Roger wandered through a 5th grade science fair. The echoing interior of the school gymnasium was lined with folded, brightly colored foam core installations and cascading posterboard displays propped atop row after row of long tables arranged end-to-end. The air was vibrant and smelled strongly of vinegar and hot glue. Roger, the students and their parents moved in an unorganized flow from one diorama to the next. The fair’s offering was expectedly disappointing. Theses seemed confusing, the method reductive and a tall man nearby fell into a coughing fit. The sound was nauseating. Roger quietly skipped ahead to the next row. There he found himself transfixed by an arrangement of black accordion-folded panels. The floor felt suddenly sticky, his eyes burned and a feeling of dread overcame him. On each dark panel hung a sheet of copy paper printed with a single word. They read in sequence, “Beware the sleeping man.”
Gorlo had a broken heart. The woman that he loved had died in the war and he felt lost. He felt lost and he was lost – deep in scrubby Turkish forrest. Thick fog, unfamiliar terrain and a blurry wet map that tore and separated in his hands when unfolded. He was surrounded by the roar of raw wilderness and in the grip of yellow fever. The battle may have ended but nothing would ever be the same. Hilda was gone. Little by little he found his way along a deer trail by scent. His sense of smell was as sharp as ever but, even in the fresh breeze on a hilltop, the air was masked by his own reeking body. Some wolves had shit in his coat while he slept. Then, while he knelt in pine needles sobbing, faintly, the sound of laughter floated in between the trees. Nearby, a group of children sat around a large stump and giggled. Gorlo did not hear them, though. Snails barfed in his ears.
Korko left town on the early bus without a thought for the ones who’d miss him. There was Archie, the barkeep. The girls at Cafe Opal. His sponsor, Cliff. Dr. Parker-Oak and, of course, Korko’s wife and their dog. He rested his head in the angle between the seat and the vibrating glass window. The view of browning plots and the rhythmic dot-dot-dash of warehouses sliding by gave him no feeling. He listened to the ascending and descending hum of the engine. He unwrapped and ate a low-calorie granola bar and thought about it’s stale flavor. It was November. The moon was visible and strange in the blue morning sky. Roadkill. Tattered clotheslines and derelict work yards. Bleak perhaps, but for Korko, these details floated past like blades wiping away everything. When the bus stopped for new passengers in Abbot Pass, a young woman sat down in the next seat. As she did, in a distracted fashion, she spoke to Korko without really looking over. “What a beautiful morning,” she said adjusting herself. Then she began unpacking items on her lap from a brown lunch bag. “Ooh, Bologna!”
Geoff was old and had no eyes or hands or brain. When he rode the train to see the doctor, other passengers couldn’t help staring. Who could blame them? The same goes for the patients in the waiting room. He was a sight. He was a nightmare. He sat down on the fresh paper pulled over the examining table. “Wait here for the doctor,” the nurse told him. He kicked his legs and rocked back and fourth. The room smelled like a sandwich. He waited for several hours, but the doctor never came. Eventually the offices emptied out. Everyone else went home and left him there waiting. A radio was on in the next room and it played at a very low volume all night.
There was a great storm and, when the wind finally died down again, Barney was gone. The neighbors looked for him. Two or three days passed. They searched the field and they searched the woods, but he was nowhere to be found. After a week or so it was over. Everyone fell back into habit. Most of the ones who’d known him – or knew him only as a silent face on the stoop – they imagined maybe he was in the river. So many had wound up there and he was a man of misfortune, after all. Poor Barney. It had been an unusually cold month. The shock of frost and bitter north wind raked summer away and the town braced for winter. But down deep, in the belly of the river, warm water held.
Rudolph, in a fresh change of clothes, set out toward the bright lights of the square. He had a new haircut, four hotdog wieners and plenty of raisins. His pants had no pockets, so he held everything in the scoop of his shirt tail. The moon was out and he had a thirst for red wine. He marched in abstracted formation along Water Street and made faces in the darkened shop windows’ reflections. A yellow colored hound lay sleeping in the laundromat doorway. Rudolph fed him a raisin and moved on. Young men and women spilled outside in paper hats and clustered together in the street like bubbles. Just beyond the lamplight’s reach in the park, in an oak tree, he retrieved the bottle, wiped away the ants and wandered down the hill into milky moonlight.
Wei was told about the weak beams. He might have known better but it was hunger that drove him out and high above the civic pavilion. The fruit trees in this part of the world grew tall and mean. He inched along one edge of the roofline slowly shifting his weight to each cross strut before he changed the looped knot that was his only safety. He was always careful, but today the wind blew harder and with malice. The season had turned against he and his family. Famine and plague. Upon reaching the lowest limb and the bulging sweet gourd, the wood below gave way and his vision suddenly left him. He swung his hips sideways and gripped the gently bouncing fruit between his thighs. As he did he felt the unknotted loop fall and lightly slap his ankle. Once. Twice. Then he and the fruit, loosed, fell with the moving air and slipped out of time forever.