Change of Season

The first morning rays were breaking the horizon, illuminating the scattered clouds as if the world was on fire. Lynn shielded her eyes and checked the clock on the dash for the third time in the last five minutes; Jordan was almost half an hour late now. Wishing she had hit the snooze button a few more times Lynn leaned back in her seat, nobody deserves to be woken at five o’clock on a chilly autumn morning only to be stood up.

There wasn’t much for scenery at the timeworn roadside truck stop. It was on a flat stretch of land just outside of the city. Most likely built in the fifties, the plain cinderblock building with flaking white paint held a family restaurant and a small convenience store tucked off to one side. Four tired fuel pumps sat out front of the shared entrance. In a world of marketing and brand recognition it was truly just a place to stop because you needed fuel or a quick bite to eat. Not having much else to do Lynn passed the time by speculating about the lives of the other highway travelers as they came and went.

Currently sitting at a window seat in the restaurant was an older gentleman hunched over his breakfast special. His leathery face hidden by an unkempt silver beard, tired eyes keeping watch over his Peterbilt sitting out by the exit. What if he was a poet, creating works that would rival the masters, but too insecure to share with the world? On his way back to an immaculate BMW was a well-dressed business type, a double-double in one hand and a smile on his face. What if he had just told his boss to shove it and left his nagging socialite wife the keys to their downtown apartment so he could run off and start over with his high school sweetheart? It made Lynn ponder briefly what someone would think of her, a young woman sitting impatiently behind the wheel of her little Mazda, a stone’s throw from the middle of nowhere.

Lynn had recently accepted a job at Hemmett Supply Co. as support for the out of town sales group. It was grunt work but for the most part she enjoyed it, and with one exception everything was going well. Lynn’s first solo project was a proposal for a newly acquired customer. Due to incorrect information submitted by one of their vendors Hemmett lost the bid. Lynn’s boss, John, was upset but understanding. Jordan on the other hand, who had championed the account, was furious. He screamed at her over the phone for almost five minutes straight. Lynn felt terrible about the situation but there was no way to fix it. After a couple of weeks things seemed to get back to normal though, to the point recently where Jordan had insisted on Lynn coming out for a ride along. John thought it was a good way to “mend some fences”. How could she disagree?

Any hope of escaping the day’s adventure vanished as Jordan’s Acura barreled into the parking lot at a reckless velocity. Lynn exited her car and locked the doors as he pulled up beside.

“Hey buddy!” Jordan called from his open window.

“Hi Jordan.”

“You ready to go? Big day ahead of us, I’m really excited to have you out here!”

“Happy to be here.” Lynn said with a forced smile. Excited was definitely not the word she would have used.

Lynn opened the passenger door of the RDX, dropped her laptop bag in the foot well and her water bottle into the door pocket. The cold leather seat creaked as she sat down and buckled up. Even with the window down the aroma of last night’s intoxication still lingered. The oversized sunglasses Jordan wore concealed them but Lynn could imagine heavy lids with blood shot eyes beneath. Immediately Jordan accelerated out of the parking lot and on to the highway.

“Big day! Thanks again for coming out, been waiting a long time for this. Here, I got you a coffee.”

Jordan grabbed a to-go cup from the center console and forced it into Lynn’s hand. Not wanting to be rude she took a swig. The coffee was bitter and had a strange aftertaste but Lynn did her best to hide any misgivings.

“Do you like it? It’s my special blend.” Jordan said.

“Nice.” Lynn said, not wanting to cause any undue tension.

Even on a good day Jordan made her feel uneasy. While she hoped it was just the hangover there was something different about him today, something that didn’t bode well.

As they drove on Jordan explained who they would be seeing and what issues might be brought up. They briefly discussed office politics but it was mostly Jordan complaining about how terrible everyone was. After a short time they ran out of things to say so instead sat quietly as the landscape rolled past.

The sun was creeping higher in the sky, flashing in and out of view between the trees that lined the road; Aspen’s with their changing leaves signaling the new season, slender Pine trees pointing tall towards the heavens. Lynn was watching the tree line, hoping to see some of the local wildlife, when Jordan broke the silence.

“So what made you come out here anyway? You’re from the coast right?”

“Most recently, but that’s not really where I’m from. I like to move around, experience different cities and their culture.”

“You’re not running from anything are you?”

“No. Just trying to find myself I guess…”

Lynn paused, suddenly feeling light headed. She shook her head gently and blinked a few times, trying to drive the sensation away.

“Just in time.” Jordan said with a satisfied grin.

