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The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Three
It’s Always a Pleasure
It’s always a pleasure welcoming you all to my humble site. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my short stories. Truthfully, I don’t know how many more there will be here on HP. I envision a day when I’ll just write Mailbag articles here and save my creativity for two other sites I am now a member of, sites where creative writers are embraced, as they should be.
But that discussion can wait for another day. Today is another installment of my extended short story about Max and Princess Kate, two homeless people who are traveling the alleys and back roads together, battling their own demons while trying to just stay one step ahead of the ferry man, who is very willing to take them on a ride across the River Styx.
Shall we see how this oddly-matched couple is doing?
On the Road
It’s been seven days now, seven days since Princess Kate and I decided to leave the squalor of Pittsburgh and hit the open road in search of…..what I don’t know. We left the “Queen of the Rust Belt” with seven bucks and change between us. We now have one-twelve.
Ten miles in a day is a damned good day. Yesterday we only did six, Kate being sick and all, some stomach upset that’s got her looking for rest rooms and feeling mighty weak. I feel bad not knowing what ails her, and my doctoring skills are not the best. But this is life on the road. You make do or die, simple as that.
So, about forty miles west, southwest on our great adventure, forty miles away from a dead-end existence, forty miles fueled by restlessness and a certainty that if we stayed in Pittsburgh we were going to die sooner rather than later. We passed through Wheeling, West Virginia, two days ago, made a decision, west rather than south, so we’ve been paralleling I-Seventy on the old National Road ever since, figuring stay close to population, close to shelters, close to missions, just close to the fingertip of humanity, you get my drift.
Cold-ass walk, winter in West Virginia, damn hills seem to trap the cold, embrace it, rivaling the cold in peoples’ hearts at time. So far, truth be told, we’ve been pretty lucky, finding rooms along the way, even took a hot shower at one mission, only one night with no shelter and then an abandoned warehouse outside of Bridgeport kept the snowflakes off us.
The gray smothers us at times, I won’t lie to ya. The gray sky, the gray concrete, all becomes one after awhile, head down, one step in front of another, and late in the day, as darkness starts to descend, the gray all becomes one, pressing down on you, rising up to snatch your hope, making it hard to breathe, hard to get your bearings, where’s reality and where’s the dream, you know?
The first chapter
- The Sun Never Rises: Chapter One
Will you join me for a practice novella? I can tell you it's not terribly pleasant but then hey, writing reflects reality, right, and there are times life just isn't pleasant.
What’s the Plan?
“Do we have a plan, Max?” she asks me, her breath pluming above her, her cheeks rosy, the frost clinging to her crown, clinging to her riotous red hair.
She’s asked it before. I’m no more equipped to answer on that day than I was the first ten times, but she needs the reassurances evidently only I can provide.
“Keep heading west on the National until we can dip south a bit. Warmer weather south, Kate. We need warmer weather.” That’s about all I can give her, short-term goals, and really that’s all she’s asking for, that and some conversation, the words providing warmth in some strange way.
She ponders that for a spell as we pass a strip mall of bail bonds, pawn shop, and insurance agency. She falters slightly as she reads the sign, “You’re in Good Hands with…..” remembering, she tells me, the good hands, the loving hands, of a stepfather who broke all the rules with her, stripped her of dignity, took what he needed and left nothing for her but shame and a conviction she was dirty.
“For the most part, Max, I keep the demons at bay, you know? But then I’ll see a sign like that and it all comes back, floods over me, presses me once again to the floor and has its way with me, don’t scream now, Katie Bug, don’t scream, your step-daddy loves you, and shit, Max, then I’m bawling like a baby or I’m damned near catatonic. When do you figure it all goes away, Max?”
How do you answer a question like that?
“One night I drew sentry duty in the town of Maidan Shar, about twenty klicks outside of Kabul. A night kind of like this, colder than death itself, no stars, the horizon looking like the ground at your feet, you know? Anyway, it’s me and Jimmy McClatcheon, a farm kid from Iowa, walking as quiet as possible up and down the perimeter, wishing to hell we were in our bunks. We would walk one-hundred yards in opposite directions, turn around and meet at the middle….say a few words to each other, laugh about something, then turn around and do it again, and again through the night.
“He was a good kid, Jimmy McClatcheon. Great laugh, husky kid, loved driving a tractor, he told me, had his high school sweetheart waiting for him back home, gonna be married as soon as his time was up.
“So anyway one night we’re walking the line and we meet to talk for a second and Jimmy’s head turns red, just like that, his shit-eating grin disappears with half his face, and I’m dripping his blood, sprayed me good. I just stood there a moment, it wouldn’t register in my brain, but then training kicked in and I dropped to the ground and started to return fire, the Iowa kid traveling to his beloved Iowa farm next to me on the ground, and I used his body as a shield, bullets pounding into him, me ducking down and praying to God, there ain’t no atheists in a firefight, let me tell you.
“Most nights now I’m okay, Kate, but there’s times, like when a truck backfires, or some horn honks nearby, and I swear, I reach for my weapon, it’s not there of course, and I drop to the ground looking for the enemy. Turns out, Princess, the enemy is me, you know?”
She gives that some thought for a good half mile, not talking at all. Then….
“I like you, Max.” Simple statement, said what she had to say and that was that.
“I like you too, Kate.”
- The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Two
Chapter Two of my short story collection which raises awareness about the problem of homelessness.
My old man was a longshoreman on the docks of Seattle, Union Local Nineteen and proud of it. Worked his ass of each and every day. There were times when I was still a teen, I’d see him come home after an eight hour shift on the docks, bone-assed tired, dragging like a beat dog. He’d fall into his recliner and Ma would pour him a couple fingers of Johnny Walker Red, his favorite. He’d take a big old sip and sigh, I’d always wait for that sigh, and then I’d join him and we’d talk about our days. I asked him once how he kept getting up, day after day, when he’s so tired, and he just told me a man has to make sure he’s always moving forward.
“Never give up ground you already won, Max,” he’d say to me, and as Kate and I are walking along the West Virginia countryside, I understand his words better than any other time in my life. Giving up ground, at certain times of your life, is like a surrender, and there are some surrenders that are worse than others.
“I haven’t seen my folks in ten years, Kate. They’re still alive for all I know. Dad would be, lets’ see, fifty-four now, and that would make Ma fifty-one. Maybe we should head to Seattle, stop in and see them. What do you say to that, Princess?”
She walks over to a bus-stop bench and sits down for a moment. Can’t stay long at a place like that. It’s just an invitation for the cops to roust you.
“I think,” she says, “that you’re a good man, Max. I think Seattle sounds like heaven, and I think a man should be with those he loves. Have you contacted them at least?” I shake my head. “No? Why not, Max?”
“I’m not sure they’d love the man I’ve become, Kate. Maybe they need to just remember me the way I once was.”
A cop car slows and the cop motions us to move on.
“I think,” she says. “I think your dad misses those times he and his son sat and talked about their days.”
What’s a guy say to shit like that?
More fiction by this author
Well, unlike Max, I have no shortage of words, so I’ll see all of you next week. Thanks for walking along with Max and Kate. They asked me to tell you they appreciate the company.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor