Chapter 1

I didn’t want to go on. Walking up the tracks, my feet wouldn’t move as if they were warning my body that there was nothing a head for me anymore; even at the thought of moving forward my legs were trembling. The sounds of crumbling rocks beneath my feet was silent on my ears and a wave a nausea filled the pit of my stomach. Surely, I wasn’t even here, wherever it is that I was. I’m still trying to figure out if this is where we were supposed to end up or if I was still miles away. Until I could figure it out, the only direction to go was where everyone else was so I turned my bruised, burnt, and bleeding body toward town and looked down at my knees and my feet as they lunged in front of me as if I didn’t even own them. Was it worth it?

The words my father once told me rang in my head as if he were standing with his hand on my shoulder next to me. “August, trembling legs won’t keep you; it’s a weak heart that stops you. Push on.” He used to say that to me when I would run. I wasn’t very good at it, but I liked it. I ran in middle school, through high school, and even for a while after that. It was the place where I could feel the wind and where I felt I could belong. I could still see him standing off to the side with his determined and stern, but loving eyes helping me to believe I could actually do it. I don’t think I ever really understood or appreciated that about him.

In races I never finished first, but my father had a way of making me feel like I had. At least to him. It took me along time to accept that as perfection, as success; but it became what I cared about most. Can you hear him? “Come on, August! Keep pushing on, son. Keep pushing on!” And now? He is not here, oh! how it would sooth my heart to see him standing off on the sidelines now, but I hear his voice in my head when the rest of the world has been silenced. Somehow it helps even though my is heart is now the weakest part.  I only wondered if this was what all that had been leading up to: the will to keep running. And it wasn’t going to be my dad who would get me there, it was now up to me.

Here at the end, or what some might call the beginning, is where my life actually starts. Here at the end I’m walking up the railroad tracks into town, passing stone faces and wet cheeks, praying hands, and quickened feet. Here at the end is when I start to believe.

In my hand is an envelope, yellow and stained even with blood,  I was given to pass on and now, as I’ve actually been walking for blocks, to a house. I knock on the door and within a few seconds the door creaks open and before my stands a family. I don’t know them, I just was told to come here so I absentmindedly throw my hand infront of my body as if someone else was pulling a string, holding this charred, blood stained paper. They open it slowly and so begin reading. Each tear from her eye echoes in my brain.

“August,” they said sweetly as though they knew me, “Where is this from?” a mother asked, “How did you get this? Do you know what this says?” I couldn’t quite answer, it was as if my heart had forgotten what words even were. I wasn’t able to notice the child on her hip, the scattered coloring pages on the floor, the smell of burning chicken from the kitchen, or the dog scratching at the backdoor. The sounds of screams of fighting and laughter were masked by the heaviness in my soul. As I looked at them, as I looked at her, this mother whose struggles were spread across her gently aged face and greying curly hair, I looked further passed into the hallway and out into the backyard to a swing. Blue poles, black seat, chain link fence that I could hear squeaking. It was there that I swear I saw Anna right where I remembered her best and I didn’t feel twenty-three anymore.

Her hair, Anna’s hair, was blowing in the wind as the swing swung back past where I was standing off to the side. A low squeal was let out in consistent rhythm as the swing passed through the middle. I was as captivated as a seven year old could be by the gentle breeze produced on this abnormally sticky day. The breeze felt like ice cream on my throat or better yet, like jumping into pool. As Anna swung higher, the breeze got stronger and soon I could feel my cotton tee begin to brush against my skin. With each swing Anna began to sing louder a high and light melody that made the first day of Summer feel like the first day of freedom after being enslaved to a life of broken cookies and bells. Yes, even at seven I was over being locked in a classroom after the second week. I don’t know how they managed to deal with me for ten months. There was something about me that no one ever seemed to like and so I never seemed to like anyone either. I was different, or weird some would call me. But, here… I felt glad to be here and my liberation was that of Anna’s melody, floating into the air and being carried away, expanding.

Sunday summer afternoons were the days where Mom and Dad took naps inside for a couple of hours and Anna and myself played on the swing set. Even as children it was our cherished tradition of sorts. If I could ever remember a childhood moment, it would be this one. Anna singing songs into the tree leaves that, in sunshine and deep green, rustled above us in the cool wind. A summer day like today is far beyond lemonade and hammocks and more like star gazing in the afternoon. As each leaf would move, rays of sunshine would beam in, gently tickling our eyelashes, warming our eye lids.

Our life, Anna’s and mine, I think was different then other children’s. Most siblings would fight, disagree, and while moms and dads would be sleeping; they might awaken to a giant ruckus. Come to think of it, as children, Anna and I never fought as long as I could remember. Sure we disagreed, but somehow as small and young people we knew it was important that we take care of each other, that we have each other’s backs, that we watched out for each other, and help each other become the best we could be. So on Sunday afternoons while our parents would sleep we wouldn’t fight, we would dream.

Anna always was a better dreamer than I. As soon as we opened the creaky screen door and heard it slam shut behind us, our feet would take off into sky and we would be flying over the garage and past the old barn with withered straw falling out of its windows, over the fields of wild grass that had gone years without use and into the clouds like giant dragons with scales that glistened like water. Whatever she spoke was, and we were.

In reality, if you had been watching from afar, we were just running around the yard.

But, the way Anna described it captivated you and it was like you were a creator of a whole new world.