Lynn’s vision began to blur. She tried to move or speak but her body refused to respond. Without warning the car quickly slowed and made a sharp right hand turn. As everything went black the only sound to be heard was of car tires on a gravel road.

Lynn forced her eyes open, trying to focus. The room was cold and dimly lit. She was laying on a tarp which covered an unforgiving wood floor. Her coat and boots had been removed, her hands tied behind her back and legs bound at the ankles. The rope was coarse and tightly wrapped, the pressure was uncomfortable. Immediately in front of her was a worn leather recliner and next to it an old lamp with a large Bear figure at the base situated on top of a simple looking end table. There was a window above the recliner but it was obscured by plastic and faded curtains which gave only an impression of the trees beyond swaying in the breeze.

Lynn began to shiver, her breath ragged. Trying to get herself under control she became aware of someone, or something, rustling around just out of sight. Suddenly Jordan ambled in front of her with a brief look back, checking for signs of life. Lynn’s first instinct was to shut her eyes, to buy some time, but instead she quietly held Jordan’s gaze.

“Oh good, you’re awake. Can I get you anything? Another coffee maybe?” Jordan laughed low and continued on his way.  “That was rhetorical by the way.”

“You’re making a mistake.” Lynn said.

“Shut your mouth. I know what I’m doing.”

Fumbling to attach a sheathed hunting knife to his belt, Jordan came back to Lynn and knelt down inches from her face.

“Let me explain something to you. Things are hard out here. My customers are struggling to stay in business which means more pressure on me. I bust my ass twelve to fourteen hours a day just to keep up. And then to top it all off, I get people like you coming in and making the whole situation that much worse!”

Lynn turned from his harsh gaze, “I’m sorry. It was a stupid mistake.”

“Shut up!” Jordan roared, standing once again. “You’re useless! A waste of space! It’ll be the last time you cause trouble for me though.”

As Jordan moved back across the room Lynn swiveled her head to follow his path, he stopped in front of a large metal cabinet and threw the doors open. Straining to see the contents of the cabinet it became clear to Lynn how serious of a situation she was in. Assortments of rope, chemical containers, and tools were stacked inside. The tools were ugly, implements of torture no doubt built with purpose by Jordan himself.

Lynn started sobbing quietly, she pleaded with Jordan. “Please untie me. I promise I won’t fight. Please…”

Jordan paused for a moment, then turned to Lynn with an unpleasant smile and said “Maybe… Yeah, maybe I will untie you. That could be even more fun.”

Jordan unsheathed the hunting knife and knelt down to cut the ropes from Lynn’s wrists and ankles. Lynn flinched and a whimper escaped her lips.

“Oh I’m sorry, did I get you a little there?”

Jordan returned the knife to it’s sheath and moved back to the cabinet. He began whistling an unusually chipper tune as he gathered items in preparation for what was to come.

Suddenly there was a dull thud followed quickly by throbbing pain and vision awash with stars. Jordan fell to his knees, right hand covering his cracked skull, blood seeping between his fingers. With his left he fumbled for purchase on one of the cabinet shelves to stop from collapsing completely but only succeeded in scattering most of the shelves contents aimlessly on the floor.

Lynn dropped the heavy cast Bear lamp, now bloodied, bits of scalp and hair sticking to it like a grotesque fungus. With Jordan crumpled on the floor, barely conscious, she bent down to grab the hunting knife from his belt.

Lynn stood back and scanned the room. It appeared to be a small log cabin; rustic might have been the word if the situation was different. To the right of the recliner and now empty end table was a small room, door slightly ajar, an old army surplus cot and some discarded clothing on the floor. Beside the room was a makeshift kitchen. On the crudely built countertop sat an old camp stove along with a few well used cast iron pans and cooking utensils. Empty whisky bottles were piled up in the corner. A large water container mounted to the wall had a hose hanging down into an enamel basin. Just off of the kitchen sat a compact table and single wooden chair with Lynn’s coat draped over the back. As she moved toward it she was abruptly pitched forward by Jordan as he fell into her, arms around her waist.

“Bitch…” Jordan said.

Lynn screamed. Struggling to remain upright she swiveled quickly and plunged the hunting knife into his upper back. Jordan cried out in agony and dropped to his knees. Lynn immediately followed up with a powerful kick to the groin, as Jordan folded to the floor he exhaled sharply and then was still. Grabbing the lengths of discarded rope Lynn quickly bound his hands and legs to ensure there would be no more surprises.

