Flashfiction: “Safe”

Safe

“You can’t go alone, it’s just not safe,” the old man said to the younger.

That young man’s answer was hesitant and uncertain, “I figured this time of year would be okay…”

At a small table nearby, I couldn’t help but hear.  Those words, the concern of one generation for another, were all-too familiar.  I could hear the words, but barely.  As if they were coming from a thousand miles away….or a thousand years.

I could hear the words, but the memories were far louder.

My face was wet, the taste of salt bitter on my tongue.  I stood there, exhausted by the fight and ready to quit.  I was ready to quit, but I couldn’t.  I was in far too deep to stop.  I had to see it through.

Crack!

I shuddered at that sound — jumped, almost — and another shot of adrenaline shot through my system.

“It’s just not safe…” she had said to me.

“This time of year, it’s fine,” I had answered.

Another Crack!  More wet and salt on my face.

Ruffling and rustling, then, almost as loud.  A slight twist of the wheel and the rustling stopped, leaving just the howl of the wind and the roar of the water.

I hadn’t thought we would make it through, my boat and I.  The wave was so tall, and the one sail I had up so small.

Over the top we went, however, and the spray drenched me with yet more salty water.

I laughed, then.  I laughed and I roared and I lived.

Safe?  No, it wasn’t safe, I thought as I looked at that kid.  It wasn’t safe, I wanted to say to him, but life isn’t supposed to be safe.

90D13D63-231E-4FE1-9075-E3223465F80DNote: so, well, I used to sail.  I used to sail a lot.  I’ve mentioned it here before, but I miss the water.  I miss the water more than I’ve ever really said.  Well, to get to the point, one of the things I miss most about the water is the ability to grab a boat and go play offshore for a few hours…or a few days.

With that in mind, I bought myself a birthday present.   Since this is one of “those” years — one of the years where the birthday ends in a zero — I spent way too much and bought myself the present I’ve been needing: I’m headed up to Flathead Lake here in Montana to spend a week sailing.

Remember when you were a young kid and you had a dream vacation coming up?  Heading to an amusement park with your family, or to a big game, or to some place really, really cool?  Remember how you couldn’t sleep?  How you packed and dreamed and prepared, over and over, in the days and weeks leading up to that trip?

Yeah, that’s me right about now.

Bit Off More Than I Can Chew

Talk about exercises in futility…

I decided to get all ambitious with a blog post the other night.  “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “to put together something about song lyrics?  To do a piece where I list the ‘best’ lyrics to build a story around?”

Of course, that meant I just had to go back and start listening to songs and artists to check my memory.  I just had to re-immerse myself in the feelings and moods that made the music memorable in the first place.

I have, I should add, well over 60 gigabytes of music on my iPhone…

I could listen for a week, and not get through it all!  I am also “that guy” when it comes to music.  You know who I’m talking about, the guy who starts with one song/artist and wanders down countless rabbit trails of music and memory.

Even when I nailed down a few songs to use, well…you can’t just type the lyrics.  No, to get the point across, you have to have the feelings and memories of the music, too (*Note – I’ve put an example of this at the end of the post*).

So much for my ambitious blog post.

*sigh*

Look, there’s a line from a song called “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel — a single vision, that became a few words in a larger scene I wrote — that inspired the entire freaking fantasy trilogy I’m planning and working up right now (when I want to take a break from my sci-fi stuff).  The line?  Oh, hell, why not:

My heart going boom-boom-boom

Son, he said, grab your things

I’ve come to take you home

And about that sci-fi stuff…

Well, Connor & Oz’s stories owe their existence to — of course — a song.  A song that inspired the final scene of the first book, which in turn inspired the characters, then the world and society, then the plot…and on and on.

What, you want that line, too?  Crikey…this one really is the whole song rather than just a line or two, but here goes:

You saw my pain

Washed out in the rain

And broken glass

Saw the blood run from my veins

You see why my original post idea was way too ambitious?  I could do this a hundred times, with a hundred different songs and stories and characters.  I could talk about Genesis’ “A Trick of the Tail”, The Alarm’s “One Step Closer to Home”, The Avett Brothers’ “The Carpenter”, Clapton’s “Motherless Children”, Steve Winwood, Erasure, The Gaslight Anthem, Chuck Ragan, Dave Hause, Sting, X Ambassadors, Derek And The Dominoes, Trampled By Turtles…

Crap, maybe I should just list my entire music library!

Ahem.

