C. M. Beckett
MAINELINING volume 1
LIFE IS FUNNY with artist
& A Stone Wall Between Us
INTRODUCTION: In late December, 2008, I saw a post soliciting submissions for a new online anthology from Ape Entertainment revolving around UFO stories. The guidelines were simple – keep it between 815 pages long and include a UFO in the story. Of course, there was the tacit understanding that the story be original and offer up something more than the usual fare. Sparked, I wrote a quick script and sent it off to Ape. That initial story was really just a rehashing of things that had been seen before, a consequence of my memory regurgitating things I’d seen or read before into a new context. Ape wisely passed on it. I stepped back and gave serious thought to the kind of story I would like to read in an anthology such as this. A week later, I had finished a new script that focused on relationships rather than the UFO or the aliens, and sent that off to Ape. A couple of days later it was accepted by Troy Dye, the editor for the project. Of course, there were some things Troy felt could be revised, in order to make it a stronger story, and he said he was willing to work with me and make this tale as good as it could be. This was my first time working with an editor, and I have to say it was a great experience. Troy always made sure I understood that this was my story, and he was only making suggestions. Ultimately, the final narrative would be mine. All of Troy’s ideas were insightful, and they definitely made “Life is Funny” a far stronger story. We went through four drafts of the script, and it was an invaluable experience for me. Troy was really trying to make sure everything within the story was clear without it banging readers over the head. His editing was a great help, and I am grateful to him for his dedication and professionalism through the whole process. So, after of a few weeks, we had a working script for the UFO anthology. It now fell to me to find a team of creators – artist, colorist, and letterer – to realize my script. I was lucky enough, through an ad on Digital Webbing, to find Jason Copland to do the art. He really brought my script to life and made it so much better. I cannot thank Jason enough for the stellar job he did. He’s since done work on the Perhapanauts comic with Todd Dezago and has also had his work featured in the Eisner award-nominated anthologies Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened, and Trickster: Native American Tales – a Graphic Collection. Jason is a talented artist and you can find more of his work at www.jasoncopland.com as well as the art blog he shares with Eisner-nominee Noel Tuazon, www.poutinethecomic.blogspot.com. And if you’d like to see the color version of “Life is Funny,” it can be found at http://apecmx.com/ufo/?p=182, and you can see the fantastic work of Osmarco Valladão, who added another layer to my story. They, along with Josh Aitken, who lettered the Ape version of the story, really did an amazing job, and they all got the work done in a timely, professional manner. It was a true pleasure to work with these talented creators, and I hope to one day get the chance to work with them again. Enjoy.
LIFE IS FUNNY Art: Jason Copland Story & Lettering: C. M. Beckett
ÂŠ 2010 C. M. Beckett & Jason Copland
Hailing from Maine, C. M. Beckett has conjured up fictions for as long as he can remember, but only recently has he begun to share them. With friend and creative partner, Dan Fleming, Beckett has self-published four issues of the black & white, comics & prose anthology, Warrior27, and recently collected the best bits from those issues – along with new and never-before-published pieces – into a 254-page collection. He also wrote a weekly column for the Pulse from June, 2007 through January, 2009, has contributed to the flash fiction sites 50 Years From Now and Elephant Words, and has had short stories published by Ape Entertainment – also in collaboration with artist Jason Copland – and Dark Recesses Press. Beckett does most of his writing in the dark, once everyone else is in bed. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and to learn more about his work check out www.Warrior27.com.
Jason Copland is an illustrator of comic book stories, some of which have even been published. He drew the one-shot comic, The Perhapanauts: Molly’s Story (Image) and has been included in a number of critically acclaimed anthologies including Trickster: Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection (Fulcrum Press) and Postcards: Stories That Never Happened (Villard/Random House). Jason is currently co-producing the online giant monsters vs. giant robots comic, Kill All Monsters! You can read it at http://review2akill.com/2010/11/19/kill-allmonsters/. Jason lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife and son and can be contacted at: email@example.com. To learn more about Jason’s work, check out www.jasoncopland.com.
INTRODUCTION: Judging by interviews and essays from authors that I have read, it seems the question most often asked of them is, “Where do you get your ideas?” This fascination with inspiration stems from the fact that, when reading a piece of fiction (especially a particularly good piece of fiction), it seems so effortless and artful, as if the words on the page had appeared of their own volition, the author little more than a conduit for these ideas that any of us could tap into. That’s how it feels to me. Or, at least, how it used to feel before I decided to try my own hand at writing fiction. The fact is, all those stories in all those books looked far different in their earlier incarnations. They were raw and ugly and lacking in many areas – whether in the dialogue, the grammar, or the thematic development. Writing is hard work. That initial spark is only the beginning, and only the barest fraction of what gets set down on the page. From there, believable characters, interesting plot points, and precise dialogue, all wrapped in a blanket of internal logic, need to be created in order to fulfill the promise of that first idea. And the ideas – they come unbidden, after enough pieces in your brain are finally able to coalesce into a single entity. The idea for this short story came after I finished reading Joe Hill’s brilliant tale, “Abraham’s Boys,” from his story collection 20th Century Ghosts. I’d read a lot about how nothing, not a single word, should be wasted when writing. But, until I read “Abraham’s Boys,” I didn’t really understand that. I was impressed with the way Hill offered what appeared to be ancillary material, character stuff, in the opening parts of the narrative, but then tied it back in, both imaginatively and surprisingly, with the culmination of the tale. It really was a beautifully written story by Hill, and it was then – sitting in Borders cafe in Bangor, Maine – that I knew I could do something similar. With “A Stone Wall Between Us,” I feel that I did just that. Everything ties back into the core of this tale. And yet, I think, the climax sneaks up on you and hits you square between the eyes (at least, I hope that’s what it does). I can’t say where the stone wall came from. I’m not sure how Big Dan or Little Daniel Muller came into my subconscious. And I can’t say why I chose to write a horror tale – a genre that I have rarely felt compelled to investigate. But I’m glad I did. I can say, though, that once these parts arrived, it was a lot of work to mold the words into the story that follows while keeping it under 5000 words – the typical limit for publication of a short story. This was my first prose sale, and it was a fun and challenging endeavor. I hope you enjoy. Thanks, chris
A Stone Wall Between Us By C. M. Beckett
Large raindrops beat the shingle roof, calling to the five-year-old as he lay on his bed. Daniel Muller's eyes were closed as he concentrated on the sound of each raindrop. He was counting them, reaching fifty-seven once before the sounds pooled together. Daniel soon bored of this and rolled off his bed, floorboards creaking as he landed. He walked to his window and stared through the curtain of rain outside. He scanned the fields searching for his father. But the rain overhung with dark clouds made it impossible. "Daniel!" His sister was calling. Lisa was six years older, with long blonde hair like her brother and similar featuresâ€”soft cheeks, big eyes, and a long nose. The first few days of her summer vacation Daniel had been happy to have his sister around. But that had soon changed. "Daniel! Come here!" Daniel wanted to ignore her but knew that was useless. "Daniel!" she screamed. He'd hit the nerve. "What?" he called as he walked down the hall to her room.
"I'm bored. Play with me." Lisa was sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor with the doll's house their father had built for her sixth birthday. It was the last time the old man had made anything. In her hands, Lisa was holding two of the many cloth dolls she had collected over the years. "Nah," said Daniel. "I got better things to do." "Like what? Count the holes in your ceiling?" Daniel didn't say anything. "Come on. Mom always played dolls with me." Daniel shrugged, stepped into his sister's room and sat down. "Here." Lisa handed over two of her dolls for her brother. Daniel scrunched his face up—a default response—but soon scooched himself forward so he could more easily interact with the miniature real estate. An hour passed. Daniel and Lisa were so involved with their play they didn't hear their father coming up the stairs. Reaching Lisa's room, he nearly filled the doorway as he took in the scene before him. Young Daniel looked up from where he was crouched low on the floor and his stomach clenched at the expression on his father's face. "What the hell are you doing?" asked Big Dan, his eyes set squarely on his son. "Playing," replied Daniel. The large man took a step into the room and reached over the doll house, grabbing Daniel's left arm just above the elbow. Lurching back, the farmer yanked his son from the floor causing the boy's shoulder to pop. Daniel screamed in pain as his feet cleared the roof of the dollhouse. "How are you going to grow up to be a man if you're playing with dolls? Eh?" His father's question barely registered with the boy. "Look at me when I speak to you!" When Daniel did not respond, the larger Muller slapped his son across the cheek. "You're just like your mother." With tears streaming down his face, Daniel stared up at his father for a good moment, then stepped around him and raced out. Reaching his own bedroom, Daniel slammed the door behind him. His father's voice slipped under to grate at him one more time. "And don't come out until you've thought about what it means to be a man!" ••• "Get up." His father's voice was gruff but soft, not yet fully awake. Outside, the sun had yet to rise, a thin line of grey above the trees the only indication it was morning. "Come on," his father was insistent.
The pain in Daniel's shoulder had subsided. He blinked away a small tear as he reached down to pull off his nightshirt but his father interrupted him. "You'll be fine with that." Daniel rolled out of bed and slid his feet into his shoes. Big Dan had already stepped back into the hall when Daniel moved to follow, his short legs shuffling to keep up with his father's long strides. ••• Dan Muller had been a vital part of the community, sharing his opinion when asked, helping neighbors when they needed it, being a good citizen. Many a night he had entertained the mayor or the minister at his farmhouse outside of town long into the evening. Some were surprised that Dan had never run for town office, but that wasn't the type of man Dan Muller was. He was happy to offer assistance when he could, but Big Dan was a farmer and knew he wasn't cut out to run anything more than the acres he owned. All of that changed when Anna passed giving birth to Daniel. Care for the baby was given over to Mrs. Jansson from the next farm over, and Dan retreated to his fields. Trips into town became a rarity, Big Dan often sending his daughter with a list of supplies to be delivered. There were attempts by some to help bring him out of his depression. Dan wasn't so much rude as he was brief in his conversation when the Samsons and the Olczyks visited the farm. His boisterous manner had been buried with his wife. Dan Muller was also an obstinate man, adding to the burden he now bore and accounting for his new obsession. When they had bought the farm, the one thing Anna had asked for was a rock wall along the back edge with a break in the middle through which they could enter the woods. She had always been a romantic; it was one of the many things that endeared her to him. But while she was alive, Dan neglected to start Anna's rock wall. This fact sent him retreating after his wife died. And it was this that drove Dan Muller to begin the rock wall after his wife passed on. It was to Anna's wall that Dan brought his son this morning. Daniel's feet sliced through the grass, long blades brushing against his ankles, leaving faint traces of dew on his skin. The boy's eyes refused to open all the way as the black trees rose up in front of them, arcing over father and son like some macabre line of giants. Daniel shivered and tucked his arms tight into his chest. "Okay." Big Dan stopped and turned, but Daniel couldn't make out his father's face beneath the shadows of the early morning. "It's time you started helping out around here. You'll be off to school next year, mollycoddled by that teacher, so you need to start learning how to be a man now or you'll never
have a chance." His father's voice was still soft, afraid of waking the day. Despite that, the tone was obvious. "So," continued his father, "I'm going to have you help me with this wall. You're going to carry those rocks over here. And I'll set them where they need to go." Daniel looked up at his father and then over at the pile of large rocks. "But—" began the boy. "No. If you can spend the afternoon playing dolls, you can give me a morning moving rocks. Now get to work." ••• Daniel's fingers were raw and bloody from the early morning labors. He'd been unable to lift any of the rocks and had tried to roll them through the long grass to where his father waited. It had been strenuous work, and Daniel had found it near impossible. As the sun reached into the cool blue of the morning sky, Big Dan looked down at the boy, struggling to move another rock from the pile, and told him to stop. "I've got work to do in the fields, and I don't have time to baby-sit you. Moment I leave you'd probably end up hurting yourself and then where would I be? We can get back to this another day." His father walked off toward the barn while Daniel slumped over the large rock, watching the big man slowly recede into the tall grass. Daniel knew then, he hated his father. ••• The next year Daniel started school, walking the two miles into town each morning with his sister. They would leave early—after chores were done (milking the cows, gathering eggs)—and hope to catch a ride with one of the neighbors. Most days there was a wagon or a weathered pickup making its way along the winding dirt track. Throwing himself into his studies as soon as he began, Daniel was a star pupil. He grasped things quickly. He also worked hard at his schooling. Not only would he bring home his schoolbooks every night, but he also brought home other books from the shelves lining the classroom. ••• "What are you doing?" Daniel's father crowded the bedroom door as he glared down at his son. "Schoolwork," said Daniel.
