Editor’s Choice: Walker Dark in Nowhere – Family Short Story
If there was ever a day I didn’t want to talk about, it was November 8, 2005. It must be over thirty years since then, but that particular day remains with the twelve to fifteen good memories I still got in this old head of mine.
I was around forty at the time, and the joints were creaking but not aching like they have every morning since. My brown hair still sat prominently on my head with long curls extending to my shoulders, and my muscles still had large bugles that came with the yard’s work out in Nowhere, California.
My wife had been dying of Cancer since the year before. Doctors had tried their best, but Cancer was still a foreign unstoppable force in those days. The only treatment that did anything for anybody other than a lot of praying to God was Chemotherapy; which really just obliterated everything inside of you with Doctors on the sidelines hoping the Cancer died before you did.Before the Chemo my wife had been the prettiest thing anywhere, and she looked like a goddess in Nowhere compared to the other ladies in the small town.
You know, I never knew why they called it a small town. Sure they weren’t many people, but we had four times as much house space than any fellow living in Los Angeles, and a hundred times bigger of yards, but I digress. It happens in the growing age of the weak and mortal.
Where was I?
Ah yes, Lily.
Lily had been a flower in a town of weeds; with black flowing hair that went down to her perfectly shaped breasts and a smile that would knock anyone on their ass. Her small but straight nose would always wrinkle when she laughed, and I had fallen in love with her the day I met her. I think, and if she were alive I’m sure she’d bring up a feisty comment about it being her ass or something, I fell in love with her green eyes before the rest of er’. I’m pretty sure it was, those dazzling green eyes staring into my plain brown ones with only a few inches of height differentiating.
I was never a tall man, I believe five-five now but I know I’ve shrunk with the whittling of bones, and she had to have been five-three. People would joke when we were introduced and say they would love to see us in our ancient years…Lily didn’t make it.
When the chemo really started to get her, I realized that over the next couple of months I would was going to see a flower wither and die in front of my eyes. Since I have been brought to talk about that day, I suppose I will speak the truth in all accounts.
That’s all I’m going to say about those months leading up to that day because I am not starting the water works now. They say time heals all wounds, but that is a bunch of Horse S**t in my opinion. Time puts a band aid on the wound, I think. The band aid makes you forget most of them, but sometimes there are some gashes that refuse to be forgotten, and they starting itching like hell to get you to go back to them. That’s how Lily is to me, and I ain’t going to give the itch the satisfaction.
The day was growing colder (not terribly because, even with Nowhere being in the desert, it was still California), and I knew by the end of the month it would be reaching the low thirties at night. That was the biggest concern at the moment for me about Lily. With the Chemo taking out her hair she was cold in the usual sixties of fall, and with the temperature being chopped in half she would ache and freeze.
It was a lie though, you see. During that October, Lily had gotten worse. She cried more than I have ever seen in the twenty two years of our marriage. We had met in high school a thousand years back, and I had known she was the girl for me. It took her a bit more convincing, but I got her in the end. We had enjoyed every second of our marriage; even the bad times when the writing stopped flowing in my head and bills were piling up. She had always seemed more alive in October; handing the kids gigantic chocolate bars that were way over priced had triggered a few fights over the years,but every year she went on doing it.
When that October had come, however, she was dying; slowly but surely. It was torture for her, and she had cried all throughout Halloween night with the sobs going louder and more unbearable with each kid banging on the door. I had handed out the chocolate that year, and every year since. I still hand out those giant overpriced candy bars I had once said would be the death of us.
I was chopping wood in the afternoon, thinking about ideas for a new novel, when I heard the car approach from the acre or so that was the driveway. We didn’t live in the boonies, but we also weren’t the center of town. Our house wasn’t hadn’t been the social hotspot it had been before Lily had been branded a “A Modern Leper” as Old Ben Johnson had said about it (and that made her more depressed then anything, I think), and we rarely had visitors.
The car was beat to s**t, and looked as rustic as anything else out in Nowhere. It might have been a Dodge once, but it was too mutilated to tell. Two people sat in the car, but I already knew only one was going to stay. It was Robert Arms and his mother.
He practically leapt out of the car and gave a tired but excited wave which I returned with a smile on my face. He was only sixteen and a deep red jacket was hiding a black shirt. Blue jeans clung onto his legs with a brown belt tightened to make sure his ass didn’t hang out like all the other kids his age. He had always been a skinny kid, but had grown an easy six inches over me. He looked tired, and I didn’t blame him.
