About this blog

First of all, as you can tell I have changed this Blog site. I have now organized it as such:

This website will be a compilation of various bits and pieces I find interesting on the internet and beyond. As for my writing, I will be moving all my stories, both short and long, to a new website, same name but a much different service altogether. Hopefully this will make it easier for you to follow my writings and such.

Posted Stories & Such

Just click on the link above, or to the right, and you will be redirected to this new site.


The Filling Station (Previously Eye for an Eye)

     It was obvious from the stench that the animal had been dead for at least a week, distended abdomen, matted fur, riotous feeding frenzy of flies playing tickle and tease with the foxtail lining the ditch.

     For fear of death he chose to steer clear.

     Hanging high overhead like a hammer, the sun beat down on the highway, the countryside, life in general.  It had been ninety degrees plus for more than a month now, and it looked like today would be more of the same.  There was no breeze to speak of, only cloudless sky- as expected.
     Over his left shoulder dual strips of asphalt bled off into the distance, motionless except for the expected watery haze.  Before him lay much of the same, which is why he chose the off-ramp in the first place, he needed to find someplace else, someplace different then before.

     With his world tossed on his shoulder and what remained on his back, he continued his shuffle west, one dusty footstep at a time.

     ‘No one ever said it was going to be easy, or this hot.’  But what could he really do about it other than complain.  “I guess I could always break into some sort of rain dance…?”  Then again, one look at the heavens said no, deadpan and steel blue with not a cloud in sight.  It would take a hell of a lot more than a rain dance to break the current drought.  It would take a miracle.

     Having reached the top of the off ramp it was time to make a decision.  He could cross the road before him and return to the highway below, in essence continuing his previous journey into the sun, which, at the moment was the direction his shadow seemed to be leaning- he could hang a right and head towards more of the same low rolling hills he had previously traversed, or he could veer left towards the town of Summersville and its citizens, whose sign said numbered around six hundred souls-
     Despite the promise of his water running low, judging from the hollow slosh hanging from his left shoulder, the last thing he needed was to be around people.  He remembered what happened the last time he was around people, ‘bad days’ as he put it, ‘bad days ending in gunfire.’  And the last thing he needed was more gunfire.

     “Looks like I’ll be hanging a right after all.”

     An hour later found the highway all but swallowed up by the hills he had just entered.  In an effort to escape the heat, his shadow had all but fled, what with the sun now high overhead.  During his journey he’d stopped once, long enough to take a sip of water, brush the hair from his eyes and shift the pack on his back.  His tee-shirt, both weathered and worn, lay thin on the shoulders, and continued its pattern of sticking, un-sticking, and sticking to his back.  ‘It is a little warm to be wearing blue jeans as well,’ he thought, though at the moment he was wearing his Sunday best.  Soon or later he would have to stop and change back into the only pair of shorts he still owned.
     Whether blistering hot or chilly as all get out, this part of the country couldn’t quite seem to make up its mind- and the further west he went, the worse this condition became.

     He had been born in Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi, to a good solid family.  His father, though strict at times, had taught him everything he would ever need to know on how to survive and become a man.  His mother had taught him all the finer things in life, such as what herbs to pick to flavor a soup just right, or how to care for his wounds, and also how to enjoy some of the simpler things… how shadows grew long in the fall, or how a particular beam of sunlight can break free from the clouds and hi-light a particular patch of ground in the distance, (such as after a gentle spring rain.)  Or how the clouds seemed to roll and roil just before a summer’s storm, building white upon white, higher and higher until swollen with violence they would suddenly let loose what had built them in the first place-

     The silence in the fields around him momentarily drew his attention elsewhere, away from his memories, until he realized that these fields were the same as all the other fields he had passed thru, non-descript and knee high in weeds and rolling green.

