Pilliars in the Fall, p.1
Pillars in the Fall
Copyright © 2013
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All rights reserved.
As always, all nouns - people, places and things - and their similarities to actual nouns, are here by proclaimed as figments of your imagination and bare no resemblance to real life or some such other required legal nonsensical terms.
Two people know I've written this book; the first is my friend and editor who has persistently tried to steer me down the right paths despite my continued resistance. My simple thanks here does not nearly say enough for your efforts.
The other person is me. Way to go Me.
Honestly though, for the fans that have approached me on this project who are eager to read more, it helps knowing that you're both out there.
“He never was a fast learner.”
- My Father
“Seriously, he wrote ANOTHER book?”
- A Drinking Buddy
“I just don’t know where we went wrong with him, I really don't.”
- My ever supportive Mother
“For someone with the social skills of Boo Radley, he writes pretty well.”
- My College English Professor
“Is he just trying to be the Tony Robbins of failure?”
- I don't know why I keep getting quotes from Ex-Girlfriends for these things.
What is it about a fire that holds our attention so much? It's not like it will do something different or unexpected when we're not watching it, but still all eyes are drawn to the flames. Fire might be the most active of the elements, and also the most deadly. Water is powerful, but it is life sustaining. Fire takes, destroys, kills, and uglies all that it touches. A single drop of water on a child's head will make them giggle. A single flame from a match will make them cry.
“So I told him Dude, you’re doing his wife, he doesn’t have lines he can’t cross when he’s yelling at you!” Sean wiped a tear from his eye after laughing his way through another one of his awkwardly funny stories.
I was currently more than half drunk and standing around a campfire with a small group of friends. That in and of itself was a fairly normal occurrence for us, but this wasn’t a good “more than half drunk at a campfire” type of night for me. I was celebrating a loss, and they were here with me to do the same.
“Hey man, you’re not in a good place right now,” my friend and host of this evening Sean, pointed out to me in what I thought was another attempt to talk about my feelings. I wasn’t a big fan of feelings in general and I really wasn’t interested in talking about them right now. Everyone else seemed to think it would be good to get me to share, and I had had just about enough of it for one night.
“You think I don’t know that? I haven’t been in a good place since she…”
“No dude, your pant leg is about to catch on fire,” Sean interrupted me.
“Oh that, I knew that... thanks,” I took a slightly wobbly step backwards away from the coals and flaming logs.
I had been standing close to the fire keep warm. The temperature was really starting to drop as it was apt to do at night during the late fall around here. We had been able to see our breath all afternoon and when we weren’t huddled around the fire, we were warming our hands at the barbecue. There had been one early dusting of snow about a week ago, and the time was right for the first real big storm of the season to happen any day now.
I had shot a good sized turkey yesterday and all our stomachs had been grumbling from the smells of it slowly roasting over the last four hours on the barbecue. We were just now finishing off a second, or in some cases, a third helping of the meal.
While not a delicacy to some people’s standards, a barbecued hunk of wild turkey meat with its juicy rich flavor under a smoky exterior was a very nice treat. Three course meals were a thing of the past for just about anyone these days and tonight we were dining on just turkey and baked potatoes, then washing it down with a healthy amount of rum, bourbon, whiskey and beer.
“Hey how’s your house coming along?” Sean tried reigniting the conversation.
“It’s empty,” I replied simply, then realized I should probably stop being a jerk to the few remaining friends I had left, most of whom were here with me now. “Most of the big stuff is done, but the weather has shut us down on finishing the little outside stuff. It’s wrapped up and weatherproof though. Siding and windows are done, so the gutters and trim is on hold for whenever we can get back to it. I was ready to start on the interior work last week but haven’t heard from the drywall guys in a while,” I quickly amended.
“What's with you? You're like, all amped up and stuff. You need to relax. When’s the last time you got laid? Cause you know there’re a lot of good lookin’ girls out there that would take care of ya for nothin’ these days. I saw this chick I went to high school with a week ago; she was all up on the hood of this car in an alleyway...”
“No thanks, not my style. I like to cuddle,” I interrupted him. Why at every party did someone always show up with an uninvited and already intoxicated guy that no one else knew?
“You been staying out there yet?” Sean steered the conversation away from the clueless and annoying friend of a friend and back to talking about my house.
“A little bit; I moved a lot of stuff there already, and have a ton to take care of before I can stop living at both places.”
The sentence seemed to take a long time to come out of my mouth and my cup decided all on its own to dip dangerously low, nearly spilling some of its contents onto my boot.