The boy had published a book about a month back, and as impressive as that sounds the book proved to be an international best seller. It made over five hundred thousand dollars at that point (Robert only receiving thirty percent but hell, that’s still pretty good for kid still in high school), but that was only the first month. It still is popular, if you want to go look it up I guess.
I had been the first person to read the manuscript, being a published author myself, and his eyes had lit up when I told him it was amazing. I hadn’t lied then; even though jealousy had made me, for a split second, want to send the book to my publisher and say it was my work. That had passed, and his book outsold all of mine combined.
If he had been a normal, run of the mill kid, I probably would have stolen it. But Robert had never been just some kid. Lily hadn’t been able to have children, but Robert had practically been our own since he was five. His mother was a drunk that provided but didn’t care. She was too busy helping the community then to raise a son. The Dad had just picked up and left somewhere, God only knows where it could be. Some people think that Robert’s mom killed the Dad in drunken rage, but that was only spoken in closed doors.
He had just appeared one day at our door, asking for a glass of water. If I had answered the door back then, he probably would have left thirsty, but it had been Lily and she loved kids like she was mother to em’ all. He got a PB&J with his milk (he was much too thin for just water Lily had said), and he asked if maybe he could stick around for a while. I had been writing one of my books upstairs, but had met the kid halfway through his sandwich.
He had told me he’d read my books (being only three at the time), and that amazed me in a way. They were adult books, and the boy was still in kindergarten.
Anyway, he stayed and watched me type with his mother’s consent. Over the years he became my favorite critic, even over Lily who didn’t want to discourage me when the writing was worth dung. He told me when things were good and when I should try something new. A love grew between us three that none of us knew could exist, and we had been with him at Buck’s publishing (he thought he was seeing me on my new book), when Buck had almost cursed us out of the room for showing us a kid’s manuscript and tricked him. Robert hadn’t wanted me to help him, but every publishing agency scoffed at his age.
If you think I am blabbering to keep from telling the real story, you’re wrong. I am trying to show what life was like on that day. It’s a writer thing.
Anyway, as I was saying.
“Hey Rob,” I said giving him a sturdy smack on the back. My hand hit bone and I tried not to curse. “How was the tour?”
He had been out of Nowhere for a month on talk shows and book signings. I never like it much, but Robert was young then.
“It was alright.” The kid replied with a shrug. I guess he was like me in that aspect. “Met a few crazies I want to tell you and Lily about. How is she doing?”
My eyes peeled away from the boy and up to the second story window instinctively. See, when a man is young and doesn’t know the harsh truth of man’s limited knowledge, he thinks the world works for the better; like a fairy tale. It is only with the harshness of terrible times that comes the realization that the world just spins. It’s not good or bad, and if it could do anything I think it would shrug. Personal opinion, o’ course.
The boy noticed my glance and nodded solemnly. He was a sharp kid, and to my greatest annoyance I couldn’t put anything past him.
We walked into the old house without any more wasted conversation. I had built the damn thing from scratch, and I am still sitting in it to this day. It gives new creaks every few years or so, but it was basically the same as it was then. The Kitchen was still painted white with all the pans scattered in different cabinets like they were playing Hide n Seek or something. Lily had said it was a system, and to her I’m sure it was, but to me and the kid it looked like wreckage after a tornado storm. I had to buy a new refrigerator five years back or so, so it wasn’t the cool steel colored one I have now. It was plain old egg white with a freezer on top and a fridge on bottom.
The living room had three big brown leather couches and a black recliner in it; with that small TV that still stands today (practically useless now that they don’t even have cable anymore, but it was Lily’s escape not mine). Robert had tried to get me a new HV but I told him I’d pass. I could never get into the whole HoloViewer thing, and I was a writer not a watcher anyway.
My guest bedroom still has news clippings of Robert somewhere, along with recent mail he sends to me (written not typed, thank ya very much). The Queen mattress is ancient and probably needs to be replaced, but what do I care.
Up those ancient pine stairs there are two rooms; the study and my bedroom. When Lily had been around, the bedroom had five different dressers and chests for her clothes and jewelry. I gave the chests away but the dressers still have her stuff in it. The King sized bed with the crescent oak head board is still there, and I’ve slept on it every night since that day.
