To Shine (Flash Fiction)

There are times when I wonder if the sun feels alone. Suspended in so much dark and cold, does it burn with tremendous fury only to feel its light is cast for no one? Does it look across an empty reach of galaxy to see billions of stars clustered together like cities, like families, and wonder, Why must I burn alone?

Imprisoned by nothingness, does it ever consider:

I’ll stop then. I’ll quit. My energy is wasted, for I am beyond reach. I’m alone and lost and only glow toward destructive end. I shine without reason, for my warmth surely freezes before reaching those distant bodies. What use is there in projecting such energy? For what purpose do I exist?

What horrific tragedy.

While suffering in so much dark and cold, I hope our light reflecting back is enough for it to see the smiles and tears and joyous memories its tremendous fury brings. It pours onto friendships and families. It smothers young lovers with warmth while they stroll along sandy beaches, and as it fades into the sea, those lovers kiss it goodnight.

There are times I’ll search for the faintest star my eye can find and marvel at the distance between. Time suspends itself like a breath only held for so long, a wondrous moment that is soon gone. As I stare in astonishment, struggling to fathom a place in this monumental existence, I’ll often wonder, For what purpose?

As if sent from those distant lights, an answer will crawl into my mind.

To shine.

So burn brightly, dearest sun and furthest stars. Burn for those you cannot see or ever know. Send your warmth and love and fear not where it goes. Shine and send your brightness though you may never know why. Shine so your light may stretch through the ages, pierce the darkness, and bring life to worlds unimaginable.

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Beside the River (Flash Fiction)

We strolled together beside the river with our fingers in a loose tangle. Our arms swung with lackadaisical steps, and the midday breeze seemed to sigh at our casualness. We found a place to sit beneath the birch trees, white trucks scarred with the initials of couples come and gone. The trees seemed none the worse from the mild mutilation, but I wondered if the love had endured.

We shared a delightfully pastry, two spoons for one treat. I saw your eyes and watched you smile as you looked out over the river. I saw the wind caress your cheeks and stir your hair and I could tell by your demeanor you were at peace.

And so was I.

It was interesting to me that we could feel so comfortable there, a continent and ocean away from the place we call home. An ease settled around us, and you sighed and mentioned how nice it felt. I agreed then, but for reasons I think different from your own. You were relaxed and enjoying the moment, but I was somewhere else.

I was wondering how it came to be that I could ever be so lucky to have you there with me. My closest friend, my life support, the foundation of all my existence. You asked if I wanted the last bite, and I said, no, go ahead and take it. After all, why should it be me to enjoy it when I already have everything? At the time, it felt a bit like gluttony.

And so we sat beside the river, with calm in our hearts and peace rippling along our banks. The sun played hide and seek behind the clouds, and the birch trees whispered with the breeze. We sat in silence, you and I, friends forever side by side. Together, we tangled our fingers and marveled at the beauty that had become our lives.

I Can’t (Flash Fiction)

I can’t save you, but I can try.

I can give you encouragement, and I can show you love. I can help you understand your rage, where it’s born, where it hides, and how to escape its awful clutch.

—But only if you spit that bitter anger from your mouth.

I can’t carry your pains, but I can cry.

I can see your sufferings, and I can weep with you by your side. I can share the sorrows I’ve felt, the mistakes I’ve made, and how to realize the utter uselessness of regret.

—But only if you refuse that bitter-sweet melancholy.

I can’t endure your trials, but I can guide.

I can tell you of the twisting, winding paths, and I can whisper of the infinite places they’ll lead. I can warn you of pitfalls to avoid, the struggles worth enduring, and the pure freedom that comes from accepting yourself.

—But only if you understand that all paths are one and the same.

I can’t be here forever, but I can die.

I can hold your hand, and I can see your streaking tears. I can do my best to offer solace, to see the way of things, and to accept the beauty of it all.

—But only if you’ll believe me.

 

Came Home (Flash Fiction)

Sitting on the front steps, her thoughts stop when she sees the coming car. It’s dark red and new, and its tires crunch over worn gravel. Afternoon sunlight glares off a clean windshield. The license plate is marked exempt from registration, the tell-tale sign of a government vehicle. Her heart waits, and in that moment the concerns of her life are suspended, the medical bills past-due, her disabled husband coughing in the living room, an aging car in the garage needing fresh tires and an oil change.

The passenger door opens, and dust from the dry lane attacks black shoes that shine in the sun. A young man in dress uniform sees her and smiles.

