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Dead Night

Sleep sat upon his shoulders in the dim room. Yellow-red light spilled across the carpeted floor, corrupted and scarred by horizontal lines of shadow. He felt along the cold wall for the light switch. He winced and stumbled back as the sterile white light burst on. Sighing, he lay down in his bed. The frame creaked. His eyelids slid shut. His hand found the switch once again and the light snapped off.

Pulling the thick covers up to his chin, he felt sleep’s gentle fingers pushing down on his shoulder as he relaxed and sunk into the bed. Then he felt her ripped away. The roughness of worry replaced her gentle touch, forcing itself into his mind. His eyes snapped open. His hands snatched the covers. With a violent thrust, he cast them away. Sitting up, pain rushed to his head; it throbbed. He scanned the room, glanced out the window and saw one of the lamp-posts glowing. As he approached the window he felt her weight on his shoulders again; her fingers gently pushing his eyelids closed.His fingers played with the chord of the blinds, they tumbled shut as he dragged himself back to bed.

This time memory woke him. He regretted certain words. He worried about their retributions. Shaking his head, he scooted down in under the covers. Reaching into the crease between his bed and the frame, he pulled out his iPod. With his earphones in, he clicked play and the soothing movements of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons caressed his mind. They chased away the worry and memories, but sleep had abandoned him, betrayed him, left him to hang helpless in night’s dark grip. The shadowed room sucked all motivation from his body. He remained laying down, making no attempt to turn on the light, no attempt to turn off Vivaldi; he didn’t even hear the seasons anymore.

Something clicked on. Cold air trickled into the room; helpless to stop it, he felt it falling down on him, reflecting off his covers, and entering the stone walls all around. Another click and the fan came on, accompanied with a quiet, but unignorable rattle as the cold air poured from the vent in the wall. It was not so much the direct current that bothered him, but the chill’s ever present emanation from the lifeless stone. Something in him laughed, but the silence strangled anything audible apart from the rattle; he thought himself a corpse, dead without release from his body, laying on a slab of ice awaiting his burial and true, eternal darkness.

Something clicked off. The rattle died with the breeze. Silence still reigned in its lonely court, holding bound he, its only subject. The cold still crept into his bones. He shivered and the chattering of his teeth broke the rule of silence. Taking some small comfort in that sound, he made to run his hand through his hair but moved it away when he felt frigid beads of sweat on his forehead. He placed his moist fingertips against the stones. Cold as they were, they were at least always consistent, unlike that harlot, sleep, who would return briefly to him and then abandon him right before he fell into the comfort of her bosom. Silence was not loyal either. The cold stones, however, were steadfast, consistent, loyal, but they entrapped him with himself.

He spoke, hoping to hear the stones echo his voice back to him, some semblance of conversation. He hoped in vain. They absorbed his voice as if they devoured his soul and he did not speak again.

He only stared at the stones. He knew where they were. Everywhere. He knew they were white as fresh snow, but in the darkness they were black as starless space. Nonetheless, he stared at them.

He wished his roommate was there, sleeping or not, he would have at least provided the knowledge of the presence of another human being. But he was rarely around anymore. The cold stones replaced the warm companionship of human presence. Glancing toward the closed door, he remembered the last time he had been around a large group of people. They were loud. They were annoying. And he felt no less alone with them. He had even wished for the quiet solace of his room. Now, in the midst of the darkness and quiet of that place, he wished those people would come bursting in.

It was not to be. No one came into the room. Not one sound found its way past the door from the hallway. Nobody would be out there anyway. Not at this time of the night anyway. He glanced toward where he had once placed an alarm clock. Dropping his head back into the pillow, he chuckled at his own lack of memory. He had forgotten that clock at home.

Home. Now there was a thought. He had not thought of it since he had come back to school. The memories of May’s faint whine carrying through the house warmed him from heart outward. That noise which had once frustrated him. Now it was a sweet symphony of tiny, faint notes that faded out, leaving silence. This silence was a comfortable silence, a loving silence, a silence filled with the knowledge of her. His thoughts shifted to his father’s snoring and the drone of the narrator of a WWII commentary describing some forgotten battle. They shifted to his mother and how, even in his adulthood, she would visit him at night to wish him sleep well and to tell him her love.

He opened his eyes to the sunrise peeking through the blinds, casting light upon the floor. He sprang from his bed. Grabbing the thin cord, he yanked the blinds open, letting the light flood in and wash over him. He felt the slight warmth of the sun combine with the warmth of his heart as he remembered his family and enjoyed the beauty of the sunrise. The darkness was gone. The dead night was banished for as long as the sun reigned over the sky. For now he was awake—for now he was warm.

