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The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Nine

Updated on October 19, 2016

The Trip Continues

“I think we need this trip, Max. We need to scrub off the past so that, by the time we get out west, we’ll be clean of it all and ready for the new. We’ve both got some shadows following us, and we need to get rid of them so we can stand in a new sunshine and make new memories. That’s what this trip means to me, soldier, a new beginning, and I don’t want to shorten it before its time. Does that make any sense?”

The words of Katie, to Max, as they introduced themselves to Kansas City, Missouri, in the last installment of “The Sun Never Rises.”

Strap on your walking shoes and join them as they continue to move west, answering a calling only they can hear.

On the road
On the road | Source

Observations from the Road

The hardest part about being homeless? The truth? Can you handle it? It’s not the hunger. It’s not the nights sleeping out in the elements, or the lack of money or not knowing if you’ll survive the next day. The hardest part about being homeless is the fact that you become invisible. There can be people all around you, and I’m talking about thousands, and they do not see you. You no longer exist in the eyes of average citizens, and that kind of invisibility gives birth to a loneliness that eats at your soul.

Katie and I know all about loneliness.

We spent a night at the Union Gospel Mission in K.C. and struck out west at new light, a brighter shade of gray stretching out over the prairie, the Missouri River at our flanks, a treeless horizon welcoming us as we took one step, then another, then another. Weather on the Great Plains is a fickle bitch in the winter, the day we arrived in K.C. approaching forty, the day we left closing in on fifteen, and the wind, Lord Almighty, the wind goes through you like you don’t even exist, like you’re made of lace, hitting you from all four directions at once.

We followed the I-70, an asphalt ribbon cutting through the Heartland, access roads following it most of the way, heading for Lawrence, then Topeka, cattle towns and hay towns, wheat towns and rye towns, grains down to stubble in December, no amber waves as we pass them, nothing but bleakness.

A horn honks, makes my heart skip a beat, visions of an I.E.D. in Afghanistan, too close for comfort, diving for cover, Katie puts her small hand on my arm to help me up.

“Our battle is with what’s in front of us, Max, not behind us,” she tells me, and I’ve got a strong desire to see that truth.

There are some things we’re just not in control of, and every mother’s son can tell you that from experience, the strongest chew-spitting sonofabitch can be brought to his knees by something so damned insignificant and meaningless, like that horn, or a child laughing, taking me back to a village, kids playing football, dust swirling everywhere, laughter replaced by the screams of the torn-asunder, the village looking like the surface of the moon after the missile hits.

Katie understands. When you’ve been pawed over in a sweaty embrace for enough money to survive, when you’ve sold another small piece of your soul for the privilege to keep breathing well, it does something to you, places a tattoo on your psyche, and that tattoo says “I’m one of the wounded, the dead of spirit,” a variation of the Hawthorne letter for all to see.

On the road
On the road | Source

Getting to Know Each Other Better

“Is he still alive, Katie?” I ask her as we pass a sprawling farm, hundreds of acres looking dead to the world, the life-giving nutrients hidden from view but still, doing their job as the sleet batters the surface.

She knows who I’m talking about, which worthless scum I’m referring to, the scum who stole away everything a child holds dear a long time ago, her bedroom forever scarred, her innocence forever snatched from her grasp. She’s silent a long time, a good many steps on the journey, and the cold stops her tears from making it halfway down her cheeks.

“He left my mother, I’m told, married another woman, a new household with two new young girls, that was the last I heard, Max, but that’s been a long time ago now, back in Albany, not sure he’s still there or even alive now.” And the tears began again, fresh, washing the past away, for the time being, a deluge of guilt and shame flowing with them.

Our battle’s with what’s in front of us . . . maybe, maybe not, I think . . . but I do not say it. I just put her hand in mine and move forward, the steel-wool sky pushing down on us once more.

“Will we ever see the sun again, Max?” she asks, and I know she isn’t talking about the weather.

Welcome to Topeka

Topeka offers us a clinic, a chance to bandage up, get checked over, told we’re in reasonably good health for our lifestyle, no blame attached, just a clinical assessment from some doctor doesn’t look old enough to drink legally. Topeka also offers us a night in the local mission, Angel of Hope, a name meant to comfort, run by the Dominican nuns, Sister Mary Francis in charge, a tiny woman but a dust-devil of activity. She mothers over Katie, continually pats my arm, her smoky-gray eyes somehow transferring the warmth of spirit to me, clucking about like a mother hen, words of reassurance desperately needed by any road-warrior who makes it inside her domain.