*Okay, so the example I want to use is a song I’ve mentioned before as one that is incredibly evocative.  It is a song of memory and emotion.  A song of — dare I say it — nostalgia and the past.  A few lines I will type here.  Read them and see if you can find those qualities.  Only then, only after trying the hard way, should you listen to the linked video and listen for those same qualities:

While the city bums

Are taken hard

For one more drop of blood

We work our fingers down to dust

And we wait for kingdom come

With the radio on

See what I mean?

Not Funny

I was going to write something light-hearted today, something about an incident here in town.  It was going to be something similar to a joking post I wrote a few years about “terrorism coming to Yellowstone.”

Then I drove by the incident and started to think about it.  I mean really think.

Even with all the tourist traffic, Gardiner, Montana is a small town.  It doesn’t take a lot to really hit this town.  More importantly, it doesn’t take a lot to really hit the people of this town.

COVID hit us pretty hard to start things off.  Although the worst of the isolation and quarantines happened before the Yellowstone season kicked off, we were still pushing 80-90% unemployment for several months.  Even now, even with the numbers of park visitors picking up — to about 50-60% of normal — we still are pushing a 20%+ unemployment rate.

Then the incident…

Y’all know I like dive bars.  Y’all know because I’ve written about it often enough.  Well, one of my favorite dive spots here in town — you know the one, the dive with the crazy locals and the sticky floor — caught fire last night.  Now, I was going to write a joke about the place finally cleaning up.  I was going to write about the Nero school of “urban renewal.”

Then I drove by.

F91536C1-8C2A-4A33-B539-A5B63DB34A14Half a block burned.  Half a block of businesses that employ locals.  Half of block of places that keep this town alive.  The only thing that kept it down to that half a block, by the way, was the fire department — all-volunteer, and all people I know and like — using a bulldozer to knock down a restaurant in order to finally stop the spread.

I drove by today and it’s still smoldering and burning.

All the blood, sweat and tears of those who built those businesses are burning.

All the jobs are burning.

I hesitate to say it, but after this past winter and spring it feels like hope itself is burning.

I’m Ruined, By The Way

This was a day that started all wrong.  A day of driving and dealing with crowds and traffic.  A day of frustration and irritation.

At least that’s how it started…

How it ended?

It’s been fucking stunning.

I don’t use that word very often — stunning, not fucking…I use that one all the fuckin’ time — but when I do use it, I mean it.

The greens were lush and vibrant, bright and alive.  The grass and trees absolutely bursting with new growth.  The black rock and soil of the mountainsides rising in stark contrast above the valley floor, capped by the still-white peaks.  A sky as blue as a newborn’s eyes with just a hint of clouds to provide some contrast and context.

If you’re religious — or even if you’re lapsed and fallen, like me — it’s a reminder that the entire world really is a cathedral.  There was a sense of peace and serenity, to go with the feeling of purpose that seemed to permeate the air itself.

It was magic.

Okay, so what the heck does that have to do with the title of this post?

I went into town today.  When you live in a village of a couple of hundred, by the way, going into town is a necessary deal.  Now, instead of going to my preferred town of under 20,000, I went all the way into Bozeman.

Shit, I thought just seconds after getting off the highway, this is as bad as LA!

Okay, I grew up in LA, so I know just how stupid and wrong is that comparison, but it was still what I felt at the time.

Cars everywhere, driving like nutjobs…

People everywhere, crowding and talking and in general irritating the living crap out of me…

Smells and sounds and a feeling I haven’t felt since I left “civilization” behind…

I hated it.  I hated every single second of it.

I cursed and cussed and stressed until I realized I can never go back to that kind of life.

Not to go all hippy-on-a-commune on you, but my days of living in a place like that are pretty definitely over.  I can’t do it anymore.

But even that wasn’t what made me realize I was ruined.  Nope, it was the drive home.

South of Livingston, Montana lies a place called Paradise Valley.

The greens and blacks…

The whites and blues…

The smell of fields freshly mown for hay…

The pace of life determined by…well, by life itself rather than by the artificial urgencies that so characterized my morning.

That is how I realized I was ruined.  How the hell could I ever leave this?  How could I leave the wilderness and the fields?  The bears and the wolves?  The elk and the bison?  It’s all right outside my damned front door.

Sometimes, living in the middle of all this, it can be easy to take it all for granted.  It can all become “commonplace”, and so be overlooked and forgotten.  But then…

But then…

But then, you have a moment of magic.  You have a glimpse of perfection, and you remember just what the hell it is that truly matters.  You can keep the cities and the cars and the crowds, thank you very much, I’ll take a few seconds of perfection — a moment that’s fucking stunning — over all of that.