Today while she was singing, I began to imagine on my own. Without her words I didn’t really know where to go, but I began to let my imagination wander farther and farther away. Honestly, it was scary at first; my mind felt jostled to have such control. Like a small child stuck in a crowd of tall giants, an experience I was well acquainted with, I was wanting to escape. Then suddenly, with the sun sitting on my eyes in passing waves I felt lifted and free. I rose above the trees around me and began to fly like a bird. This bird was a hawk, and with each flicker of my wing in the slightest I would fall and rise through the atmosphere; the lightness of my stomach distracted me and I looked down. Suddenly frightened, I pushed higher to avoid and chance of colliding violently with the ground. As I flew longer it became easier, my muscles felt connected to the tips of my claws to the tips of my wings and each part was working together. Higher and higher I soared. I hit a peak and floated for a while, then gently began to fall. The wind became my friend and we worked together as I lowered my beak and dove downward, lifting and spinning my wings around, pulling them in close to my sides. Around me I could still here the breeze that sang the high and sweet melody. It filled the sky as if it were sky itself, directing the path of all living things. How fantastic it all is!

Then the music stopped.

“August,” Anna spoke. Her voice was still high and small, but loud. “Have you ever thought about flying? In the sky like a bird?”

I smiled. I began to tell her what I saw in the clouds and in the air; the sound of freedom and the taste of beauty like it had been her own. Eventually I grabbed her hand and took her with me, into the air, and we spread our arms wide in the yard. The grass was tall enough to reach our fingertips and thick enough that its rustle sounded like the wind. With eyes shut tight we began singing and laughing through the field near by, skipping and jumping as though we would lift high enough to actually leave the earth behind. Her hand in my mine was comforting and warm, like a mother’s but better because Anna knew exactly who I was and wanted me to become everything I wasn’t yet. Her skin was ivory, crisp, and cool. Her hairy, blonde and curly like mine, bounced in the wind and was long enough to graze the tips of graze we were bounding through. I felt so filled with love towards a best friend, towards my sister.

When the end of our time playing came to pass, we exhaustively fell to the ground in a heap, breathing heavily until faintly. Anna turned to me and smiled; she called me her best friend and her, mine. We stood up and began our trek back to the front porch after brushing away traces of leaves and seeds from the brush as we stumbled on the unstable ground, content and full of joy. As we approached the white wooden steps we stopped to enjoy the horizon darkening, promoting the entrance of night which included lighting bugs, the hushing of birds, and the parading of bats across the sky. It seemed every Sunday the hours passed more quickly with each week that added to our aging hearts.

Anna, being a few years older than I, and I can admit hesitantly, wiser, often noted at the end of a day like this that this is what living was for, that maybe this is what God intended for two small children of mischievous virtue until our time would come for much greater things. Anna also believed in God and fate and destinies; things a seven year old can only question as a child of my circumstance, having known nothing of the world, its temptations or pain. Already in her young life, Anna seemed to have achieved such a broad perspective that she had at times hinted I was lucky to not have learned. Hers was personal experience and intimate revelation. This I would begin to understand as I grew older and was let in on the hidden secrets of her life and her past.

But for now, myself being seven, and Anna being eleven we had more to do with exploring and dreaming. At least that’s how I preferred to remember it. By this time Mom would call us inside to take a bath or a shower before crawling into bed. Even after Dad would come in a kiss us goodnight, Anna would invite me into her room and would tell me stories under the covers until we both fell asleep of exhaustion. Our bedtime stories usually involved battles and heroes who were only heroes because of how they conquered the fear of themselves which pushed them in greatness that caused them to save the world. Or at least a couple kittens. Mom and Dad never said a hoot when they would find us in one of our rooms in the morning.

And this was our life, the two of us. There was never more or never less as far as I could remember. Sometimes I would sit and wonder as I stared at Mom and Dad why I didn’t have more brothers or sisters or what it was like without me, but they just always say they don’t remember what life was like without me. I guess I don’t remember what life was like without them either. Anna says she remembers what life was like without me, “Lonely. You were made to be my brother. You were made to be my best friend.” I also hardly knew what it meant to be a best friend, since Anna was the only real friend I had. I suppose the only friend you have aught to be the best one since its better than none at all. Imaginary ones would just never do when you have someone to imagine new worlds with you.

Anna whispered as we wiggled and giggled under the blankets with a flashlight, “And so you see, the Prince of Stronger Gully could not keep up with the troll and his tricks. He thought either I must out-trick this troll or die. As the troll stared at him waiting to make his move, he imagined ways to cook him and eat the Prince of Stronger Gully!”

“Eww, Annie. He’s going to eat the Prince?”

“Well, what the troll doesn’t know is that Prince has eaten a magical,” she paused to think, “a magical nectar from a spice lily that would make him toxic even to lick. Of course the Prince knew this so he let the troll approach, put his drippy troll lips up to arm and lick.” She grabbed my arm and slobbered on me. I pulled it back giggling as she began to pretend choking. “And so the troll fell to the ground, thrashing about, begging for mercy or an antidote. ‘See here, troll,’ said the Prince of Stronger Gully, ‘if you ever intend to trespass into my land again the curse of this day will come back to cause your throats to swell. And not even you, but your children and their children will forever be cursed to an allergic reaction to the people of Stronger Gully and where ever hence they go.’ The troll got up and ran the other direction. The Price sighed as he thought of how close he was to being troll dinner. And so they commemorated his bravery by putting giant troll statues at the entrance of the town, which is why you see might scary animal stones all over, to always remind the trolls of what will happen if they ever attempt to take a bite of human flesh again!”

“And they slept happily that night?” I asked.

“They slept happily that night.” Anna never ended her stories with ‘And they lived happily ever after’ because she said living happily every after isn’t a realistic dream because our stories always continue and there is always a new fear or test. She said most of life is an unhappily ever after, but there are nights where we sleep happily without any awareness of what tomorrow will bring. All we could do was go to sleep happily which was exactly what we did.

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