Welcome to The Dark Side, a place where the brilliance of other independent authors casts a weird, grim and sometimes terrifying shadow. This is a place where your hopes and dreams must be left tethered outside, it’s a place of screaming emptiness that will try to drown the essence of your very soul and where marriage to an accountant might begin to feel like a good idea. This is not for the young and immature, it’s not for the weak or the fearful and it’s not for those who still believe in hope. Enjoy.
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Broken Down Lawnmower
As a younger man on his way to Brazil, Vic Rayburn purchases the book from a duty-free souvenir giftshop in Miami airport.
This book that finds Vic contains a number of Latin American short stories.
Vic figures it to be appropriate reading for travels in South America.
Some of the stories are good.
Some are not.
Vic reads them all.
There is one story in particular, written by a Brazilian author.
Perhaps the author is named Rojas.
But as certain as death… Vic does not read this story with his eyes viewing printed words on pages of bookbound paper.
It is not reading, in any traditional sense of the term.
Vic Rayburn experiences the story… as it is happening… within himself.
Through insectual instincts working faster than he thinks… Vic immediately understands every feeling… every unspoken… broken piece of leftover thought… half-eaten memories… day-dreams of… sunshine… anger… porn sex… angry porn sex… brief shards of perversion quickly tossed off… moments of grace… terrified loneliness… every decent and psychotic piece of every psyche within every character in the story. Their physical movements. Their quiet honesty. Their half-eaten thoughts. Their simple truths.
All of this ‘n that surges through Vic like his blood stream… which is moving at 500-miles-per-hour, 30,000 feet above dark and violent ocean waters.
It throws his head against the little airplane window… his legs flop about in the small space allotted seat 36K.
An unfamiliar… yet not alarming panic… slowly grows within Vic Rayburn as he steadily disappears into the story.
By now he understands that it is his story being told through the letters printed on each page of that story.
He is reading his own biography… from chapters of life he has not yet lived… yet somehow are already inscribed deep within Vic Rayburn’s unconscious memory.
Instantly upon reading the story Vic understands things about himself… maybe other things about other selves as well.
A simple truth… of life as just a physical, breathing journey to know where~what~why~how…
is unknown in Vic’s hyperdrive thought generator… it is also unknown in his never-sever-server-farm with endless fields of ‘potential’…
this simple truth of life… buried so deep within Vic’s collective unconsciousness that even the almighty technology has not yet found its way in… now reveals itself… as his self… through the unfolding pages of this story.
There is no denying it, any more than denying his breathing, or his childhood.
It is now simply part of what, why, who Vic Rayburn is, has always been, and is continuously becoming.
Like the pinky finger that went missing from his left hand in third grade.
Or being his grandfather’s third oldest grandson.
The story is now part of his fiber.
Visible in the blood cells of whomever Vic Rayburn has always been and whomever he is continuously becoming.
As he reads the story… a calm strength now slowly grows thick, gnarled roots, deeper, down through the sewers of Vic’s soul hole.
The story that finds Vic from within that collection of Latin American short stories,
is about a man who lives with his family on the shores of a large river.
The man, like most of the men in his village, works to provide for his wife and children.
He is a solid, responsible member of the community.
One day the man takes his new small boat and rows out into the river.
This is not unusual.
Many villagers fish in the river.
Others travel along its waters for commerce, trade, or recreation.
The river is so big that you cannot see across to the other side in many places.
The man slowly rows his boat into the middle of the river, and stays there.
He isn’t fishing.
He has no one waiting to meet him.
Nor is he rowing for exercise.
He has no purpose for going out on the river.
None at all.
He just goes out into the middle of the river and sits there in his boat.
As day turns to evening and the other boats return to shore, the man just sits in his boat.
He goes nowhere.
Night falls… still he does nothing.
Back at his home, his family becomes worried.
The man’s wife asks around in town, about her husband’s whereabouts.
He was seen on the river, folks tell her.
When his absence carries over to the next day, the man’s wife goes out with a few men from the village to search for her husband.
She prays that he has not had an accident… not drowned,
for surely only a disaster like that would keep him from coming home.
As they go out across the water they see the man’s boat still floating in a secluded part of the river.