“Five-hundred miles to Denver,” she tells us, “five-hundred miles of flat, bleak landscape, but God must have had a reason, don’t you know, and who am I to question the Lord?” And she smiled, patted my arm again, and somehow made it all seem perfectly doable.

“Now you’re a big, strong man, Max, and we have some work needs doing here at Angel of Hope, so you leave Katie to me, go out back to the tool shed, pick up what you need, and get to fixing that hole in the wall over there,” and she pointed at a good-sized hole, about a foot in diameter, just to the right of the exit door. “And when you’re done with that there’s another ten, twenty, one-hundred jobs needs doing, and two days from now Sister Agnes will be driving into Denver to pick up Archbishop Baker and she’ll give you a ride that far.”

I looked at Katie and she nodded assent. Smiled at me. Made me feel like maybe, just maybe, those battles of the past could somehow be laid to rest with so many of my comrades.

Topeka
Topeka | Source

Honest Labor

My old man is a fix-it kind of guy, meticulous tool area inside the garage, every item having a peg, hanging all neat and polished in rows, comforting place to hang out as a kid, marveling at the names, their purpose, knowing, as my dad often told me, that tools in the hands of a craftsman were instruments of beauty. His hands were always calloused, always rough, but I loved those hands when I was growing up, ruffling my hair, picking me up, and hugging me to his chest.

I grabbed what I needed from the Angel’s tool shed, not neat but functional, and set about fixing that hole, remembering my dad’s advice . . . finding comfort in that advice . . . “measure twice, cut once, and then stand back and admire your work, Max my boy,” and suddenly I wanted so badly to be that little boy again and feel those strong hands holding me close.

Five-hundred to Denver, another thousand to Seattle, fifteen-hundred miles through the Rockies, dead of winter, the thought of winter in the mountains can shrivel a man, make him mew for his mommy, test his determination, and as I cut and hammered I thought of the homesteaders, the Oregon Trail emigrants, making the same trek, not knowing if they’d make it, praying each night for the strength, and again I thought of my dad’s words, “the grain of the wood is true, Max, you can trust in it,” and I knew with certainty he wasn’t just talking about carpentry.

The War Ahead

I was looking out the window to the west, the hole fixed, when Katie brought me a sandwich.

“Five-hundred miles to the Rockies, Katie, and another thousand to Seattle.”

“And then we’ll find sunshine, Max?” she said as she put her hand on my shoulder.

I thought about my dad and the grain of wood, his trust in it, and his steadfast belief in his abilities.

“I’m beginning to think it’s possible, Katie. Our grains are true. We just have to trust in them.”

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 5 months ago from New York, New York

      I love the note you ended this on this week with needing to be able to trust, because as bleak as it is trust is an important part of so much in life. Thanks for the reminder and have a wonderful Wednesday now, Bill! ;)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And thank you, Janine, and I hope your Wednesday is everything you want it to be.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 5 months ago

      Another great chapter. Max is right, the battles are not in front. We often have to release the battle behind in order to fight the one that is coming. Sometimes, it's a question of forgiving someone else but that is VERY hard to do and can require a LOT of thought and internal questioning. I worked in Belfast, Northern Ireland during "The Troubles" and I still, 30 years on, jump at the sound of fireworks, an instinct honed by the sound of bombs gong off nearby. I am not sure that reaction will ever leave me now and Max's dive for cover may never leave him. Forgiving someone, or not, will not affect those kinds of reaction.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      RoadMonkey for sure, you understand. One cannot live in a situation like that and not be profoundly affected. Thank you for sharing that.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 5 months ago

      Living in the present is the key to happiness. We can't change the past and we can't predict the future. I think these two wonderful people are beginning to see that.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Reading your word's about a war veteran brings their battle's close to my inner feeling of what war must really be like. I love that Max and Katie are finding themselves as they travel south. Bless all the shelters everywhere, they need our help. I'm glad you wrote about Katie's abuse as a child, a stark reminder that many of the women on the streets have that background...