"What about your chores?" "I wanted to get this done first so thatâ€”" "What is wrong with you? Those books aren't going to help you any. You need to work in the barn and help out with the crops and the animals if you want to take this farm over some day. Now get downstairs before I have to move you myself." Daniel was nine years old and finally losing his baby face, though he still retained his slight build. He stared at his father for a second and then slammed the book shut. Rolling off the bed, Daniel pushed past his father and stomped downstairs. Big Dan smiled and followed his son down the wooden steps and out the back door. "And make sure you take your chores serious! I don't need us losin' animals because you were lazy!" he called as the boy slumped through the barn doors. Big Dan returned to the field, harvesting tomatoes and summer squash. This took him a few hours and carried Dan through to the sun's final dip behind the wall of pine bordering his land. After hauling the vegetables to the cellar, Dan came up through to the kitchen where Lisa was preparing supper. Her father stepped over to the sink and pulled down a flask from the upper cabinet. Taking a long haul, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and replaced the empty flask in his pocket with this now half-full one. "Where's your brother?" he asked. "I don't know," said Lisa, not looking up from the stove. "Shouldn'ta taken this long to clean and feed them animals. I better check on him." Big Dan pushed the screen door open with a sad creak, sidestepping it as the door slammed back into the house, bouncing off the doorframe three times before settling. He pulled back both doors of the barn, allowing the day's waning light to enter. Walking up the dirt floor, the older man peered into each stall. Three-quarters of the way up, everything was fine. But as he reached the far end of the barn, Dan Muller could see where his boy had become indifferent. The cows had been fedâ€”he'd at least done that much rightâ€”but the stalls hadn't been fully cleaned out. Big Dan could feel his face starting to burn, sweat beading on his forehead. Swearing under his breath, Big Dan turned and marched back into the dim evening. Upstairs, Daniel was lost in another book. The boy did not hear his father approaching. Big Dan's long strides carried him into his son's bedroom. He didn't even consider slowing down as he lunged for the bed on the opposite side of the room. Daniel looked up, eyes widening just as his father reached him. The boy had no time to react as his father's bloated fingers enveloped one arm. He pitched Daniel over the side of the bed onto the floor. Landing hard, the boy curled in on himself and tried to pull away from his father's grip, but Big Dan only shrugged his son's efforts off as he groped for the other arm. Daniel flailed about and evaded his dad momentarily, but the large man was soon dragging Daniel across the rough wood floor.