As they approach his boat, they see that the man is simply sitting there, staring up into the sky.
The woman yells out to her husband in alternate cries of relief and anguish.
“What is the problem?!?!?
“What is wrong?!?!? “
She frantically asks her husband.
“Why have you not come home?!?!?
“What are you doing out here?!?!?“
The woman expects her husband, now that she knows he is not lost or injured, to follow her back to shore… to their home… to their children… all of whom worry about their father.
But he does not.
The man in the story stays in his boat… in the middle of the river.
His wife is confused… exasperated… and finally becomes angry with her husband.
How does he just sit there in the middle of the river… not doing anything… not doing something?
She does not understand.
Neither do the man’s friends who take his wife out to search for him along the river.
And so, the man’s wife and friends return to shore… but he does not.
Another night passes… and another… still the man remains in the river… in his boat… he floats… he drifts downstream… then slow-rows back upriver again.
His family needs him.
They need the things he provides through his work.
As the days go on, and the man sits in his boat, often in clear view of the village from the shoreline, his wife grows bitter and isolated amongst the townsfolk.
How does her husband just leave them like this… yet not even really leave?
Just floating out there on the water… for people to see and ridicule?
It would be better if he just disappears down the river and is gone.
His wife and children listen to people snicker and say terrible things about them.
His son is especially hurt and confused by his father leaving them.
A few of the men from the village go out on the river and again try to convince the man to return home.
“How can you just abandon your family?!?!?
What kind of man are you?!?!?!?“
they ask him.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!?!?“
But the man stays in his boat.
What the townsfolks do not see, is that once a week the man rows to shore in the middle of the night.
Someone always comes down to a hidden place along the shoreline and gives the man some drinking water with a little food.
No one but the man in the boat and his accomplice knows anything of these small gifts… food and water.
As weeks turn to months, his wife’s confusion and terrible shame at what her husband is doing, grows into anger and defiance.
She refuses to look out at the faint outline of his boat in the water.
She holds her head high as she walks through the village, daring her fellow townsfolk to address the issue with her.
It is all too much to fathom.
She slowly grows away from her husband… his boat… and the river.
She does not speak of him, even with her children.
For she knows that she must survive and her children must survive and that they will apparently have to do that without the benefits of husband and father.
Her eldest son, the one most hurt by his father’s odd behavior, is letting go of his anger and pain as the season changes from summer to fall.
The air now grows cold at night.
When the boy looks out at his father in his boat, he no longer feels betrayed or abandoned.
Instead, he now feels quiet acceptance… even small pride… in his father.
The other townsfolk write the man off for mentally ill, if not criminally negligent of his family.
But the eldest son, who now provides most of the food and money for his mother and siblings, goes to work each day with vigor and a pride that he had once seen… reflected in his father when his old man went daily to his job in town for all those years.
People in town do not understand how the man has survived for all this time… out alone in his boat.
They do not see his secret late-night rendezvous along the darkened shoreline for food and water.
There are rumors of his sneaking into town and robbing from the homes of his former neighbors.
Others even whisper that some strange powers of the occult are at hand… that the man is a witch
… or some sort of ghost… all this time sitting alone… in his little boat… in the slow-flow of the river.
His wife and family are openly and quietly ostracized by the village.
People even begin to wonder… if maybe… the man has been forced away… somehow… by his wife and children.
Are they driving him crazy… infecting his brain with poison?
Was the man’s family possibly trying to get rid of him?
Perhaps… to cover something up?
Maybe some shame of their own?
Wild rumors spread… something very bad is happening.
Nobody knows what… exactly… is happening… nor how… nor why… it is bad.
Hysteria among townsfolk grows into a frenzy on the fuel of ignorance.
For the man is not crazy.
He carries no ugly secret, no smothered shame, no desperate guilt.
He never, in all his sober, responsible life, brings harm to anyone.
Nor does anyone in his family.
And this is what gives rise to the rumors of sorcery… of a dark magic at hand… somehow… from someone or something’s hand(s)… and why it is so painful… so difficult… for the man’s family… to have to hear these wild whispers of phantoms… of demonic forces in their family… and how the well-deserved, unblemished reputation of their family as honest, respected members of the village now turns against them in a cruel twist to satisfy the sensationalist appetite of the mob
They are more confused… distraught… and hurt… than anyone by the unexplainable behavior of their husband and father.
