Silas trudged along the tipping slope, legs heavy like the trunk of a chestnut. The air around him was soft and warm and peppered with sand. Sun rays shot at him as he completed the path and veered onto a turning.
No sign of another late morning walker.
There had been one the last time. Two, now that he pondered. Two insolent teens who didn’t know the difference between a Justin Bieber poster and a figure aged enough to school them in the arts of discipline. It’d taken all resistance not to hit one of them across the face.
Much like Elisha did those forty-two boys.
Thing about Scriptures and humans, at least those residing in the 21st century, was their one-minded interpretation of verses. Take it and trim it and tailor it as it suits you. Who cares if the verse loses its significance? So long you don’t.
A trail of dust rose and settled as swiftly as it had begun. He figured it was approaching noon. No way to determine. No nearby Starbucks or motel to linger. No businessman driving by to help him with time.
Silas trudged on.
A passerby would be surprised to see the man in grey vests and matching pants, hem torn a bit, walking up the sloppy road that was 5th highway, hair receding. Tracks of sweat beaded down his face.
Silas preferred it that way. The walk. It hadn’t always been a walk. He, like all other residents on Main Avenue in Main town, the busiest city in Oldham, completed a routine of thirty minutes jog along the Riverside Woods before settling for a steaming cup of coffee amidst banters from early morning workers.
Cliched. City-life was a cliche. There were only slight differences in the itinerary of a white-collar worker in any city of any state in any country. Oldham in Colburgh. Bologna in Italy. New York in the States. Lagos in Nigeria.
And then, he was moving from the city, leaving his accounting job, relocating to the recluse of a town.
Silas raised his head as he crossed the deserted intersection, not surprised. A sign coated in dust beamed at him. REDDING. In red lettering upon a white slate. The lone sign in the town. As with everything.
A lone gas station. A lone school for middle-graders. One minimart/grocery/fast food store. A barbing salon/hairdresser manned by Steve and wife. One Laundromat, though Mark Stancy would prefer the option of sharing the knowledge of cloth-washing with the twenty students were there an offer for him.
Save a few green moon days that ruffled the hairs of town-dwellers, all was well. Ninety-eight percent of the town made the trek to the lone cathedral on the west of the town every Sunday, and twice a month for the prayer meeting, coordinated by Silas.
John Pencil, the minister sent from the city, preferred the help of Silas in conducting the prayers. Pencil, with a smile revealing gaps between his front teeth, would say, “Teaching is my gift. Prayers is yours. Every man has a gift from the good Lord, isn’t it?”
Now, was that another misinterpretation of scriptures?
If prayer was indeed a gift as John insisted, the gift had been snatched by a wave of the wand.
Silas was certain he’d walked for almost two hours and he hadn’t formed a coherent sentence of prayer to God. What was the essence of leaving Mary with the chores and the kids if he couldn’t find solace and peace? What did his college bible teacher say about such moments?
Moments when it feels like you have been cast down alongside the devil. Moments when the sun isn’t rising from the east or west, but shooting blazes. Moments when a whiff at the breeze cooling your face and your nose recoils as if the air is rotten fish. Moments when you question if indeed, there’s a superior power over the devil. Moments when you do not even hear the voice of God concerning a decision.
Silas pulled up. Finally, God had looked upon him with mercy and visited. Or. God would definitely not address the man as Sila. A heavy vote of the town dwellers would not.
Silas looked in the direction of the voice. Mahmud waved at him. Silas crossed the road into the gas station without watching for a vehicle.
“Silas, my good friend.”
Always had been. Always would be. The case with Mahmud. If humans lived with an unwritten mantra, Mahmud’s life could be summed up as that. Always had been a bachelor. Always would be. Always had been a Muslim. Always would be. Always had worn oversize pants. Always would be. Always had addressed Silas as my good friend, and might as well keep with it.
“You’re up early,” Silas noted, closing into the shade the structure offered. Three gas pumps, all idle. A small stand for purchasing diesel, clearly empty. Two bench parked against the north wall, none occupied. And a very upbeat man, currently free.