Exhausted, Lynn staggered to the kitchen chair and sat, watching Jordan while she caught her breath. After a moment she leaned forward and pulled her coat onto her lap. Digging in the front right pocket she quickly retrieved her cell phone. A single bar on the service indicator danced in and out of view so she took a chance and dialed, after a short pause it began to ring.

“John speaking.”

“Hi John, it’s Lynn. Listen, I’ve been trying for almost two hours now to get ahold of Jordan and I haven’t been able to get through, cell reception is brutal out here so I’d like to make my way back if that’s all right with you, maybe work from home for the rest of the day.”

“Jesus. Lynn I’m really sorry, I’ll touch base with him and find out what the hell is going on. I know he’s had a lot of pressure on him lately but that’s no excuse to leave you stranded. I appreciate you making the effort, head home and we can talk in the morning.”

“Thanks John, I appreciate it.”

With that the phone fell silent. Lynn walked back beside Jordan and knelt down in much the same way he had only moments before.

“Well Jordan, I’m sure this didn’t turn out quite the way you expected, did it? You made the whole process too personal and that made you reckless. I don’t know where your anger comes from, but it was your downfall.”

Lynn put the exposed tip of the hunting knife to Jordan’s side, he recoiled slightly but gave no response save for a low groan.

“On the other hand I am anything but reckless. I learned from the best and was a very keen student. They’re never going to find your body Jordan, soon enough your feeble existence will all but be forgotten.”

Lynn stood and surveyed the cabin once more, taking inventory of anything that would prove useful for the task ahead.

“Well, guess I’d better get to work.”

The Flood – Part 10

samara-doole-294959b

“Shit shit shit. Come on man, you can do this.”

I’m hanging out of my bedroom window like some stupid teenager trying to sneak out after curfew. The water’s only a few feet below the ledge now. This is the shortest distance to the barn, all I need to do is drop my ass in the water. Easier said than done. Janine was the swimmer, I’m praying that I learned a thing or two from her. Alright, this needs to happen now before I talk myself out of it…

The world goes dark and cold. Can’t breathe. Can barely think. I point myself towards the barn and start swimming. I’m pushing as hard as I can with every stroke, every kick. I think I’m making good progress until I pause to look up. Damn it. Not even half way there and I’m drifting off course. The current is stronger than I thought. Need to focus. Keep kicking. Bring the left arm over, then the right. Left. Right. Check for direction. Keep going, keep pushing.

I’m startled when my fingers clip the hull of the boat. I swing an arm up over the side but can’t get a grip. The second time I find purchase. Trying to pull myself up is a whole other situation though. It feels like there’s a thousand pounds of dead weight hanging on my legs. I don’t think I have it in me, I’m shaking all over, but I can’t give up now. I just can’t.

 

*******

 

Photo by Samara Doole on Unsplash

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

The Flood – Part 9

I’m searching for an old duffle bag in the back of my closet. Zoe is at my door, “Dad, what’s going on?”

“Get dressed, pack some spare clothes. Get Tess to do the same.”

“Dad, but…”

“Now! Please! There’s not much time.”

I push past her and head back to the stairs. I take a deep breath and wade in. The water is up to my chest as I enter the kitchen. It’s freezing, I having trouble breathing. I can only get to the upper cabinets so I grab what I can. It’s not much, granola bars, crackers, and half a pack of fruit cups.

My legs are numb. I stumble and nearly fall before I make it to the top of the stairs. The girls are waiting

for me. Zoe is pale, on the verge of breaking down. Tess is already there.

“Zoe, grab some blankets, there should be a case of water in the back of the closet too. Tess, I need you to grab the first aid kit from the bathroom, okay? Can you do that for me?”

“Daddy…”

“I know you’re scared baby, I really need you to do this for me though.”

I dash back to my bedroom window. My heart drops when I see a shadow that turns out to be the roof of my truck under the surface. Just as I’m about to lose all hope, I see it. John’s boat is tarped up and floating just around the corner of the barn.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

The Flood – Part 8

At first I think I’m in that space between waking and dreams. There are soft creaking noises, and a sensation of pressure that’s unusual. It’s the smell that gets to me. I open my eyes to a strange reflection on the ceiling and everything comes together.

Adrenalin hits and I’m up like a shot. I push the curtains aside. My hands are shaking. The water is deep, it’s almost to the loft of the barn. Everything looks calm enough, but that illusion is broken when a clutch of young Poplars near the end of the drive uproot and drift out of sight.

I throw on the first pair of pants I can find and then run to the hall. Dark water is lapping at the first step before the corner going down. Jesus, it looks like it’s coming higher. No time to think, I turn back, and slam through Tess’s door.

“Wake up baby, you need to wake up, we have to go!”