And yet the truth of this man… is simple… plain as water.
This is a man… who has grown quiet.
So, he removes himself… from the noise of life.
But most people… in most any village… most anywhere… no longer know what-why-how-to-accept… a simple truth.
In the village… where life only unsimplifies… and has steadily only unsimplified for too many centuries to remember… people only now know complication… technoplication… excess… and manipulation.
As winter snows fall on the town, a thin layer of ice covers the slow-moving river.
The man’s small boat no longer floats but is locked in ice.
Still, he does not return to town.
Where local folks used to go ice fishing or skate on the river, this winter no one goes out on the frozen water.
No one wants to go near the man in his boat.
There is only one other person in the village who understands.
The one who secretly meets him on the shoreline with some simple food, drinking water and a blanket as the season changes.
When the ice melts into water in the spring… a curious thing happens.
The little boat drifts back towards the shoreline… and town… in full view of the entire village.
There is a murmur that quickly turns into a buzz throughout the village that the man is returning from his exile on the water.
His wife does not want to go down to the shoreline and see him.
Unable to understand… in any way… her husband’s actions… she has let him go from her heart.
She stoically tries to move on with her own life in the village.
Thankfully, her eldest son is there to share the responsibility of taking care of their home and her younger children.
Although his wife will not, the man’s eldest son does go down to the shoreline to greet his father.
To see the man in the little boat… who has spent almost an entire year floating in the river…alone in his boat… yet almost always visible to the people in the village.
When his son approaches the boat… the other townsfolk gathered around immediately fall away from the boat… but the eldest son already knows… what those townsfolk are just discovering.
His father is dead.
The boy has known this for some time now… as his father stops meeting him in secret on the shoreline for food and water more than a few weeks earlier.
The man’s son then climbs into the little boat alongside his dead father.
He stands over his father’s corpse… both of them together in the little boat.
The eldest son swells with pride and understanding that is all any young man can ask to inherit from a father… dead or alive.
To the shock and disbelief of the townsfolk who have gathered around… the man’s son then pushes the little boat off the sandpebbled riverbank…back into the water.
The small wooden boat once again begins to drift out towards the middle of the river.
He drifts far enough away from the shoreline so as to be able to see the town’s taller buildings,
but not so clearly the faces of people standing on the shore.
Then the man’s eldest son lifts his father up.
He studies the pale, withered face.
He opens his father’s left eye and stares deep into it for a long while.
He lets the eyelid slip back down over a dead man’s eye… and slides the entire corpse over the edge of the boat into a deep, cold section of river.
As the body sinks slowly to the bottom of the river, the man’s son takes his place in the single seat of the small wooden boat.
He understands… exactly… what his father has been doing… or not doing… for the past year.
Later that day the man’s son rows the little boat back into town.
He knows it is not his time… yet.
He also knows that it will be his time.
Some… one… any… day.
When that time arrives, the man’s eldest son hopes that he too will be able to come down to the river and get in his little wooden boat.
For a time always comes… when a man… can do nothing… but drift… alone… in the middle of his life… and allow it… to end… himself… before that opportunity drifts away forever.
Vic sits there… 30,000 feet above a talented family of giant sperm whales who are crossing the ocean while singing.
He thinks about the story.
He has already forgotten the full name of its Brazilian author… and certain details are suddenly fuzzy.
But the story itself, in general and in private, is now seared into Vic Rayburn’s eternal memory.
He understands what the father in the boat is doing.
It makes sense to him, just as it makes sense to the father’s eldest son in the story.
It immediately communicates to Vic an essence about this business of living and dying… as well as all those other parts of the business… in a way that very few things ever have for him.
Vic sits there, in window seat 36K.
He silently admits a simple truth… he has long ago lost all desires for most every-any-thing in this life.
He knows what this kind of loss does to people.
He knows what it has done to him.
Vic Rayburn knows… as the old man knows when he gets into that boat… that no one can live… for any-some-one-thing else.
When the time comes to float down river in a little wooden boat… you will know… and if lucky… you will go.
It will be the only thing
you desire to do
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