In the hall, Big Dan shuffled for better footing and then started pulling his son toward the stairs. Once there, Dan Muller did not break stride. He yanked his son down the wooden staircase, watching as the boy's head bounced off each individual step. Reaching the bottom, Dan dragged his son across the floor, the boy's head thumping the coffee table out of place. Kicking the front door open, Big Dan raked Daniel's shoulders and back over the rise of the doorframe, driving a large splinter into the soft flesh above Daniel's collar bone. Knocking the boy's body off the screen door, Big Dan stepped off the porch and twisted, throwing his son into the packed earth outside. Daniel rolled twice before landing in a heap. He tried to compose himself, couldn't stop the ground from spinning. "What the hell is wrong with you, boy?" Dan Muller's voice rasped as he stood, glaring hard at the nine-year-old. "I don't know," stammered Daniel, unsure what he'd done wrong. "I can see that, fer Christ's sake. I give you a simple task and you can't even complete that. I don't get it. As smart as you're supposed to be, how is it you're too dumb to finish one simple thing for me?" "Dad, I don't know what you're talking about." Daniel shuffled back a few feet, trying to keep some distance between the two of them as he watched the rage build in his father. "Didn't I ask you to clean out the stalls? All of them! And what do I find in the barn?" Dan looked at his son accusingly, waiting for a response. "They're not all done?" Daniel's voice cracked as he spoke. "That's right. And why is that? What the hell can you tell me that will convince me not to beat you senseless?" Daniel had nothing to say. His throat clenched around his voice box as his stomach twisted into a knot. "Well?" "I don't know what happened. I thought I finished them. I must've forgot a couple." "Jesus, you must've forgot?" Dan Muller's ears went red as spit flew from his mouth. He came forward with a quickness Daniel was unprepared for and grabbed his son by the ear, twisting hard as he lifted the boy from the dirt. Leading Daniel by the ear, he brought the nineyear-old to the barn and threw him down just inside the doors, a cloud of dust kicking up around him. Grabbing a pitchfork and bucket from the pegs beside the door, the older Muller threw them at his son where he lay. "You finish this damn job, and you do it right. After that, we'll have a talk behind the shed. And when you get inside, no more books in your room. Are we clear?" "Yes," said Daniel, his voice barely audible.
"And don't think you'll be getting away with this again. I find you slacking off on your chores and shoving your head in a book another time, it'll be worse. Keep that in mind while you're working, and pay it particular mind for after we have our little discussion. "I'll be out looking for a good-sized branch while you're finishing up in here." Dan Muller stalked off for the back woods. The next day, Daniel went to school with one eye almost completely shut (it was so bruised it looked black) and a large welt on the opposite cheek. None of the kids asked him what had happened. Most of them had encountered similar punishments in their own time, though not as extreme. A week later the swelling had receded, and it was like it never happened. For everyone except Daniel. â€˘â€˘â€˘ One day a few months after Daniel turned eleven, things at home came into sharp focus for the boy. He'd come home from school and gone right to work in the barn. It was nearing the end of the term and the day had been a particularly hot one. Daniel's shirt was sticking to him as he shoveled manure out of the pens. He needed to keep brushing his hair back as the perspiration made it wilt, the drops of sweat stinging his eyes. Daniel was halfway down the length of the barn when he drove the spade into the dirt and decided to take a break. He needed a drink of water from the well, and he figured it might be nice to peel off his shirt and get a fresh one from the pile beside his bed. Stepping into the soft glow of the early evening sun, the boy peered into the fields, searching for his father. If Big Dan saw him heading to the house early he'd want an explanation, and even that might not forestall a beating. Shading his eyes, Daniel scanned the wide green but saw no motion except the easy sway of the cornstalks from a cool breeze wandering in from the west. Giving up, he made for the house. Winding through the kitchen, Daniel made his way past the dining table into the main room of the house, heading for the stairs. As his foot hit the bottom step, he heard something like a dog whimpering. Turning, Daniel's eyes stopped at the door to his father's den. He walked over, rested his ear against the smooth grain and closed his eyes tight. Daniel could hear a soft cry from within. He also heard a muffled voice, deep, but couldn't make out any of the words. Reaching down, Daniel tried the doorknob. It gave slightly but refused to budge. Daniel stepped away from the door. Before today, he hadn't understood the "talks" his father had with Lisa. All Daniel had known in his world was that his father's ire seemed reserved for him alone, while his older sister got away with everything.