Before she can cover her mouth, a shudder escapes, and tears flood her eyes. She calls out to her husband, saying only his name before her voice locks with emotion. She yearns to say more but can’t. The unsaid words sing in her heart, in her head:

He’s come home.

She stands and hurries down cement steps, rushing toward her baby-boy, her grown man, her proud and brave marine. When she buries her face into his decorated chest, all weight from her heart is lifted.

Mourning has been stayed.

Piling bills can continue to pile, and their collectors can continue to wait. Age can come and time can go, for beyond that all is trivial. They’ll be no giving of sincerest condolences today, no reception of ceremonial flag. No casket of unparalleled beauty and price need be chosen and committed to the ground, no ultimate sacrifice made.

Freed from her true worry, she weeps with absolute joy.

He’s come home.

It’s Going, It’s Going (Flash Fiction)

He walks beside railroad tracks, long abandoned, curving through rolling hills of golden, dying grass. The tracks lead to nowhere, a destination he’s already visited, and with gravel crunching underfoot he travels there again. A hint of ocean air whispers over the low hills and through the open fields, through rusting barbed-wire fencing and around dying valley oaks reaching to the sky with long and twisted limbs. The scent it carries causes his eyes to close and his mind to envision the cold and endless Pacific.

But it’s going, that day and that dream, that opportunity of a promise to keep. It’s going, and he knows it, and the melancholy weighs heavily on his heart. But he keeps walking with gravel crunching underfoot along those oil-soaked railroad ties.

Gloomy fog, the cloak of June worn so well by the west coast, floats on the horizon and dances with the setting sun. After a day of walking so long under the central valley heat, sweat turns to chill and trembling shiver. He watches as the sun tucks itself away behind that blanket of gray, tucks itself in and prepares for the night.

And it’s going, that sun and that hope, that available chance to be the man he always could be. It’s going, and he chooses it, and the bitterness streams easily down his weathered cheeks. But he keeps ignoring what’s over his shoulder, behind him, in the house he has chosen to abandon.

And it’s going, it’s going, that love he swore and another chance he never deserved. It’s going down tracks to nowhere and it goes with reasons born from senseless despair. The cold ocean air sighs over the hills and begs him to look back, to try again and allow this emotional kidney stone to pass. But he keeps going, never stopping, never pausing for even a glance.

Away it goes, that day, that chance, that dream. Away it goes with regretful sigh, and the darkness settles over the hills, over the valley below, and over the fog so gray.

A Thin Barrier (Flash Fiction)

He kneels down over a still pond and sees. Below, the water stares back. A blue sky hangs above worried and tired eyes. A wisp of white cloud drifts by. With heavy heart, he sighs. The veil hangs heavy over his mind, and the weight buries him.

Through the thin barrier of water, a small fish drifts by. Its golden scales reflect the light from the sky and shine. The eyes of the fish search in earnest, young and sharp and bright.

As he kneels, seeing the fish, he sighs. “Oh, if only my eyes could be so young and my skin so vibrant, all the of the world would see me for who I am and who I ought to be.”

The fish, hearing the man’s strange words, flutters its tail to stall its motion and observes the man’s sadness. It looks up and the man looks down and for a moment, the veil is lifted. The barrier fades away.

You are the light, says the veil, and you are the youth in your skin. The sky above you hangs forever in waiting for all of the possibilities within you bound, and the wispy cloud drifts by with the idleness of time in your waiting.

The man, startled, slips and slides his hand into the water in recovery. The fish darts, and a ripple spreads across the stillness of reality. The man sees the waves, sees his impact on the world around him, and sighs heavily with a heart unsettled.

The vibrant fish vanishes, the water settles, and the clouds of wispy-white above continue their movement by.

Help From the Woods (Flash Fiction)

In the winter snows she walked; the cold, her only friend. Ice layered the twisting path through the park in a vain attempt to promote itself to stained-glass. Northern winds rushed through the birch trees. All color had been stripped from the limbs. All signs of life were hidden. She came to a stone stairway that gave treacherous way to the shoreline below. Dark water churned under a gray sky spitting snow.

She stared.

More and more, that body of water so filled with biting cold and engulfing dark called to her. She found herself in the park more often. Things were getting worse.

