one foot to the other.
“I feel more like a goat.”

“Were you supposed to bring them back a trophy of some kind?”

He was speechless as she untied a ribbon from her hair and offered it
to him.

Embarrassed, he shook his head. “No. That’s okay.”

She shrugged and then asked, “What shall we name him?”

“Who?”

“Our baby lamb.”

“You name them?”

“Not usually. But in this case, we’ll pretend you’re Joseph and I’m
Mary, and we’ll name him Jesus.” She smiled.

Humbly, Cornelius smiled as well. And then he rose. “Good night, Kari
Kristoffsdatter.”

“Good night, Cornelius Thorsen.”

He walked slowly back to the bushes where the three boys were still
crouched in silence.

“What happened?” asked Peter. “Have you returned with proof?”

He looked back at the stable, and after a short pause, he spoke with an
exaggerated tone. ”Forget all the things I’ve told in the past, for
tonight tops them all! A miracle! My beloved Kari and I have just given
birth, bringing into the world a savior!”

The three friends each looked from one to the other before breaking out
in laughter.

“C’mon,” said Anders, while pushing Cornelius back down the hill. “It’s
late. We should be getting back to the village.”

Cornelius looked over his shoulder, not realizing he had aged this
night, yet still firm in the knowledge that his days of story-telling
had somehow come to an abrupt end.

Paul tried to think about afternoons on the river – tadpoles, fishing poles and beer pulls. The deafening hush of silent skies and quiet ripples. Sun-baked arms and sleepy eyes. His mind was nearly empty of winter’s heavy hand, shadows and thaw-freeze-thaw cycle. But the slow pace of merging traffic and Terri’s voice, pitched and pointed, penetrated his drifting thoughts. He tried to curl the combo of angst and anger, seething beneath the surface, into a ball the soft shape of Nerf.

“The baby needs new clothes,” she said.

Her words caused Paul to have a flash thought, a blinking mix of regret and acceptance. He’d been having them all winter. The first one had occurred last spring, after Terri had told him she was pregnant. Run or be responsible, followed by a quick erasure of “Run” and acceptance of a terrifying “be responsible”. He never imagined such thoughts would become harder over time. And more frequent.

“I’d ask you to work more overtime, but I think you spend enough time with Andrea.”

Paul glanced over at Terri as the baby started to cry in the backseat, and decided to stow his “Shut up” and thought more about fishing and worrying less about the baby weight she’d yet to lose.

“I bet Andrea doesn’t have to worry about baby clothes,” Terry said, followed by a mumbled “yet.”

Another flash thought. Someone getting away or maybe not. Just depends on the amount of destruction he would be willing to inflict on his new young…Forget it!

“All that gaming with the guys…and Andrea,” she scolded. “It costs money.”

His arm resting on the lose chrome of the car door, Paul flicked ash from his cigarette while memorizing the necessary approach pattern to overtake Humpback Ridge from Josh in Games of Warfare 3. Rolling to his left, behind a burnt out dwelling, he calculated the distance needed to chuck the grenade into the last gunner’s nest. Then he’d rush the nest and blast to hell those left alive.

“And so does all your fishing trips,” she continued just as a white Dodge Charger zoomed passed on the shoulder. “The money you spend, we coulda just bought some fish at the store.”

Pissed, Paul wondered where that guy thought he was going, cutting line as if there was an open space up ahead just for Chargers.

“I’m sick and tired of Andrea showing up at the house,” Terri declared. Then she challenged Paul. “Can’t you just work with her?”

Paul cranked the steering wheel hard to the right and took off down the shoulder. Once alongside the Charger, he got out while ignoring the sound of Terri’s voice. He first knocked on the passenger window. He could see the startled face of the driver, a brunette holding a compact in one hand and an iPhone in the other. Realizing she wasn’t about to power down the window, he stood straight up, shouting at the top of his lungs, “It’s called a zipper merge for a reason, you bitch!” while pulling his fly up and down, over and over, like a man on the wrong side of a flash thought.

Too warm. Started late. The smell of fresh-cut cemetery grass. Cattle grazing nearby. Old country school-church. Needs paint. Itchy flannel shirt. Mower mowing. Hard seat.

Davey thinks. Works his mind in the present and the past. Thoughts of ancestors and old dreams. Stoic settlers. Dead kin. A lover. His old empty heart. A survivor’s heart, God willing.

The past was creeping. Always creeping from behind. Waiting no longer, finally springing, elbowing, and wedging itself between what is and what could have been. Been: a hard place to get back to. Only in memory. Only if it really happened. Davey knew and knows the truth. Only he and she knew and know. She ran away. Not with someone else. Just away. He knew and knows the truth. Thinks he does, anyway.

The mower whirs as it glides passed a row of headstones, its driver lost way back when, when he was young, timid and just. Not scared and stupid. Still thinks of her more than anything. Always has. Misses what he missed. Misses not making her his “Mrs”.

Passing a familiar headstone. A brother. Davey sees his face for the millionth time during the millionth mowing. Young forever, dead at a young age. Hanged himself. Davey remembers because it scared him. It was a woman and another man. They broke his brother’s heart. Scared his brother, he guesses and guesses and guesses. To be loved and then to not be loved. Scared him, for sure, he guesses.

Now he sees her, the young school teacher, for the millionth time, as she wraps her shawl tightly around her shoulders. He remembers beneath the lamp post, she was shivering. The weather, he figured then. His distance, he realized later.

“Chances?” she had asked.

“I can’t take chances right now.” he had told her.

“I’m not a chance,” she had said, soft and stern.

“Time’s not right.”

“Then when?”

“Not sure.”