The study is filled with half-finished Manuscripts and notes for new story ideas on top of a lone black desk. My old typewriter is there; currently being pounded away on by me as I type my final story into its absolute keys. I love my old leather desk chair; it still fits me perfectly.
We went into my bedroom that day, and Lily’s eyes lit up with joy. The covers were up to her chin, and I was glad Robert could only see her face. It had stayed the goddess that she had always been, but the rest of her had gone frail and stark white. Her veins could be seen on her legs, and it always made me want to cry.
“Robbie!” She exclaimed then gave a hoarse cough. Yellow mucus spat out and landed on the darker Oak chest piece. “I’m so happy you came.”
“Me too.” Robert replied smiling with tears in his eyes. “I wish you felt better.”
It was a childish thing to say to someone with terminal breast cancer, but back then he was only a child.
“I am feeling better.” Lily said with a sad smile. I said nothing, but she looked at me just the same. “Can you answer the door dear? There is someone waiting outside and I would like to speak to Robbie alone for a second.”
If I had known now what I knew then, I still think I would have gone to answer the door. It’s a cruel thought even in my head, but it’s the truth. She was suffering and was at a brink. I had been scared about what she had wanted to say to Robert immediately; thinking she was trying to distract me with invisible men to get Robert to snuff her with a pillow. In the end, that might have been easier on him then what he was instructed to do.
Before Robert and I had gotten to exchange glances, three loud knocks echoed throughout the house.
“How the-” I said but Lily interrupted me.
“It’s rude to keep guests waiting.” She said using those dying hands to gesture a shooing motion.
I looked at Robert who only shrugged, then headed out of the room and down the stairs.
The young man downstairs was the strangest person I have ever seen in my life; and I’ve been to some very raunchy places in my youth and on book tours. I think that the strangest thing about them was that you couldn’t pin point exactly what was strange about them. A large black Fedora sat on his head, and when I opened the door he followed the brim across the front and gave a wide smile.
He had grey eyes on his ageless face that made me think, for some strange reason, that everything was going to be alright with the world. His nose was straight and narrow (a wizard’s nose, as Lily put it), and his smile was kind. He had black hair that looked an awful lot like Lily’s before the Chemo underneath his hat and my first thought was he had stolen my wife’s hair! but then pushed the thought aside in the ridiculous bin. Think’n about it now, I can’t help but wonder if it was so crazy of an idea. He was wearing a custom black suit that made me think of a businessman trying to impress a pretty date. His shoes were also black, and I almost asked him if he was going to a funeral. Then I realized he was here.
Even writing it down it sounds like nothing is wrong with him, but there was. He didn’t seem apart of this world. There, I said it, and I’m not a hundred percent sure but I think Robert had thought it too. He seemed like a creature disguised as a man, so we three had something to look at that didn’t cause our minds to blow inside our skulls. If you see him someday, which I think you might, you’ll know what I am talking about.
“Howdy!” He said shaking my hand even though I didn’t remember sticking it out. “How are you this fine and lovely night?”
I looked around and realized the sun was still up, although it had started to vanish over the mountains.
“The sun’s still up friend.” I replied with a smile. “It ain’t night yet.”
The man looked up at the sky and frowned. To be honest, I thought at first he was blind.
“Huh.” He said shrugging his arms and his smile grew wider revealing perfect white teeth. “Well its night somewhere and I’m sure it’s fine and lovely.”
“I suppose so.” I was wondering what drugs he was on and how he got here. I hadn’t heard a car come up and didn’t see one either. “What can I do you for mister?”
“Walker. Walker Dark, sorry I didn’t introduce myself.”
“Alright then, Walker Dark, what can I do you for? My wife is sick and my boy just got home from a book tour to see her.”
“Oh Robert’s here?” His eyes lit up but I frowned. “Excellent, Excellent. I’m here to see Lily, Mr. Brunt. I need to see her right away.”
Three things had flared off in my mind. First off, he shouldn’t have known that I was referring to Robert as my boy. Second he knew my name and my wife’s name before I had said it, and finally he wanted to see me sick wife out of the blue. I started to tell him to get off my property, but then I heard Lily’s strained voice from upstairs.
“Let him up, hun. You’re wasting Mr. Dark’s time.”