There was a time when hope pressed against those darker feelings. There was a time when she felt there was still a way. But things changed, or more accurately, things stayed terribly the same. So it was the park, alone in the dead of winter. It was nervous glances at her stepfather’s straight-razor next to the sink. It was long gazes at the tops of skyscrapers watching birds spread their wings and watching the wind carry them away and wondering if she should do the same.

Fingers of cold slipped in through small gaps in her clothes. She shivered, and then felt quite peculiar.

Anna turned to look back at the park and blinked at the specks of snow landing on her eyelashes. Empty swings shifted in the breeze. Snow drifts huddled around picnic tables. The streets beyond a small stone wall were empty, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling.

Someone was there with her. Someone was watching.

Anna walked back through the snow, avoiding the icy path. Her dark hair tossed, and she tucked it behind her ear with a gloved hand. The cold stung her nose. She stood and waited. The peculiar feeling continued to the point of tingling.

A calm voice spoke out from in front of her. It was melodic and slow. “Strange ponderings for a woman so young.”

Anna looked on. The peculiar feeling inside her was matched by something equally odd—an absence of fear. A gust of wind brushed snow from the tree limbs. Flakes stuck and melted on her cheek.

“Is there no one to listen?” the voice asked. “No one who cares to hear your pains?”

“Where are you?” asked Anna.

The birch trees shivered in the wind; their long trunks and snowy backdrop blurred together like zebras. Something moved. Anna squinted, feeling victim to an optical illusion. A trunk shimmered in front of her as a small creature crawled up the side. It took hold of a limb and stood just above her.

An imp looked upon Anna, and Anna looked back. The gusting wind settled. From behind, the waves of the lake continued churning.

The imp wound its small tail around the branch and shielded its back to the wind. Its skin appeared hard like bark and matched the color of the tree. If real or illusion, Anna couldn’t say. Its eyes burned red.

“What are you?” Anna asked.

The imp looked on, frozen like a gargoyle.

Anna scanned the park for other persons. There was no one. She stepped forward, and the burning eyes followed her movement. “What do you want?”

The imp looked down his crooked nose. “There are solutions, you know,” the imp said, his voice still beautiful and calm. “I could assist thee.” His spiked tail flicked and punctuated the offer.

Anna stared and barely noticed the snow falling against her face. The branch above her swayed, and the perfectly still little demon swayed with it, as if part of the tree. Neither his fragile wings nor long ears stirred with the wind. Anna thought of a hundred questions, all of them obvious in their foolishness. In time, she found the only one that mattered.

“What will it cost me?”

The burning eyes, like golden embers at the base of a raging fire, stayed locked upon hers. The mouth of the imp stayed closed while the voice softly spoke out. “Only the consequences of your decision.” The words were like warm velvet, like melting butter soaking into a toasted muffin.

The imp scrambled out along the branch like a small monkey, agile and confident, and wrapped its tail around the waning end. With a simple flick, the wood snapped, and the imp flung it to the ground. The snow hissed with steam where the makeshift wand landed. Anna walked and found the melted spot. The bark was charred with the tail’s imprint. Anna held the small stick in her hand, and it gave the faintest glow. Through her glove, she could feel its warmth on her hand.

“What is this?” she asked, looking back to the branch.

But the creature was gone. Her eyes darted from trunk to trunk and limb to limb, but the imp was nowhere to be found. Gone as well, the peculiar feeling of a hidden observer.

In the winter snows, Anna stood alone. Now with the cold, fear had become her friend.

Old Generals (Flash Fiction)

Two generals sat opposed to one another in silence. Before them, their armies stood in formation, proud and silent and ready to execute commands given. Nature stood around them, birch trees framing hedges and a rolling meadow, all uncaring in its awareness to the acts of man. The scene had played out before. It would inevitably play out again. No words need be spoken for what is there to say when it’s come to war? The window for words had closed.

The soldiers advanced.

“Yer move,” Bruce said with a smile.

“I can see it’s my move, ya knit-wit. Ya let go, didn’t ya? Everyday it’s the same thing, ‘yer move, yer move’ as if I ain’t never played.” James plopped his chin into an open palm and blew raspberries.

Bruce’s smile grew sinister with tease. “I figure I have to remind ya since you take so long. Yer mind don’t spin on all its gears no more. You’re forgetful, which is why you keep playing.” Bruce waited for his bait to be struck. No such luck. “You forget how often I beat ya!” He leaned over the concrete table and gave a raspy laugh.

James grumbled and advanced another pawn, his third. It was a weak opening and he knew it. So did Bruce. “Just move yer damn horse so I can trade ya for it.”