He put his ear back to the door. His sister's cries were running in time with a methodical knocking, like a constant bass note hidden below the harmony. Blood rushed from the boy's face as Daniel felt a chill wash over his back. He felt as if he might be sick and ran for the stairs. He didn't want to add to his list of chores and was even more scared of what his father might do if he found him standing outside the den. Tears came unbidden as Daniel assaulted the steps two at a time, moving quickly to leave behind what he'd just heard. â€˘â€˘â€˘ Daniel finished setting the table for supper and took his seat at one end, folding his hands in his lap, staring at the dirt beneath his nails. Lisa came through and set a large bowl of mashed potatoes in the middle of the table. Daniel looked up as she turned for the kitchen, staring at the back of his sister's head. He followed her long blonde hair past the chopping block until she moved out of sight. From behind, Daniel could hear his father's heavy footfalls announcing his presence for the evening meal. Daniel clenched his eyes shut, fighting to keep back tears. It was a number of seconds before the boy realized he was holding his breath. He inhaled deeply and let it out slowly before opening his eyes. Big Dan came around Daniel's chair and squeezed his son's shoulder. Daniel glared up at his father, but the man didn't notice as he turned to take a seat at the head of the table. "What's for dinner, honey?" bellowed Dan Muller. "Roast chicken, potatoes and carrots on the side, and bread," called Lisa. She stepped back into the room and placed a bowl of carrots and a plate of warm bread on the table. Her father began heaping his plate with potatoes as she returned to the kitchen. "Man. We didn't eat this good with your mother. You got lucky, Daniel." His father didn't look up as he spoke, intent on his food. All Daniel could do was stare, bewilderment painting his face as he searched for something to say. "Lisa, get that chicken in here, I'm starving." Their father peered around the kitchen doorway as he dropped a second spoonful of carrots onto his plate. "Coming," said Lisa as she returned, balancing the chicken on a serving platter. She set it down right in front of her father. It was his job to carve the bird, one of the few things he did at dinner other than eat. Dan gazed at his daughter and then looked down the table to Daniel. "She does look as pretty as your mother though," he said with a large smile as he picked up the carving knife. Daniel would recall little of what happened next. Lunging from his chair, he jumped onto the table, sending one of the candlesticks through the air. Banging his knees, Daniel half hopped, half crawled to the other end of the table, clawing at the checked cloth beneath him. The boy
was screaming, a primal gurgle that roared through the small room. Daniel gripped the other candlestick and swung it at his father, knocking the chicken to the floor. Daniel groped for his father's face, his fingers discovering purchase in the folds of his neck where he began to squeeze. Big Dan didn't understand what was happening and couldn't think straight with his son bawling at him. As Daniel lurched from the table, he sent both of them clattering to the floor, the hard wooden back of the chair driving into his father's shoulder blades. Knocking the wind out of the older Muller, Daniel pulled his knees up closer to his father's face and began to press down hard on his throat. Big Dan glared at the boy as he worked to regain his breath. Soon, the elder Muller wedged his arms beneath Daniel's knees and pushed up with all his strength, thrusting the boy off. Daniel toppled to one side, and smashed his shoulder. He looked at his father and then at Lisa, who had tears running down her cheeks. He got up and ran past his father, driving through the kitchen door and off the back stoop. Daniel kept running, past the barn and through the fields. He thought he could hear his father laughing at him from far behind. But when he stopped past the long rows of corn, Daniel realized it was only in his mind. Trying to catch his breath, Daniel saw that he'd arrived at the stone wall. A full moon was high in the eastern sky, shining down on the spot where he and his father had stopped earlier in the week. Rage welled up in him, and Daniel started kicking the large stones along the top of the wall, toppling them over into the tall grass. "You sick sonofabitch!” Daniel screamed to the darkened forest as he attempted to destroy the wall. "Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!" The chinks fell at Daniel's feet and he stomped on them, trying to bury them or crush them into powder or both. Overcome with emotion, he had no control as he pushed and heaved and kicked at the rocks, knocking over as many as he could before exhaustion sent him stumbling over the wall, banging his skull on one of the larger base stones. Daniel rubbed at the bump forming on his head and cried until he fell asleep beneath the stars. The next morning nothing was said about what had happened at dinner the previous night. This silence, particularly that of his sister, was worse than anything Daniel could have expected. •••
