Friday, December 23, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 11 -- Downtown Again

We are coming quickly to Christmas, and the excitement around my house is palpable. I've always loved Christmas, always got excited for the holiday. Even as an adult. But you add a 4 year old and 1 year old to the mix and it's all just ramped up higher. My oldest starts school next year, and I have a feeling that's going to change things. She'll have school parties and school plays that we'll get to go to. A winter break is going to concentrate our traditions. But I'm looking forward to it.

Now to what we've been doing every Friday for the last few months -- the next part of our story. Mack and Caroline continue to head into downtown. Hope you are enjoying getting to know them. But if you're thinking, "C'mon. Where's the action?" Hold tight. It's coming. And lots of it.


Enough jabbering. Here's the story.

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Welcome to the End//Part 11 -- Downtown Again

Fair Park is a mile behind us. The Texas Star just a small spot in the distance. We get to what should be highway and overpasses, but it’s all rubble and ruin now -- piles high that are difficult to negotiate.


I give Caroline a hand up onto the broken concrete. Rebar pokes up like weeds that have forced their way through the sidewalk. She takes cautious steps up and over the fallen overpasses. Her movements are deliberate. Purposeful. I follow just behind.


I’m reminded for a moment of Europe. Not if I look up and across this beaten landscape, of course. Then I’m back in the middle of a tattered Dallas trying to make sense of a world that’s suddenly confusing. But if I keep my head down and concentrate on where I’ll put my next step, I’m back in Romania hiking through the mountains and making mental notes about the storm clouds overhead that threaten to pull us from our adventure.


Caroline is getting more confident. These piles are sturdy. They fell hard. The boulders of poured concrete planted themselves on top of each other with such force that they aren’t moving anywhere. She’s bouncing up the piles now. Jumping down the opposite sides, and her confidence has her in the mood to talk. She repeats the question that I was hoping she’d forgotten.


“So, mister writer, how would you describe me?”


I hesitate before answering. I slow my steps, faking a lack of certainty about where to move next. Step right. Pause. Step left. She calls me on it.


“Come on, chicken. Just answer. You aren’t going to hurt my feelings.”


I jump from the top of a pile and land hard, flat footed next to her. The smack of my boots hitting the ground echoes through our little canyon.


“She’s a plain girl, but plain in all the best ways. Quietly confident. Smart. Funny. Capable. She moves around unaware of the spell she casts. She pulls people to her like a magnet, but they stay in her orbit by choice.”


I keep going, but she stops me.


“Jeezo, Mack. You don’t have to lie.”


“It’s not a lie. You asked.”


We traverse two more piles in silence. Watching Caroline in this apocalyptic playground reminds me just how young she really is. She’s like a little kid here. She’s relaxed. She’s having fun.


Meanwhile, my age is showing. I’m cautious, and, with all this climbing, I’m sore. This isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. There are things at my apartment that I wish I hadn’t left behind. I’d always planned on going to get them sometime. But with our little adventure the other night and with the activity that J.R. described, sometime needed to be sooner rather than later.


Most of what I want is camping gear. It could all make life back at camp easier. Some of it, though, is personal. I’d love a fresh shirt or underwear, obviously. There are a few pictures that I want for purely sentimental reasons. And knick knacks from my travels that I need to see again. Bring them back to with me and place them around my bedroll. Personalize the space. Make it home, as much as I can.


Caroline is a few dozen feet ahead of me. She turns and shouts: “Your writing life sounds pretty great. Why would you leave that to come to a place like Dallas?”


She stops walking, and I quickly catch up. We pass the final couple stacks of rubble and step out into an open area that used to the Farmers Market. A beaten and broken skyline stretches in front of us. I swing my arms out in front of me like some game show hostess presenting a car and say: “You mean why’d I give up a life on the road for all of this?”


“Yes, Vanna.”


The eerie silence of a dead downtown has returned. It’s the afternoon now. The sun should be directly above us. Instead it’s just a bright spot in the inky-smudge sky. The buildings here on the edges of downtown are low, the foothills before you get to the skyscraper mountains.


“I was tired,” I say. “Tired of not having a life here. I don’t have a lot of friends because how can you when you’re never home. The travel was fun, but the pay wasn’t great. I was tired of eating noodles and sandwiches. I was tired of living life out of a backpack. Which, now …”


I don’t finish my thought. Caroline doesn’t let me.


“What kind of life were you hoping for?”


I turn the question back to her. “What kind of life are you hoping for?”


“Now or before?”


“Before, I guess.”


“I don’t know that I’d thought about it. I was going to be a senior next school year. I was kind of keeping the big life decisions until then.”


Something rattles in a parking garage to our left -- metal hitting concrete. There’s a moan that follows. Caroline and I practically snap our necks turning to look for the sudden commotion, and a child appears at the edge of the garage three floors up. He waves down to us. Caroline waves back. Something gruff is shouted from somewhere inside the parking garage and the kid disappears.

People. I hadn’t expected that.

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