“How’s that?” snapped Bruce, cutting his laugh mid-guffaw. “What makes you think I wanna trade ya?”

“Ohhhh-ho-ho!” snided James. “What’s that yer saying ‘bout being forgetful then? How could it be if I remember how much you love to trade your first horse away?”

Bruce’s eyes narrowed to slits of wrinkled old skin. Through wispy cataracts, he peered with disdain. He advanced his queen, and it stood like a monolith amongst the pawns, dark and slender and full of disruptive potential.

James averted his eyes in attempt to hide his failing poker face. His ploy had worked. The advancing knight was stayed and his weak opening given a small hope at recovery. He slid his rook behind his pawns, and the rook looked out over the board like a nosey neighbor peeking over a fence line.

“Foolish,” quipped Bruce. “If yer not taking the game serious, why bother?” His second knight came into play. “I’ll never understand why—“

James moved his own knight without hesitation.

The display of confidence had a rattling effect. Bruce slid his hand, knuckles swollen from a lifetime of work, under his plaid newsboy cap. Calloused fingers rubbed at smooth, bald scalp. Wanting to see what would unfold, he moved a cautious pawn.

James chuckled in relief. His flawed opening was spared. “Always the cock of the walk, ain’t yeah? But ya sure do pipe down when someone else puffs up their feathers.” Both of his knights were now in play and eyeing the opposing queen with ill intent.

Bruce slapped his hat onto the table and pointed a crooked finger. “If you wanna go toe to toe, buckaroo, you go right ahead!” He moved and captured the rook and left his knight open for trade.

James obliged with ease. “Told ya. Always lookin’ to trade. You should at least get fair value.”

Bruce grumbled and moved to support his queen. The next few moves went in a flurry as each tried to assert dominance through a display of speed and nothing more. The result was equally baffling for the two parties. Somehow, both sides were worse for the wear.

“This has got to be the worst amount of play I’ve ever seen,” said Bruce. “And I do mean ever. My great-grandson still drooling from the side of his mouth plays better than you.”

James advanced on the daring queen. “Drools from the mouth, eh? I can see where he gets it.”

Bruce wiped his mouth in panic and dismayed over the saliva found on the back of his hand. He forgot about his queen and the game. “I don’t drool!”

James moved again, the queen’s supposed royalty now being openly disrespected. “Ohhh,” droned James, “I suppose it’s the rain then? Falling from these lovely blue skies?”

Bruce gaped. A string of saliva stretched from the corner of his mouth. “I was drinking water earlier, ya know.”

“You were drinkin’ something,” agreed James. He reached for another piece.

“It’s my turn, ya cheatin’ rat-bastard!” Bruce empowered his queen and crushed a threatening knight. In his haste, he failed to see a waiting pawn.

James tilted his head in sarcastic remorse, landed a single fingertip on the waiting pawn, and slid it in a diagonal direction. Her Majesty fell. “Long live the queen,” he said with a smile.

Bruce swiped the board with his arm and sent the pieces flying, stood, and raised his finger to James. “Ya never did respect women, ya mizer!” Grunting, he placed his cap back onto his bald head and slid his ailing body away from the concrete bench.

James, overjoyed, wheezed with laughter.

Bob and Brian stood in silence off to the side and waited for the two men to clear. “What is that now,” Bob asked, “three weeks we’ve been coming here and those two still haven’t finished a game?” Brian nodded, and they set out to collect the scattered pieces.

Double Save (Flash Fiction)

 

Laughter abounded as close friends sat together near a flickering fire that was purely for show in the summer heat. Above them hung a night sky that was open and still and a flurry of stars like a celestial snowstorm. Beyond their circle, on the edges of dancing yellow light, the waters of Lake Powell sat still and quiet. No wind pushed down the canyons to disturb its surface, and it mirrored the beauty of the heavens above with deceptive ease.

Memories were shared, jokes and anecdotes exchanged. From time to time a worried mother would glance back at the houseboat safely tethered to the shore. Even in her inebriated state and with her young son asleep, a small piece of her remained on guard.

Fears have a way of clinging.

The night took a warm turn down memory lane. Anecdotes morphed into favorite stories while alcohol flowed from a seemingly endless ice chest. The fire cycled from roaring rage to dwindling flame as it consumed its wooden feasts.