She mumbles something and starts to turn over but I’m already moving.

We have a rule now that Zoe is getting older, knock first. It’s habit, so I do it now, even though I don’t wait for a response, “Zoe! Get up, I need help.”

I turn toward the end of the hall. John’s door is open. I have a bad feeling, but I have to check.

“John? John!” His room is empty. I look back toward the stairwell. There’s no time, we have to get moving.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash

The Flood – Part 7

I flip through the channels to get Tess back to her cartoons. I’m tired of the news anyway, same thing all day long. Record breaking rainfall, flooding everywhere, general mayhem ensues. It would have been nice if the girls had gotten outside for a little bit, but by the looks of it that won’t happen for a few days. The yard’s about ankle deep, and the sump’s been running non-stop.

Zoe hasn’t been far from an electrical outlet all day. Tess has been keeping herself busy, there’s now a cardboard stuffy hotel in the living room, and the fridge is full of crayon butterflies and stick figure family portraits. Surprisingly she hasn’t said much about not being able to go see Grandma.

I hear the front door slam. John’s back from moving the chickens to the barn. I stand to go see how it all went, “Okay ladies, finish what you’re doing and get upstairs please.”

Tess grumbles a little but starts cleaning up her pile of paper. Zoe snatches her cords and bolts past me.

John is sitting on the bench in the porch working his rubber boots off. Three sets of eyes peer out from the corner under the bench. Momma and her kittens. They don’t come in the house often but know their boundaries so stay put.

“Pretty bad out there, huh.”

“It is.”

“Anything I can help with?”

“Not right now. Get some sleep, I’ll keep an eye on everything.”

“Alright, see you in the morning.”

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

The Flood – Part 6

I wake up to torrential rain hammering the house. Almost sounds like it’s going to come through the bloody wall. I reach over and check my phone. It’s seven fourty four in the morning. Damn it, I slept in. Yesterday took a lot out of me I guess.

I turn on the bedside lamp and then sort through the pile of clothes on the floor for sweatpants and a t-shirt. I check in on Tess but she’s sound asleep, Zoe’s light is off so I keep walking.

One of the chairs is pulled away from the kitchen table and an empty coffee cup is sitting in front. The door to the basement is wide open with yellow light flooding out, so I make my way down. John is crouched in the far corner, his rain jacket still shedding water, covering up a hole in the floor with a wood panel.

“Mornin’ John. Everything okay?”

“So far. Just checking the sump.”

I can smell the must and damp, but everything looks dry enough, “Think we’ll be okay?”

John gives me a sideways glance, “Just got back from out across the way. Creek’s higher than I’ve seen it before, and there’s standing water in the fields already. Have to see what happens, worst isn’t here yet.”

“Damn. Well, I should probably get breakfast started, you hungry?”

“Yeah, should eat I guess. Be up shortly.”

I start up the narrow staircase, “Sounds good. Holler if you need a hand with anything.”

“Will do.”

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

 

The Flood – Part 5

I turn in to the breeze and let it wash over me. It feels good after sweating my ass off for the last nine hours straight. Don’t get me wrong, I like to help, but John was pretty insistent that we get out early this morning and he’s been setting a hectic pace since. Said something about needing to get things cleaned up before the storm. My sunburned shoulders are a testament to the lack of cloud cover, let alone inclement weather. Can’t argue though, John usually knows what he’s talking about.

I close my eyes, tilt my head back, and take everything in. The branches of the Willow are rustling above me. A group of Sparrows are chittering off beside the barn. The air is heavy with the scent of Canola and dust. God it stinks. Summer is half over, and I have no idea where it went. I miss the Spring. Fresh Lilac blooms and cool, cleansing rain. The promise of starting over. Now everything is hot and stagnant. I’m over it.

Solid footsteps on the gravel break me from my meditation. I open my eyes to see John striding past with a coil of rope over his shoulder.

“Come on Daniel, only a little bit to go.”

“Okay, be right there.”

I turn to follow and see dark clouds building to the South. Ugly buggers. The wind picks up, it stings my eyes. I make a mental note to check the upstairs windows when I get in.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

The Flood – Part 4

There’s enough coffee in the pot to top up John’s mug and fill one for myself. I hand him his cup as I sit on the front porch. Tess is off picking wild flowers and tormenting the cats. Zoe just got back from hanging out with her friends, but she sneaks around to the side door. Still doesn’t want to talk I guess.

It’s been a long day. John and I take a moment to listen to the birds and watch the few wisps of cloud drift by.

“Looks like it’ll be a nice night.”

“Sure does.”

“Listen, John. I just want to say that, you know, I probably don’t say it enough, but I really appreciate you letting us stay. Giving us a home, especially after everything you went through with Janine, and Emily…”

John is quiet. I’m scared to look at him. Instead I focus on a dragonfly weaving through the long grass at the end of the walk.

“Listen, whatever happened, whatever path Janine chose, you and those girls are my family. There’s nothing more important than that.”

So that’s that. Nothing else needs to be said I guess.

John drops a hand on my knee. It’s an awkward gesture that means more than he knows.

“Tell the girls I said good night. Happy Father’s Day Daniel.”

John heads off toward the barn. I think about calling out, to return the sentiment. Instead I wipe at my face with my forearm, waiting for the tears to stop.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

The Flood – Part 3

It’s Sunday morning. That means Tess was up at six, that she got dressed in her favourite outfit, and made herself breakfast with whatever box of cereal she could reach. Now she’s standing in front of me, holding the journal close to her, just like every Sunday.

“Morning baby.”

“Morning Dad.

She’s watching me, waiting for me to ask. “How is Grandma this morning?”

Tess smiles and clutches the journal tighter, “She’s good. It’s eight o’clock, time to get up.”

“Okay, I’ll be down soon.”

“We need to make sure we leave in time, so we’re back before Mom comes.”

“I know baby. Just need to wake up a little.”

“Okay.” Tess skips to the open doorway, but turns before going through. “Don’t fall back asleep.”

“I won’t”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

She gives me a tight lipped nod and then disappears.

Sunday is the day we go to visit Grandma. Except Tess carries Grandma around with her every waking moment. She’ll spend hours a day talking to the journal. At the cemetery, Tess will stand in front of Emily’s headstone, not saying a word. I don’t pretend to understand it.

I turn over and reach for my phone. It is in fact only seven fifty five. More concerning is the text from Janine that was sent only a few hours ago. She’s not coming. Something came up. She asks me to tell Zoe and Tessa that she’ll make it up to them. Sure I will. Just like every Sunday.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

The Flood – Part 2

The door slips from my fingers and slams behind me. I cringe at the noise, but the house remains quiet. The kitchen is dim with only the small light over the sink on. Colourful flashes and low music are coming from the living room. I pop my head in to see Zoe curled up on the couch, thumbs tapping away at the screen of her phone.

“Hi Sweetie.”

She doesn’t look up, “Hi Dad.”

“Tess already in bed?”

“Yeah, she went up half an hour ago.”

“Did she brush her teeth?”

“Yeah.”

“Good, thank you.”

I’m careful to avoid the worst of the loose boards as I climb the staircase. Tess is in bed, head turned away from the lamp on her nightstand. The journal is open across her chest, rising and falling with each shallow breath. I kneel beside her and reach out for the journal. Her eyes flash open and I freeze.

“Hi Dad.”

I pull my arm back, “Hi baby. Did you have a good day at school?”

“Yeah. We made Father’s Day gifts today. You have to wait until Father’s Day to get it though.” She smiles wide, tongue poking through the gap in her teeth.

“I guess I’ll just have to wait then.” I smile and kiss her cheek, “Love you.”

“Love you too.” Tess wraps her hands around the journal and closes her eyes. I pull the string on the lamp and ease my way out of the room, closing the door behind me.

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue

 

The Flood – Part 1

There’s not much but the sound of my boots on the gravel and the Cicadas in the field. I see the orange glow from the old radio just inside the barn door. It’s never really turned up enough to hear, but it means John is out working.

I walk in to find him working a sanding block along one of the hull planks of his dad’s old boat.

“You’re back.”

“I am, just wanted to let you know.”

John nods but keeps his focus.

“How are things going out here?”

“Well enough I guess.”

I scan the walls of the barn, covered with tools and smaller projects in various stages of completion. Some dusty from neglect, some fresh and bright.

“How do you find the time for all this John?”

“Didn’t know time needed to be found I guess.”

“Fair enough” I say, “Still, not sure why it’s so hard to do sometimes.”

John pauses and runs his hand along the hull. “Maybe because we have to fight for everything good in our lives. Maybe, the answers are inside us, we just need to pay attention.”

I drop my head and smile at my boots, “Yeah, I’m getting a little tired of hearing that.”

John lifts the sanding block and gets back to the task at hand. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Not your fault I guess. Well, I should head in and make sure the girls are ready for bed.”

“Give ‘em a squeeze for me.”

“Will do. ‘Night John.”

 

*******

 

Wonder what’s going on? Start here -> The Flood – Prologue