“You’re still thinking…’bout your brother. We don’t all break hearts.”

“They need help on the farm.”

“That’s noble…but would you really rather stay here?”

“It’s a lot of responsibility.”

“Yes, it is. And the longer you stay, the more likely you’ll never leave.”

“I’m needed here.”

“Leaving home takes growing up.”

“Teach your students,” he had snapped back. “Not me.”

He had heard her sigh but had not looked for her tears.

“I love you, David. There. One of us said it. And that can’t be taught.”

It’s for the best, he had thought to himself, as she walked away, as tall and slender as his chilled heart was rigid.

Still mowing. He passes the plot of folks from Meadows Corner, the plot where most of that clan rest. They lost two in WWII. Thinks of his own clan, just as big and with its own triumphs and tragedies, and his own life, falling somewhere in between, in limbo, almost like a non-starter.

Still thinking. Whenever he’s in town for groceries or machine parts or feed, they all still call him Davey. Even after his recovery from a mild stroke. Long time to be Davey, to have never become “David” and to have never become whatever it was he left behind. All those years ago. He mows. He cuts grass. Not because anyone – out there or dead in here – asks him to. Cuts it because it’s time and there’s time.

The black lab looked like a bounding speck of darkness on the barren soccer field filled with brown patches and dirty snow piles near the curb. The noon sun burned through cool, cloudless blue. The spring thaw was very late and the dog was a present from its owners to its owners, a man who made mistakes and grand gestures with equal measure, and a woman who trusted men even less than she knew the sources of her fits of jealousy.

“He’s a good fetcher,” the man said, his jacket zipped down, allowing for long-distance tosses toward the far end of the field.

“He’s obedient.” She stood, chilled, her hands in her pocket.

“A credit to his breed.”

“A credit to his nature.”

“I suppose.”

“They know better than us. You know. How to behave.”

“It’s instinct, isn’t it?”

“Sure. Means they can’t out think themselves.”

“What do you mean?” he exhaled as he tossed the ball.

“They know, instinctively,” she paused, “to do the right thing.”

“Okay.”

They had been a couple long enough for either of them to make a comment without having to explain its meaning to the other. Some comments felt like waves of cuddles, leading to moments of mutual tranquility and oneness, while others hung in the air, waiting for one of them to light the fuse that would ignite a new argument.

They both made good money, money that often times turned into apologies disguised as gifts. She did not love her job as much as he loved his. Instead, she longed to give him the ultimate gift. He longed to receive it. But instead, they argued over things he would do and things she could not do.

The ball was in the air, the dog flying after it.

The man thought of things of long ago.

“I used to play on this very field.”

“Yes. With other children. I know.”

“I had dreams, you know. Can you blame me?”

“There’s plenty of blame to go around.”

“For who?”

“Everyone. Even her.”

“Are you serious?”

“No doubt she was a ‘good fetcher’.”

“Does that really matter.”

“Shouldn’t it?”

“I thought we ironed this all out.”

“’til the next time, I suppose.”

“Christ!”

The dog returned and sat, its tail wagging, focused on the ball in the man’s hand. It was living a new life, by instinct.

“Can I throw one?”

“You can try,” he said as he limply handed her the ball.

The house was filled with stuffy hot air and bad history, ready to explode, as Chase staggered down the hallway of his grandparents’ home, an aimless endeavor he had endured the past several months since Seinna had taken his children and gone to parts unknown. He sat on the unmade bed, the one his father had slept in while growing up on in a neighborhood of tangled streets named after the Big Lakes. He tried to recall the point of today. It’s meaning. The tall pines hovering high, swaying in the summer breeze near the bedroom window, and the dark blue walls filled his head with a sense of claustrophobia, as if he were drowning or locked away in a closet that was tailor-made for abusing those who were without defense.

Chase rolled his class ring between his dirty fingertips while it spoke to him in an ancient dialect. A language of youth and innocence. Talk of opportunity and simple choices. Visions of high school passed through his mind. “Mad Dog!” his high school classmates had chanted after he had pinned an opponent with undisciplined aggression. Sienna had always stood on the sidelines, quiet, tolerant of the risks of wrestling and weary of the violent nature possessed by her unborn child’s father. Neither one of them dreamt that his family’s dysfunctional history would slowly, over time, invade their world.

Chase wanted to ask his grandmother again where the ring came from. But he realized her mind was filled with distrust for all things of this world and her heart empty of compassion, while her zest for living hung by a shoestring. She had been a victim traveling down the hard road longer than anyone. “Some guy,” she had answered, stiff and stern. It made no difference where the ring came from, he now realized. It had returned to him thirteen years since its disappearance. There had to be a reason for its finding its way back to him today, he dreamed. That is, he thought, if reasoning and dreaming could fill the same void.

Chase had finally left his mark, just like his father and his father before him. It was the sort of mark that left both physical and mental bruises on others while, afterwards, always leaving him questioning his judgment. We were so young, he thought, now thinking more about the past and who he had become, thinking more so now about such things than any other time in his adult life. Jobs came and went. Arguments with anyone and everyone were lost and re-lost. Troubles stirred his and Sienna’s world for so long, he now wondered how he had not noticed the subtle shifting in the balance of his life, as it slowly fractured, forming into either a piece of lost-opportunity or a fragment of callous-disregard, until finally she had told him, “This is the last time.”

The ring, heavy in Chase’s palm, must stand for something, he judged.

Regret. Reflection. Remorse. Redemption. Redo.

Resolve began to fade.

Chase set the tarnished ring on the nightstand and lay down on a bed that knew plenty of nightmares. His thoughts drifted toward childhood and children, angst and slumber. And then he started to doze off. An old lost ring could only do so much.