Walker Dark allowed me to escort him upstarts but I had a feeling that he could have walked through me if he had wanted. Just a creepy feeling, I had attempted to assure myself. It didn’t work.
Robert’s eyes were puffy and I could tell he had been crying. Lily welcomed the man with a smile, and he smiled back. His smile looked like Lily’s old smiles, and the thought of him stealing my wife’s personals crept up again.
“Are you ready?” He asked still smiling.
“Do I have a choice?” She replied but she didn’t sound annoyed; just curious.
Walker Dark laughed and for a second it seemed like the temperature had risen in the crowded bedroom. It was that perfect temperature you rarely get without having ten blankets on during a cold stormy night. It was the warmth that people guess you feel in your mother’s womb; not just warm and cozy but alive like a breathing gust singing you lullabies lightly in your ear. Robert yawned.
“Of course you have a choice.” He said finishing laughing but keeping the room that cozy temperature. “You can stay if you want to, but then I will be back. I don’t how much time you’ll have; human bodies are so fragile and unpredictable. It could be two days or two weeks, but I’d only guess as long as that.”
She pursed her lips but said nothing. Walker Dark was patient, and turned to Robert while she thought it over.
“Hi Robert.” He said grabbing the boy’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “I must say it is an honor.”
“You read my book?” Robert asked just as confused as I was by the strange man talking about the unpredictability of human bodies as casually as talking about the weather of a clear day.
“Oh yeah I’ve read all your books!” He said unable to hide his awe. “You change the world man!”
“I…I’ve only written one book…”
Robert had turned ghost white and I could tell he was on the verge of screaming.
“So far, man, so far.” Mr. Dark turned to me. “You have no idea how much you influenced this guy.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“I’m ready.” We all turned to look at Lily startled. Walker nodded smiling as wide as his face would permit. “But first, will it hurt?”
“No no no no no no!” Walker said shaking his head to the point that the black hat fell off his head. He caught it with an angel’s grace and flopped it back on. “It’ll be like dreaming a perfect dream.”
Lily nodded seeming satisfied and turned to me.
“Well my dear aging man.” She said sounding so much like her true self that tears streamed my face. “It is time for me to go. I love you Billy.”
Her eyes closed, and suddenly I knew who Dark Walker was. I knew why he was here, and I knew I had to stop it. I didn’t care, at that moment, that she had been suffering; nor did I care she would be at peace. I needed her. It was flat and simple. Without her, I wouldn’t survive.
Robert sensed what I was going to do before I had, and he was on me before my foot had made an inch to the bed.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I screamed trying to force him off of me. It was useless; he was taller, and although he was skinnier then a damn tooth pick, he had the strength of following orders.
“It was her final request.” Robert replied and I realized my T-shirt was getting damp from his tears. He was taking it just as hard as I was. “You have to let her go Dad.”
That stopped me. He had never called me Dad before, although he thought of us as parents just as much as we thought of him as a son. It had just been an unspoken bond between us three, until the day Lily died, I had called him my boy, and he had called me his father.
During our struggle, Walker had walked over to her and pulled out a cross from his pocket although I noticed several other religious symbols sticking out of his pocket. He said a blessing more ancient and beautiful then any religion I knew of, then Lily was standing beside him looking down at her deceased body. She wasn’t that woman anymore, but the girl I had met twenty-three years ago in High School with green eyes I had fallen head over heels in love with all that time ago.
She kissed Robert on the forehead and gave me a warm smack kiss on the lips. Then Walker said his goodbyes as well. Robert and I watched the two head out the bedroom and down the stairs. We followed. They were walking outside, and they waved at us one final time. We waved back, then they vanished into the fine and lovely night the man had predicted without really predicting.
Afterwards, Robert and I cried for a long time. The man and my young wife walking in the dust covered lot slowly drained out of our memories, and I didn’t remember the story after that day until tonight. He helped fill in parts that I hadn’t quite remembered, but when he started to tell me it the memories flooded back instantly. He had asked me this time if I was ready; claiming Lily was waiting impatiently for me to come over, but I wanted to write this out first.
Robert, this story is for you. I knew others will read it, and you wouldn’t remember it, so I wrote the whole story from start to finish. Walker Dark doesn’t mind, he even laughed at my description of him. Now it’s my time to go.
Your Friend and Father,