The next year, in the middle of the first session, Dan Muller pulled his daughter out of school. He told Miss Slate that Lisa was sick. A day or two later, Dan loaded the wagon, and he and his daughter headed north for the nearest train station. Daniel remained home to take care of the farm. Miss Slate questioned him at school the next day. Daniel knew that his father had taken Lisa to stay with a cousin in Montana, but it was a relative Daniel had never met. As for an explanation of his sister's illness, Daniel hadn't been aware she'd been feeling poorly and was unable to share anything more. A week and a half later Big Dan returned, Lisa now settled five states away. He said nothing to Daniel about the trip and refused to talk about Lisa whenever the boy tried to bring it up. All he told Daniel was that his sister would be back in seven or eight months, which meant she would need to repeat her senior year in order to graduate. That year the stone wall became a meditation for Daniel, a way to sweat out his frustrations. It was a place to get away, a place to think—about Lisa, his dad, what was happening to them. At the wall, Daniel's mind was clear. Without the wall, Daniel might have run away. But it was for his mother. And it was for Lisa. Something else Daniel came to realize at the wall. He would need to become the man of the house. Because his father only cared about himself. ••• When Daniel was fifteen, he found himself looking down on his father. Dan Muller was still twice as heavy as his son and had no qualms about using his large frame to keep his "boy" in line. But Daniel was smart and did his best not to cross his dad. Most evenings, after the chores were done and Big Dan started in on his whisky, Daniel would excuse himself and go out to the barn where he would light a lamp and read. He didn't like being in the house while his father was drinking. Lisa had been gone for two years– marrying a few months after graduation to a man ten years her senior–and the house had never felt more empty. With the added responsibilities falling to him, Daniel found it difficult to get out to the rock wall. He wasn't sure what he thought of that. Part of him felt guilty that his mother's wish had yet to be fulfilled. But the memories of his childhood chained to that wall left a bad taste in the young man's mouth, and he found it difficult to get motivated to work on it. Unless Big Dan was feeling motivated, which was the case one Saturday afternoon. "Come on. It'll be good for us," said his father. "We can get a good chunk of that wall done before your sister comes over." "Lisa's coming by?" asked Daniel.
"Yeah. Didn't I tell you? I run into her in town the other day and she said she wanted to come out and have dinner with us. Said she'd cook and everything." Daniel couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a smile on his father's face. It made him uneasy. "Okay," he said. "Okay." Big Dan slapped his son on the back and pushed through the screen door. The younger Muller followed, hands in his pockets as his mind wandered through history he'd rather have left forgotten. For hours the two men hefted rocks onto the wall, making visible progress. They took a break for lunch, but other than that there was no respite as the sun rode its arc across the sky. It was about four in the afternoon when Big Dan dropped a rock onto the wall and turned to gaze across their fields. Daniel was at the rock pile, searching for the next stone to bring over. He stopped when he heard his father calling. "Lisa!" Straightening up, Daniel looked over at his father, who waved enthusiastically. Daniel looked across the green, catching a glimpse of his sister in a yellow summer dress and a sunbonnet that had a deep red sash tied around it. She was waving back at the two of them. "God, but she is beautiful. Looks just like your mother did when I first met her." Big Dan's voice was a whisper, as if he had forgotten Daniel was there and was only talking to the forest. Daniel walked over to his father. The old man had eyes only for Lisa. He didn't notice his son approaching. Daniel raised his arm. Off past his father, he could see Lisa's hands reach for her mouth. Daniel almost believed he heard his sister gasp. The next instant Daniel swung the large rock down onto his father's head, caving in the man's skull. Blood splattered onto the younger Muller. He brought the stone down again, sending his father into the soft earth. A minute later, Lisa was standing beside her brother. Daniel couldn't stop shaking, the adrenaline rushing through his veins as he tried to catch his breath. Lisa took her brother's hand and squeezed as she wrapped her other arm about his waist. The two held each other and said nothing. A minute passed. Lisa looked down. Daniel's knuckles were white, strangling the rock still in his hands. She pried it loose and dropped it next to their father's limp body. Daniel looked at his sister, then walked back to the barn and grabbed a spade. The two of them worked through the night. By morning, ten more feet had been added to the wall.
Published on Feb 12, 2013