Copyright 2014 Joshua A. Spotts

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My Grandfather’s Ship

They were cold beneath my feet. The sensation was a strange, unfamiliar combination. Those stairs were painted in a vain attempt to hide the gnarled, brown wood beneath. The color was similar to a midsummer sky, just shadowed and faded. The color persisted to either side of me in the paneled stairwell. Soft moonlight illuminated my goal.

I trudged up another steep step, then another, and then another. Something bit me as I neared the light. I leapt upon one foot, holding back a cry. I started to tumble backwards. Those cruel stairs buffeted me. My small fingers clawed into the handrail. They slid down until they caught on some old, but smooth, iron. I breathed out and lay there on the stairs, my arm twisted behind my head, listening for a sound.

All I heard was the throbbing of my own heart against my bruised chest. I winced as I rose. Undeterred by my recent fall, I continued the climb again. This time, however, I made it. The feeling of victory was pictured in my shadow’s upraised arms. Then, like the visage of a ghost, my shadow and I were gone. We had vanished into the attic.

Sweat began to crawl down my forehead. What would Grandpa do if he caught me up here? I placed my shoulder to the attic door and pushed. I creaked on its hinges and then stopped about halfway open. I pushed. I grunted. But the door would not budge.

In the dark I felt the opening and determined it was enough for me to slip through. This was the final moment for decision. If I persisted in my adventure there would be no turning back. If I turned back now I faced my own regret. I chose the first option.

In my desperation to get inside before I changed my mind, my shirt snagged on the door handle. It ripped and I tumbled into the attic, sending up a cloud of dust. When it cleared and my eyes stopped leaking water I found the door closed. Then I saw what had blocked it from opening. It was a massive chest. Iron bands bound the beams that formed it together. It was a curious thing, I say, but the iron on this chest was not rusted like everything else in the attic. Indeed, the chest seemed polished. I dismissed it as a trick of my eyes in the darkness.

There was no lock on this chest and curiosity reigned supreme over my mind. My fingers found the crack between the lid and the base and, with all my might, I opened the chest. My eyes were blessed by what I saw. There, sitting on the bottom, was a model ship. It had pure white sails, a mahogany deck, brass cannons, and even a little ivory mermaid on the front. I stared at that ship in all its perfection. I did not dare to touch it. I feared that, if I did, it would shatter and my heart with it.

I closed that chest, turned, and headed downstairs. I closed the stairwell door behind me; once again shutting the forbidden area of Grandfather’s house from the permitted. I crept back to my bedroom like the frightened child I was, fearing the sudden appearance of my grandfather.

I lay on my bed. But I did not want to be there. My grandfather’s ship called to me from its residence in the forbidden attic. I saw it in my head. Indeed, these many years later, I still see it. It is beautiful and it was forbidden. That forbidden beauty drew my every thought back to it. I could hear the waves of sea as I tossed and turned on my bed. I heard the groans of the hull as she plowed her way through a storm. I saw her white sails billowed out in all their glory on a perfect day. The seas she rode on were smooth and a gentle wind blew across them.

I opened my eyes. The white plaster ceiling of my room greeted and I shunned it in disgust. I turned over and sat up. Sweat stained my pajamas and the bed groaned beneath me. I stood and was disappointed. Instead of the rough, natural planks of a ship’s deck, I felt painted over flooring of my bedroom. It reminded me of those forbidden stairs I had traversed earlier that night. Those stairs reminded me of the ship that awaited me. I glanced over at the clock and, deciphering the ancient analog hands and roman numerals, found that it was 5:37AM.

It only took a few steps to reach those stairs. It only took a little more effort to ascend them. Guilt ate at my heart, but I put it aside. The ship called to me. I imagined I heard the captain’s voice calling, “all aboard!” I had to at least see the beauty before she shipped out to sea. I knew that Grandfather woke at six every morning, no earlier and no later. I knew that I was running the risk of staying too long in the forbidden attic. But I was desperate. I was hungry for the sight of her again.

Squeezing through the crack in the attic door and wincing at the noise the hinges made, I saw the final object to my goal. That chest hid her from me and I hated it for that. I heaved that lid open. I felt the edges of my mouth rise in a smile. Then they fell. She was gone. My grandfather’s ship had set sail before I could see it again. A single tear disrupted the dust on the floor. Many years later I realize how quickly addictions arise and how easily they disappoint; yet I still see my grandfather’s ship in my dreams.

A short story by Joshua A. Spotts

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