“Yes. Had some things to settle at the office.”
The office was a trailer-size room that wasn’t a stone throw from where Silas stood. Windows locked, yet Silas could see the mahogany desk littered with blue art papers, two fountain pens with dry inks, and a lot of nothing.
“That’s good. Man has to keep things in order.”
“Yes. Not done with your walk?”
That should be obvious.
“It’s getting a lot longer these days. The quiet of the town makes it affordable.”
“Yes. The quiet of the town isn’t helping my luck at all. But I wouldn’t pack up. Allah is my witness.”
“Hm. Why not sell and put your hands in something else? Charles could use some fingers at the mechanics. Maybe extend his base from the garage.”
“Yes. Charles? No.”
Silas resisted a shake of head. Why start a reply with yes if the answer was ultimately no? Silas nudged gravel with his toe.
“Yes,” Mahmud said, face alit. “Did you hear it?”
“Yes. The voice? No. What voice? The whir that filled the town this morning.”
Oh yes. There had been a low buzz that lasted one-sixth of an hour. Something that factored into Silas’s late departure for his walk. We can’t ever be too careful.
“What about it?”
“Some folks are saying it was government spies coming to survey the town.” Mahmud stopped. His lips twitched, as if expecting a response. Silas noted that and said nothing. He also noted the absence of a yes and said nothing.
“What do you think, Silas?”
“Well, there’s no reason to be uptight. I’m sure they were well-intentioned. No reason to fear, huh?” Silas directed his face towards the sandy road and left it hanging.
“Yes. Thanks for stopping by,” Mahmud said.
“Yes,” Mahmud called. “I might need your help with the accounts. Figures aren’t adding.”
Just how many customers buy gas? At that moment, a car roared in, the entering preceded by a spit of dust and ended by a loud rattle and spasmodic jerks.
Nice. When last did a stranger stop to by fuel in Redding?
Silas headed out, giving one last look at Mahmud who was getting busy with a pump. The customer wore sunglasses. Love-shaped glasses in a Pinto.
Silas pulled his customary departing statement. “Wanna come to church someday?”
“Yes,” Mahmud answered, eyes on pump. “I can’t. I’m sure you understand.”
The slight cessation had triggered Silas’s hope. But then, always has been, always would be.
Silas resumed his walk.
A heavy wind picked up litters and dumped. Then a soft gale. Then nothing. No whisper.
Silas veered left. Last mile and he would head home. He was missing Mary.
A wheat field lay ahead, and though no one hardly visited the barn, Silas thought he heard movements. He closed up.
The sound carried across brown tops of wheat plants. Like birds cooing. Like a baby whistling. The sun had retreated. Cold air filled him, nudging him towards the sound. Like a drawing. What would Mahmud say to such thing? “Yes.” What would Mary say? “Pray. You can’t be too careful.” Pencil? “Maybe hearing the sound is your immediate gift.”
Black garments laying across the field stopped Silas. On closer look, it wasn’t a garment. Blackbirds watching a limp figure in the field.
Silas felt his blood drain. Pause. Pray. Watch. The instincts bounced on desperate ears. He took on tentative step after another.
And there it was. A man in mostly black clothes, with a pebble-sized hole in his shirt, laying facedown in the field. Probably missed his way. But then, how many people missed their way in Redding, and showed up with a hole in the chest?
He watched the man again. Hardly a man. A very young man. With the facial structure of a growing Jason Statham and arms that had tasted pain and desire. Barely breathing. Long abandoned.
Silas could not scream.
# # # # # # #
Colt was not likely dead. He was very much alive. Though, in some ways, he was dead.
Afterword: I could not find a suitable image to go along with this installment. Is it time for me to pick up image designing? I’d gladly pay someone to do this, but I’m hardly having enough for data. Too many things to do. Thanks a lot for reading, by the way. Invite others please. And offer suggestions too.