     A single speck trolling a sullen sky caused him to absentmindedly reach for his journal.  He had a habit of chronicling his journey, had been since the beginning.  He often found comfort in the art of sketching what he saw, nothing grand or all that inspiring, but like his mom, he found joy in the simplest of things.  Once he discovered a wild flower, white petal, green leaves, struggling against the elements, eking out an existence between the cracks of an old asphalt highway.  Another time it was a weathered and oddly tilted fence post.  The fence itself had long ago vanished, having returned to rust and dust, but in mute testimony the post had remained, another bent and aged squatter wandering the greater plains, much as himself.
     According to his latest figures he had covered almost thirty miles since the morning.  Not bad considering that his feet ached, his back ached, his shoulders ached, in fact, it would be a whole lot easier if he were to list what didn’t ache at the moment, rather then what did.

     The sun was a good three fingers from the horizon when he came across the mile marker, a reflective green and white rectangle approximately twelve inches long and half as wide.  The sign itself was attached to a galvanized metal pole and held approximately five feet off the ground by two galvanized bolts; it read ‘Mile 244’.
     Allowing the pack to slide from his back, he gently lowered it to the ground before opening the two top straps.  Reaching in, he quickly and carefully retrieved three objects.
     The first object he retrieved was the most important, his father’s sextant- this instrument he kept in a worn and threadbare padded black bag.  The second object was equally as important as the first but for an entirely different reason, his journal, chronicler of events.  The third and last object to be retrieved was a well worn and much thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Almanac dated 1982.

     Three quarters of the way through the journal lay a thin red ribbon.  Opening the journal to this point; today’s entry, he hesitantly lifted the ribbon, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
     The faint scent of lilacs remained, and continued to amaze him even after all these years.  Lowering the ribbon, he set the opened journal across his knees and removed the sextant from its protective bag.  With nary a shadow behind him, he raised the sextant to his eye, sighted in on the Moon, a silvery smudge barely a fingers width above the horizon, and measured the angle between it and the sun.  Locking and rocking the instrument, he made note of the indicated angle in degrees and seconds in the left hand margin of his journal.  He then opened the Farmer’s Almanac, cross checked the angle he had just measured to the correct table to find the time in Greenwich Mean, scribbled this figure down, and then compared this figure to the intricate watch he wore on his left wrist.

     ‘Still off by more than a minute.’  Considering that his watch was constantly being updated by the atomic clocks located deep beneath the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington DC[1] this seemed an impossibility… one he chose to ignore.
     His next two measurements, which he also jotted down, indicated his longitude and latitude, his current position in the world, 38°25'2.08"N by 96°33'25.35"W.  Finishing up, he carefully repacked each and every item, tightened each strap, and then re-shouldered his backpack before continuing his journey north.  Nightfall would catch him stretched out in a local grotto, eyes heavy, and with his heels kicked up to a velvety dark sky full of unknown stars spinning high overhead.

     That night he also dreamed that-

     When he was yet a child his father would take him out into the great dark night and point his face towards the heavens.

     ‘Do you see that’, his father would ask?

     He would shake his head no, ‘See what Daddy?’

     With, his father’s voice only inches from his ear his father would answer, ‘Those seven stars right about there?’

     Following his father’s lead, he quickly spots them.

     ‘That is the Big Dipper, a very important group of stars, son.  So important, in fact, that they could save your life one day.’

     ‘But how Daddy…?’  How could pinpoints of light possibly save his life?

     ‘Do you see how those first three seem to form a handle, while the last four form the dipper portion itself?  Now let your eyes follow those last two stars son… the last two stars of the dipper.’

     He was confused- but did as his father asked.

     ‘Now imagine a straight line being drawn across the sky with its beginning, its point of origin in those two stars of the Big Dipper.’

     ‘I can see it now Daddy.’

     ‘Good. Following our imaginary line, notice that after only a few degrees, we run into what appears to be a much smaller dipper, one in which the handle seems inverted, as if flipped inside out.’


     ‘That bright star, the one the Big Dipper points too, that’s Polaris, son, what we call the Northern Star.’  His father, now fallen to one knee is facing him.  ‘If you are ever lost, my son, if you ever loose your way, just seek out the Northern Star- it will lead you home.’

     This would be a lesson he would never forget.