The hours sped by, and the group found pleasant calm. The fire was allowed to rest, and they took their eyes to the skies above, cloudless and speckled with the infinite forever. Yawns snuck into the circle and leapt from mouth to mouth. Dulling eyes stared into embers. Silence settled in with the early morning hours. From behind the canyon, a full moon broke free from cover and shone its brilliant blue light onto the silent world. The still lake took on perfect reflection.

The first member stood in the silence, stretched, and prepared to say good night, but the moment was broken by a distinct sound.

A splash.

The faces basking in the bright moonlight took a peculiar look. All save for one.

“Andy?” said Catherine. Her eyes bucked their sleepiness and went wide. “Was that Andy?”

Bob, the one standing, saw the fear in her eyes. Right or wrong, it mattered not. He sprinted toward the houseboat. “Bring a flashlight!” he yelled as his feet dug into the sand in furious steps. Behind him came the others, toppling their chairs and spilling remaining beers.

Bob was up the landing of the boat in two steps and hurrying down its center aisle. He rushed into the small cabin where Andy had been put to bed. A small electric lantern gave just enough light to show an empty mattress with a shrugged off sheet. Bob continued aft in a frenzy with heavy footsteps following.

“Is he in there?” Catherine screamed.

Bob didn’t speak. His continued running was answer enough.

When he reached the stern of the houseboat, another had caught up. “Shine the light!” Bob yelled, but he already knew is his heart. Concentric rings of disruption were scattering across the stillness of the lake.

For whatever reason, the boy had fallen in.

The flashlight scanned the surface, and Bob directed. “Over here,” he said, rushing to the starboard corner. “Shine here!” And there it was. Ripples in the water fled from the small spotlight. Tiny bubbles wiggled their way to the surface. “Keep shining so I can see!” Bob ordered.

He dove. Before he broke the surface, he heard Catherine’s shrill scream fill the night.

Under the surface, the water was warm and calm. It felt as if the fun of the day had happened only a moment ago. He opened his eyes to his biggest fear.

Darkness.

Though a timid glow came from behind, there was no chance at seeing in front of him. There was only the depths of that great lake, only the dark. Already he felt his chest tighten. In his panicked state, he had forgotten to breathe. He charged to the surface and broke through.

“—is he!? Where is he!?” Catherine screamed. Another splash broke the night as a second person dove to attempt rescue. Bob took the biggest gasp of air in his life, and went back under.

Into the darkness.

Into that warm water that had once been such an enjoyable place.

His mind played the afternoon in small flashes. The barbecue on the beach. A drink and trick competition off the water slide (only minor scrapes and bruises). Watching the shadows of the setting sun climb the canyon walls. The clear sky and the promise of a windless night. Horseshoes. A small bit of Frisbee.

Pulling little Andy behind the boat.

Andy’s smiles.

No, God. No, he thought. Not here. Not like this. He flailed his arms as he swam, groping in endless black. The glow of the flashlight was gone. The moon’s beautiful radiance was forgotten. Just fluid and darkness and fear and a growing pain in his lungs that begged more and more for fresh air.

Time went on.

I’ll come back, he prayed with sincerity. Let me find him, and I’ll find you. I’ll renounce everything I’ve said about faith and religion and falsehoods. I’ll make no claim at being perfect, but I will find you. I swear it. Give me his hand, and I’ll take yours.

Time went on.

Unsure of which way to swim, he dove deeper. The warm temperatures of the surface gave way to chill. Pressure pushed like needles into his ears. The black before him seemed endless. The squeeze in his chest felt like an iron fist.

I’ll drown then, he prayed. I won’t go back at all. I won’t see what you’re willing to do to Catherine. Condemn this boy and condemn me as well.

Darkness. Water.

Take me back.

Bob’s hand snapped onto a wrist. He yanked, pulled the boy’s body to his chest, and kicked for the surface. With eyes open on the journey up, Bob watched and waited for the light. It finally came into blurred view.

Man and boy broke through. Air quenched the fire in his lungs, and he held the small frame upward. Arms reached from the boat and took the boy on deck.

Bob, still in the water, clung to the houseboat and chased his breath. He heard CPR being conducted. He heard Catherine’s hysterics. He looked up to the moon, it full and wide and blue like a watching eye, and waited. Behind him, the other diver came to the surface.

“Did you find him?” Brian shouted, gasping.

“We got him,” said Bob.

Brian looked on deck. CPR continued. Someone was holding Catherine down now as she screamed for her child. The flashlight was held steady on a five-year-old boy who looked fearfully white. Chest compressions bobbed his lean frame. Deep breaths pushed his lungs.