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 5 months ago from london

      It reminds me of true grit, this story. Was it John Wayne? Not the movie as such but the essence of true grit ... the struggle ... the indomitable will and human courage ...

      'and the cold stops her tears from making it halfway down her cheeks.'

      Nice! A few more too, but I liked this one. Excellent story. Great! Now I need to watch my back when it comes to weaving lines, right? (laugh Bro). Let us not take life so seriously. I know that you will join me. Much Love.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 months ago from USA

      Scrubbing off the past. That's brilliant writing there, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I think they are too, Pop! Thanks for walking with them.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Always, Ruby! These stories need to be told, and that's what writers do...we record the life around us. Thank you for caring.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Weaving lines can be harmful to one's health, Manatita. LOL Thanks my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I really appreciate that, Flourish. Thank you so much.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

      The truth about loneliness as you tell it hits hard. I appreciate the thread of hope stringing along on the story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dora. You can always count on hope in my stories, my friend.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 5 months ago from london

      Oh! That poem I told you about is up! A certain 'greatest unknown writer' said: 'The white sheet covered a lifetime of struggle,' and right there my poem was born. God gave me lots of vision, so what can I do? Just take credit for the inspiration of this poem, right? It's called The Casket, and my cool ellipses is at the end. Love you, Bro.

      Yes about weaving... all sorts in this crazy-harmonious world of ours. (smile)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I like the fact that the missions seem to be relatively pleasant places. It's nice for Max and Katie to have breaks in their struggle. This is another interesting chapter in your story, Bill.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 5 months ago from Oklahoma

      The uncertainty of the open road when you have to live there. Certainly not a forgiving place.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Wonderful, Manatita. I look forward to a great read, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Alicia! There are good people out there wiling to help, but they oftentimes get overshadowed by the bad.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      No it is not, Larry! I hope never to return there.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I'll say it again. Of all of the stories you have told and characters you have shared with us, these two are my absolute favorites (and you know how much I loved the Harpers). It feels that you are putting every ounce of your heart and soul into this saga. Your descriptions are so vivid I can see the movie in my mind's eye.

      I want Max and Katie to make it, but selfishly I want the story to just go on and on. I will miss them when they reach their destination.

      Thank you for taking us on this journey.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 5 months ago

      Another amazing chapter, and I am traveling along with Kate and Max

      along the highway of life, and what separates me for them is one check.

      I am with Diva, I want Kate and Max to make it, but don't want this story to end.

      Thank you for sharing their adventure with us.

      Blessings my friend

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 5 months ago from Queensland Australia

      “If the grain of the wood is true, you can trust in it.” What a great saying, Bill and I am sure Max and Katy will do well to follow his father's advice. I am loving this journey.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 5 months ago from United Kingdom

      I think this your best chapter yet. It flowed so smoothly, felt so real. I could see Max and Katie walking along, I could feel the wind slicing through me and the fatigue that must have overwhelmed them when they stepped into the warmth of the mission. I was genuinely sad when I came to the end and realized I had to wait for the next installment. Tell Max and Princess Katie I'm rooting for them.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, you and Bev pretty much have me thinking about a novel featuring Max and Kate....but it's a year away, at least. Thank you for your kind words, dear friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I think, Shyron, that the story will continue, in novel form, in about a year. I am grateful for all the kind words about my two characters.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you John! That was my favorite line from this chapter, and it feels good to have someone else notice it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I will pass that word along, Zulma. I'm sure Max and Katie will appreciate it.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 months ago from Massachusetts

      Another wonderful chapter Bill. I have never given much thought to all of the missions that provide comfort and a break from the elements. Surely there must be one in every city. I am embaressed that this is something that rarely crosses my mind. Certainly they provide a life saving service to those with no where else to go, and even more so in winter. God bless the people that go out of their way to help the unfortunate. I think I need to become more aware and more involved. I need to start noticing!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I think that's a huge step, awareness and noticing. That, my friend, is what is needed by millions. I know these people and that's probably the only reason I'm able to notice them now....so thank you for that, and for always being here.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 months ago from Dubai