     In many places all around him, like old bones; shale, granite and limestone had thrust themselves upward from the earth, while high overhead continued the same desolate sky.  He would be destined to suffer three more days of this same heat, this same desolate terrain, before running across the first real signs of ‘them’ since coming across the diner all those many days and miles back.

     Like a mausoleum it raised from the rocky soil, with its sand blasted walls, dusty brown paint and streaked glass.  An abandoned, long abandoned, filling station, shadow streaked in ochre blush and bone white.  One large garage door was all that remained of three, and it was closed.  The remaining bays, minus doors, were nothing more than blotches of darkness glaring out across the highway.
     Like a dead man dreaming in the noonday sun, the entire structure seemed to be slumbering.
     The large plate glass window in front remained intact, amazingly, and was streaked in ripples of gold and blue… rainbows of refracted and reflected light.  However, there were no signs hanging in those windows- at least none that he could see.  The front door, situated at an odd angle, hung open, its darkness beckoning, while at the same time forbidding- a yawning threshold to a much darker interior.

     The stations pumps were long since gone, only the twisted remains of rusted pipe remained to poke up through an oval shaped concrete island beneath what used to be a canopied awning, now skeletal and torn, its four large posterns pointing at odd angles towards the sky.  Beneath this lay asphalt broken and shattered, with tufts of prairie grass waving in-between.  All around were mounds of debris, yellow and stiffened papers, some folded, some burnt.  As a whole, the thing was pretty much a pop-up picture opened to the American countryside in a book about dirt.

     However, forty years prior-

     Entering the station proper, my senses had been immediately overwhelmed by a variety of smells: the deep damp stench of oil, gasoline and compressed air- the sharp tickle of fresh rubber, and what was that, Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum?  There was something else as well, something I couldn’t quite place- the slight odor of decay perhaps?
     Across a grease smeared and scratched glass counter stood a register, unattended of course, much like the station itself at the moment, beside it a three-tiered rack of the aforementioned Wrigley’s gum, with rows of green, blue, and yellow.  On the other side of the register lay a stack of ratty edged maps, a cup of broken and chewed on pens and pencils and one of those four by four boards with a nail driven through its center.  Impaled on the nail lay a mish-mash of old receipts stacked at least an inch thick.
     The wall across from the counter held a dusty black rack of Ever-Ready car batteries, beside it a dented can overflowing with greasy shop rags.  A tattered year old calendar turned to the month of December seemed to round things out, hanging limp above the battery rack.
     Other than an overturned swivel chair behind the counter, and a coat rack holding an umbrella beside the door, there was not much else to catch my eye or hold my attention-

     Now, as for my current entrance into the station, in the here and now some forty years later, I followed a similar plan-
     With one hand on the door frame, I cautiously enter the station.  This time, instead of oil, gas and compressed air, my senses are assaulted by the stench of dry rot, disuse and dirt.  Yellowed wallpaper, peeling in great curling strips, lay on the worn linoleum floor along with mounds of dried grass clippings, an old bird’s nest of daub and mud and a few tumbles of weed.   A stack of thumb worn and much fingered phone books lay haphazardly stacked against the far wall.
     The glass countertop of yesteryear had been replaced with plywood, and was covered in disturbed dust.  There was no register to be seen.  Also gone were the days of Wrigley’s gum, paper widgets holding business receipts, and the year old calendar opened to December…
     I paused a moment to gather my senses, freeing my left hand while reaching with my right-

     Sudden thunder, thunder, thunder… as the wall next to me hammers twice; sheet rock lifts outward and explodes, disintegrates in a cloud of powder and white dust.  Instantly my hearing is gone.  What was initially sharp pain has become muffled silence.  My ability to see clearly, as I immediately dropped to the floor, with fragments of wall raining down, only seems broken by the three brilliant flashes, strobes of brilliant light which seem to reach out towards me in ever expanding rolls, breaking free from the darkened confines of a backlit back room.
     My world has become one of cordite and gunpowder, smoke, dust and debris.