And then miracle.

The boy lurched and rolled and flung fluids from his system in a violent retch. Catherine clutched her son and disintegrated into fear and remorse and absolute joy. Those on the houseboat huddled around each other. Someone handed down a towel and sat Andy up.

The scene now settling, Brian swam to Bob. “You found him?”

Bob nodded.

“Nice save,” said Brian, still without breath.

Bob clung to the houseboat still. Water and tears poured from his face like a baby after baptism. He wanted to say something like thanks or you too, but this throat clenched and choked. No words came through. Brian drew near and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“You did good, man,” said Brian. “You found him.”

Bob broke down into tears.

A Distant Flickering (Flash Fiction)

An old flatbed truck rolled down a dirt lane. Dust rose behind it and settled like a fog over the surrounding wheat fields. The sun buried itself over the horizon, its day done. Atop a sloping hill, the truck stopped and two men, one young and one younger still, hopped out. Together, they climbed into the back. As the light faded from the sky, they chatted and laughed and embraced their young years with cigarettes and snuck beer.

Darkness came fully and revealed the infinite heavens above the two brothers. Lying in the bed of the truck, they gazed up while the stars peered down.

“Beer tastes like piss,” said the younger brother.

“The hell you know?” said the older in feigned disgust. “It’s your first time having any.”

The younger rolled his eyes, finished his can of Miller Lite, and tossed it over the side. “Mountain Dew tastes better is all I’m sayin’.”

The older glared but let the chance to insult slide by. He took cautious pulls from his cigarette, proud in his ability to do so without coughing. His younger brother couldn’t stomach it. “Look at all them stars,” he said.

The younger burped. “How many you think there are?”

The older shook his head in slow silence. The question was weighted with the effects of cheap alcohol; it felt as though he were being asked the meaning of life itself. “Hell if I know.”

“Teacher said there’s billions and billions,” said the younger. “Said there are more stars than there are grains of sand in the whole world.”

“That’s bullshit,” said the older.

“That’s what he said,” said the younger. He groped in the darkness for another can of beer that tasted like piss. He was discovering that drinking it was almost as fun as complaining about it.

“How can that even be? There’s a lot of stars, but there’s a helluva lot more sand on the beach.”

“That’s what teacher said,” repeated the younger.

“How could they even know? What’d they do, send someone out to count all the sand?”

The younger shrugged and opened another beer. He sat up and put the can to his lips. Miller Lite leaked onto his shirt.

“Stupid bullshit,” said the older.

The summer air was warm and still. Crickets chirped their songs in a conundrum of trying to stay in hiding while searching for a mate. The night sky fulfilled itself. Stars banded together to make diamond dust; those closest took on a commanding brightness. The universe spoke in its perpetual silence.

“I wonder why some of them flicker,” said the younger one.

“Dunno,” said the older. With his cigarette finished, he began on another beer. The can was carefully balanced on his chest. “Makes ‘em look warbly.”

“I think it makes ‘em look scared,” said the younger.

“Scared? What do stars have to be scared about?”

The younger brother sighed and felt a slight tremble of emotion pass through his body. The alcohol had stirred his young heart. “Teacher said that stars, all of ‘em, are far. Really far. So far that if you got in a car and drove as fast as you could, you’d never get to another one in your life. They’re all just up there and scattered apart and alone.”

“Ain’t nothin’ scary about being alone. They ain’t even alone. Hell, there’s billions, right?”

“Yeah,” said the younger without conviction. “Yeah. But it makes me wonder, ya know?”

“Wonder what?”

The younger stared at the sky and felt lost in all that is and was and will ever be. “I wonder sometimes if stars are like how Aunt Cindy says people in the city are. There’s millions and millions of them, but they never get to say hello to each other. They’re all there together but they’re all there alone too. Each one just looks at the other in silence and wonders what they’re like and where they’re from and where they’re going. And even though they look so close, they’re still forever apart.”

The older brother rolled his head and stared. The heat of the summer night hung over the truck like a blanket. In the distance rested the soft glow of town and home. He strained his eyes but could barely see the young man beside him in the moonless dark. He thought on his brother’s words, and only one conclusion came to mind.

“Brother,” he said with a snicker, “you’re drunk on Miller Lite.”

Together, the two brothers began laughing. The crickets chirped around them, and the stars above sent their flickering light.