      Max and Katie have got a break, food to eat and shelter to sleep in. Fate has been kind enough and then there is the long ride to Seattle, and I hope it is smooth sailing for them.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, we will all give them warm thoughts as they push through the cold on their journey. Thanks for joining them.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 5 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      With trust and sunshine they should see it through.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I sure hope so, Rasma. They still have a rough patch ahead, my friend.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      So glad I got to this, now on to 10. Man you sure can inspire love of one another in your writing style and true gift that you share so well. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks so much, Eric. Not bad for a hand-me-down, eh? LOL I appreciate you, buddy!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 months ago

      Building up a new self for any price - a lesson learned. This universal call to 'repentance' - turnaround formulated in Katies' "We need to scrub off the past...we'll be clean of it all and ready for the new." A balm to a soul! No one said they would have it easy, no one does. In real life often being surrounded by acrowd yet every one we 'carry our own cross'.

      Thank God for learning capacity and a role model parents: " Tools in the hands of a crafts man were instruments of a beauty." You made my day Bill my friend. Now I fully understand why it works so succesfully in my calloused palms.

      Max and Katie have solid base for a succesful new beginning. Gloryyy!

      Good night and a many blessings.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, I speak to you with truth: I thought of you while writing the words of the carpenter. I had hoped you would appreciate them, and you did. Thank you!

      blessings always, my friend

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 months ago

      So nice of you Bill my friend; I do believe you what you say is truth, always.

      Now you know another reason me being enthusiastic about the man of Nazareth, he was the carpenter too.

      Peace.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Indeed, Michael my friend, indeed!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      This installment is infused with depth - leaving me with much hope, dear Bill.

      Lovely to see these two deriving such strength and perspective from each other.

      Tiny Sister Mary Francis - I think I know her ;) - has a huge heart and came into Max and Katie's life at the perfect time.

      I'm using this extra hour to catch up on some of my favorite writers. You are high on that list. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I truly do appreciate that, Maria. Thank you! I had Sister Mary Francis in grade school, a true saint for this shy, shy child. :)

      love,

      bill

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 months ago from Central Florida

      This is not only turning into a wonderful love story, but one of determination, drive, resolution and success. I see it on the horizon - success, that is. I love Katie's remark about their battles being ahead of them, not behind. That mindset is what will help them flee their demons.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I do believe you are correct, Sha! They just need to get through the Rockies and then a new life is waiting for them. Thank you dear friend.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 4 months ago from Florida

      I certainly relate to the loneliness of invisibility. I sincerely felt that first part of this installment. Your story/stories have become more to me than just a great adventure to ride along with. They really resonate from a sense of feeling extreme loneliness and struggle to survive in this, at times, cruel and harsh world. I get it!

      Your characters are not fiction. They are reality. They are me, and everyone else who has had to face some unfair circumstances in life. I come here for comfort when my world seems hopeless, and I have given into those circumstances. Your stories help me wake up, and recharge back to the Missy that has fought her whole life not to let the cruel world defeat her.

      The way I can feel every emotion your characters are experiencing is sadness but also recognition that, I believe, we all fight some kind of war within ourselves. I am not alone!

      Thank you, Bill, for sharing your stories. And to all the Max's on this Veterans Day, thank you for your service! Godspeed to all!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Missy, I love your sharing of emotions, your honesty, and your realness. If you ever make it to the Left Coast, you are welcome at our house any old time. Keep being you, and thank you so much for your very kind words about my writing.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Max and Katie seem so real and the journey seems so real. It is a difficult journey and they are remaining so strong just trying to make it to the west. There is so much realness to your stories that I know someone somewhere had to have experienced the same thing as Max and Katie. Survival is the name of the game and Max and Katie are showing the true nature of a survivalist.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Marlene, for your very kind words. I relate to Max and Katie in a way I haven't related in a very long time to my characters.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 4 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      There's some things that only those who've 'walked that path' can understand!

      A lot of people don't 'get' why I don't like fireworks (too close to the real thing).

      There was a time when that 'invisibility kept Max alive, but now the 'blessing' has become a curse.

      They will find the sunshine, and there's real hope.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nicely stated, Lawrence, and I thank you for your perspective. Peace be with you, my friend.

      bill

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 3 months ago from Texas

      A hopeful installment. Kind of brings on the warm and fuzzies. Onward. . .

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, Shannon, I'm all about warm and fuzzies. :)

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 3 months ago from Texas

      Oh, I teased you on my hub that I'm not, but you know I am too. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes I do, Shannon. :)

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