     My right hand is still reaching… before suddenly finding and pulling free lex talionis.  In one smooth motion I bring its comforting weight and steel to bear.
     The last time I was in this situation had been back at the diner- bad day indeed!  Three souls had lost their lives that day, all by my hand, and all because of ‘them.’
     Always, they seemed to be ahead of me, while I remained what felt to be, three good steps behind.  At least at the diner there had been some warning, some notice given, I simply hadn’t wandered in oblivious… not like here and now.  Back then my entrance into the diner had been preceded by a star, its shape seemingly painted by a child’s hand, chalk white, on the top step below the front entrance.  Next to the crescent moon I’d learned to keep my eyes open.  Not this time though, there had been no star painted outside, no crescent moon above the door, no upside down ‘For Sale’ signs propped up or hanging in the front window… only ambush and gunfire.
     They were definitely getting smarter-

     Strained silence- with after images floating and darting… while outside a golden red coyote pauses in mid-stride, seemingly caught halfway between this side of the highway and the next, its head turns towards the station, ears cocked, tail tucked.  Between one breath and the next she is gone, vanishing into the afternoons silence and glare.  The coyote had been at the diner as well, only afterwards, not before.

     Rolling to my right will bring me beyond the counter and into the space between it and the wall, directly in front of the backroom door.  I feel it to be my only chance at surprise, and probably what the other party feels to be my only recourse as well.  A moment before I act my eyes are drawn to my right hand, to the word ‘Justice’ tattooed in blue across my knuckles, and crosshairs blazoned across the first joint of my index finger, and with this last thought I-
     Roll out and bring ‘Justice’ to bear, while at the same time squeezing off two thunderous rounds, afterimages of light and smoke.  I continue on through with the motion, bringing myself to the other side of the door frame, out of breath but heartbeat steady.  My back pack remains where I dropped it, just outside the front door in the sunlight.

     Silence reigns yet again.

     A quick glance assures me that the coyote is gone… only then do I notice the sign, a star, finger smeared in white and ochre painted on the linoleum floor just inside the threshold where sunlight meets floor, where light trumps shade.

     While behind me… agonized silence, countless minutes, brass shell casings on the floor- 

     ‘Ayin tahat ayin…’ like a mantra I chant, as beads of sweat break free from my brow and run down my nose.  With my left hand I brush errant strands of matted hair from my face, from in front of my eyes.

     In the silence that remains there is movement, fugitive stillness- I lean to the left -in time to catch her under the chin as she steps forth from the room, with a single shot, a thunderous roar that lifts the top of her skull, showers the ceiling and doorway with brain and splinters of bone, a literal wash of red.  Just as quickly I roll to the right, sparing myself most of the mess.
     One red tear rolls a course down my cheek.  I wait, for most of the time they hunt in pairs, lie in groups-

     Not this time though.

     Afterwards… and some time later, pack on back, lex talionis re-holstered, I stand above her, my hands on my hips.
     For all she has become, she remains a child, dirt smeared face, vacant eyes, with dark stringy hair.  Dressed in rags she has lost a shoe in the struggle afterwards- the struggle to hold onto life as it burbled and gurgled its way past her lips.  Still clasped in her left hand lies ancient iron, her right hand is now clawed and crowned with broken and dirty fingernails, the word ‘Croatoan’ carved in the center of her palm.  Her wrists are chaffed and torn, evidence of her countless bids for freedom.  The hand that holds the gun also carries a smudge of white and ochre, long fingered smears are strewn from knee to thigh of her blue jeans.
     ‘Close this time’, so very close’.
     One day, maybe not so close… and on that day it will be my time to lose a shoe- but not today.

     That night, with the stars burning bright, a small fire flickering between and the mid-night shadows closing in, he weeps, not for today, not even for the girl, though he has wept for such before- no, he weeps for the promise of tomorrow and all the tomorrows to follow.
     ‘Ayin tahat ayin’ he promises, ‘ayin tahat ayin.’  Justice, be it blind or impartial, will find a way.

Copyright 2009 by Steve Muse
All Rights Reserved.
First Electronic Printing May 2009

[1]  Margin of error: +/- .000000001 of a second every four hundred million years.


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