We were referring of course to the house I had been building out of town. My current one sat in town and was more of a stepping stone and hold over house than anything. While there really wasn’t any housing market left to sell in, it had at least provided me a place to stay while I saved money for the new construction costs. I never did plan on building a house, or even staying in this area where I had grown up, but the property and inheritance I had received last year made it possible.
The house in town that I had first bought a few years ago was a nice family place, close to the school and park, and was everything a family could want if they wanted to live in town. It was never the be all end all house that I personally wanted, but even as a young man it made more sense to buy than to rent for basically the same money per month. I could see myself with a family outgrowing it quickly, and with that being the path I had until recently been on, I had decided to build a larger place out of town that could be called a “home.”
The issue I now had was that I suddenly owned two houses that were both too big for just one person. The thought of which quieted down my side of the conversation once again.
The sound of a single gunshot echoing out from the direction of town broke the relative silence and many hands visibly drifted toward belt lines in an unconscious reassurance of the ability to defend ourselves. Mine did the same, only to find an empty space where my pistol regularly was concealed. I had left it in the truck earlier that evening in anticipation of having more than one or two drinks. I knew it was going to be one of those nights.
“Someone is having a bad night,” Dale commentated after another quick salvo of shots reverberated through the hills.
“Yup,” I toasted my drink to the air in th
In the old days it was not a common occurrence to hear shots and sirens at any hour of the day or night in our perfect little rural town, anymore though it was so common that none of us even flinched. Besides the fact that most all of us were shooters to one degree or another and the shock of loud noises, especially far away, was not something that got us too anxious.
“When is Blake due back home?” Sean asked to no one in particular.
The majority of the guys standing here had all grown up and gone to school together. We were all different ages, some being separated by more than ten years apart, but we were all friends for more reasons than simple proximity.
“He got an email out before they left the base a couple days ago when their discharge papers finally went through. Him and Danielle were liquidated and hopped on a train. I think they’re due in at the end of the week,” my friend Nick answered.
“You guys still have email?” Sean’s surprise was appropriate as the majority of us that lived and worked outside of our neighboring big city had been completely unplugged for a month or more after much longer periods of intermittent service.
Nick just laughed at us weird backwoods types who didn’t have the simple things like a constant Internet connection.
“It’ll be nice having him back here again,” Dale said for all of us.
“Yeah, we might need him the way things are going,” Sean added gloomily.
“Aw yes, the boy wonder returning home to his family,” I managed to enunciate as my left knee buckled slightly, throwing off my balance again. “Stay there leg!”
Maybe I was a little more like three quarters drunk at this point.
“And you,” I stared seriously into the mouth of a fresh bottle of beer, “don’t you think of going anywhere either.”
“Naw, this crap can’t all last forever,” Nick said while smiling at my antics. “It’ll stabilize just like it always does. Heck we’ve still got power and stuff in town, or at least it’s on more than it’s off.”
“Whatever you say man. I wouldn’t be caught living in any city for nothing these days,” Sean disputed as he turned around with his arms out stretched toward the wheat field at his back and the pine woods beyond. “This is all I need to live.”
“You gonna eat that wheat raw?” Dale teased him.
“Trade it to the guy down the road that cuts it for something I need,” he answered seriously.
“Like his daughter,” Dale joked again which got a round of off-color laughter from everyone.
“What’s the worst that could happen? If we ever really needed it, Breanne’s parents live out this way,” Nick waved off the joke, his disinterest showing through.
“If’n you can get here when you need to,” I wisely slurred. “Might as well just go to a hotel if where you are going no one has prepped before you get there. Otherwise you’ll have a nice two or three day stay before you run out of everything, just like being at a hotel.”
“So what are they planning to do once they get back here?” Nick changed the subject back to Blake and his wife Danielle, and away from the doom and gloom he hadn’t yet bought into.
“Live,” I answered for everyone with just one word.
It was the only answer there was with the unemployment as high as it was.
“You know what I like about beer?” I asked without giving much pause between the two subjects, “it’s a giver. It just gives and gives. Even when you should be done, it wants you to have more. And beer never gives up, or catches the crazy and leaves you like a woman does. Beer is your friend.”
My philosophizing was the result of more than just too much to drink for one night. I actually was a very functional drinker and instead of getting all gloomy, I liked to screw around and have fun in my own way. If it meant I was the entertainment for the night, then so be it. I didn’t think I was an annoying drunk-talker either. I hated those types of people that just wouldn’t shut up once they’ve been drinking. I was more a supplier of punch lines and anecdotes.
“Clint’s got the house all ready for them to stay at. Aren’t you helping him get a load of firewood in a couple days?” Billy took over for me as he rejoined the group after finding a nearby bush to water.
Clint was Blake’s father who I had grown up around. After Blake had left for the Army, I had become good friends with Clint, despite his semi father figure role in my life.
“Huh? Oh yeah, we’re going to get the rest of a big fir we dropped last month before the weather closes the roads down on the mountain,” I said briefly coming back to semi-intelligent reality.
“You guys need any help?” Billy and Sean both offered.
“That’s alright, it should be a nice, quick, half a day thing. Drive up, cut some rounds and roll ‘em onto the trailer. Shouldn’t be a big deal.”
Way to plan ahead, drunk guy.
The wood cutting itself actually did go just fine. Firewood was at a premium these days and while Clint figured he had enough for the winter, this last load would be the extra insurance that would make him comfortable. His propane supply on the other hand was what he was uncomfortable with. A few years back, he and his wife Kathy had installed a large propane powered generator and had not one, but two, five hundred gallon tanks brought out and filled up. It was a huge initial expense, but for cooking and hot water on top of the other things the generator could power, propane had been a good choice at the time.
He always kept one tank filled as he slowly drained the other. Unfortunately over the last year, propane started to become more and more expensive, and the waiting times for the companies to actually get some of the fuel to come out and fill up his tanks started getting longer and longer. Finally the last local company had shut down, and he wasn’t able to find anyone else to come get his tanks topped back off.
That was the other reason Clint had wanted to get this last load of firewood secured. They would be able to cook on the wood stove easily enough, and that would spare some of the remaining propane. He knew that even drawing a hard line with careful usage, there would be two more people at the house now with the addition of Blake and his wife Danielle, and those two people were not used to this meager and conservative civilian life yet.
They were used to the military lifestyle where what they needed was generally available. By their own accounts, the military was still supplying its troops fairly well, mostly through consolidating the active bases down and pooling resources. The remaining troops who had not yet been influenced to take an early out due to lack of pay and activity, were still living the lives they were used to living back when things were booming in both the military and civilian world. Clint hadn’t expressed his concerns to me in so many words, but I could do the math, and with the few things he had talked about with me, it made sense.
Our trip for the day had taken us around the far side of town and on up north to an area we used to camp in until more and more developments and single homes had encroached on the wilderness area. It was still a nice place, although we were the type that if we were in the woods, we wanted to be in the woods alone, not waving at every dog walker, bird watcher and horse rider in the state.
It was an hour or so away from sunset and Clint was driving us back on the main road that ran through the area when we started to see lights ahead. He slowed early, managing the weight of the heavily burdened truck and trailer, giving it plenty of time to stop. We could make out a couple of different vehicles with flashing blue and red police lights in front of a short driveway that led to a trailer house. It was a rare enough scene to see multiple cop cars in any one spot, due to the rumors that most of the police force had basically up and quit as the general violence increased right along with the time between paychecks for them.
We were the first to stop on our side and there was a line of three or four cars coming from the other direction that were already stopped at the other end. Before we had been t
“Hey Brad, what’s going on up there?” Clint called out as the hat came near enough for us to see him clearly in the waning light.
“Hey guys, what are you two doing out here?”
Brad Steindal had been a deputy sheriff in this county for years and we had worked with him a few times when search and rescue was needed in the areas that Clint and I knew well.
“Testing out your great detective work yet again,” I said low enough so that only Clint could hear me in the cab of the truck.
“Shhh,” he condemned me through his own stifled laughter. “Play nice with the fuzz.”
Well honestly we were sitting in front of two cords of wood with our chainsaws on top, was he such a non detail oriented observer and conversationalist that the best he could do was some automatic lame brain question? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Brad’s, although I admit it wasn’t entirely his own fault. Some of it stemmed from my own professional issues with the way most cops around here did stuff. He was a nice guy and a competent officer, but in every interaction we had with him, I was always left with less and less confidence than before.
“Some jack-hole shot a city cop out here on a call and is now holed up in that trailer over there. We don’t know how many there are or if anyone else was in the place, so we’re kind of at a stalemate.”
“A cop gets shot and this is all the response there is?” I was genuinely surprised.
"Afraid so, everybody is so short staffed it’s just me and three city guys that came out with blood in their eyes,” he said, then lowered his voice conspiratorially to continue on. “And between you and me, none of us are equipped for this.”