Sunday Snippet, Mall from Hell by Bill Chance

“Civilized life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.”

― J.G. Ballard

Toad Corner, Dallas Arboretum

Mall from Hell

He dreams of a shopping mall from hell
At the center, the intersection of walkways
Is a lobotomy kiosk
Crowned with a shiny silver
Ball peen hammer
Youths with untied shoes
Line up in front of the food court
Where the famous
Deep Fried Toad Dicks on toothpicks
Are cooked and served up by
Lolita in a paper hat

Sunday Snippet, Insomnia by Bill Chance

“How to Commit the Perfect Murder” was an old game in heaven. I always chose the icicle: the weapon melts away.”

― Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

8 50 Caliber Machine Guns, Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas

Insomnia

I ride the trains at night. I can’t sleep and I have a monthly pass, so why not.

It was almost three in the morning and I was sitting on the Darkwater platform on one of those little seats that fold down.

There was a maintenance worker, a tired looking old man, washing the platform with a faded green hose. He pretended not to notice me and I pretended not to notice him.

The thief came from nowhere, pulled a gun on the maintenance man, and demanded in a loud and obscene voice that he hand over his cell phone.

He did hand it over, without hesitation. I was thinking how big of a loss this was to him, how many platforms he would have to hose down to buy a new phone when the thief shot him, twice, and he went down in a quickly expanding pool of blood.

The thief turned and ran down the stairs. I followed, not slowly but not running either. At street level I saw the thief disappear down an alley between two dilapidated brick industrial buildings. I followed.

The thief was waiting for me. He was yelling something at me – but I couldn’t make out the words. His gun was big – I recognized it as a Glock 21 forty-five caliber. It was a real hand cannon and it was pointed at me.

My Walther PPK 9mm dropped from the holster in my sleeve into my hand. It is a lot smaller than his Glock. But I am practiced, very fast, and I never miss.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, How Difficult by Lydia Davis

“If your kid needs a role model and you ain’t it, you’re both fucked.”

― George Carlin, Brain Droppings

Window sign, Tattoo Parlor, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Wednesday, November 7, 2001 – a smidge over twenty years ago:

Feng Shui

The other day we were driving around, talking about this and that, complimenting someone (I don’t remember who) on their house and how it was decorated.
Lee piped up from the back seat, “I like that house, it’s very Feng Shui!”
“What did you say?” Candy asked.
“It’s very Feng Shui,” Lee replied.

Where does a nine-year-old learn about Feng Shui? It was a bit of a shock to hear a little kid use that term.

“It’s from Doctor Dolittle Two,” Lee said.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

How Difficult by Lydia Davis

from fwriciton

A cartoon version of How Difficult

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Keeping an Eye on You by Robert Garner McBrearty

“But the thought of being a lunatic did not greatly trouble him; the horror was that he might also be wrong.”

― George Orwell, 1984

My bicycle locked up to the TRex in Exposition Park, Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Friday, January 31, 1997

Real dinosaurs

I’ve been thinking about Lee at the Dinosaur play we went to last week. Thinking about the start of the second act when the dinosaur, the three-horn, the Triceratops, no- the actor, no- the actress wearing the Triceratops costume emerged from the rear of the theater and moved down our very own aisle, making dinosaur-type noises (what kind of noise does a dinosaur make?) and glaring and gesticulating at all the enthralled children.

Lee was grinning, smiling, waving back with a little half wave. His radiant face was plastered with an unbelievable expression, one of absolute wonder and amazement, he looked like, well, he looked like he had seen a dinosaur. In the play, the protagonist (a paleontologist) and her daughter had traveled back in time by way of an incantation the daughter intoned. They ended up at the very nest of the dinosaur whose remains (egg shells and bones) they had been unearthing at the beginning of the play.

Lee knew this wasn’t a real dinosaur, he knew it was an actor inside an attractive, but not very realistic dinosaur suit. What was it? A Dinosaur or an Actor? What’s the difference? None to him. As an adult I, of course, hold no illusions of it being real, I could tell that, not only was it not a dinosaur, it was evenone of the other actors in the play, an actress, the actress playing the museum president. Actress-Dinosaur, ThreeHorn-Triceratops, DinoActress-MuseumPresidentActress, which is it?, which is real? and which is the illusion?

Children accept the fact that for all practical purposes there is no distinction between fantasy and reality. Adults forget, or choose to ignore this fact.

No difference you say? Reality and fantasy, no distinction? Run across this street then and get hit by that cross-town bus, there’s your distiction.

Yeah, that bus is real, all right, I think we can agree on that point. But why did it hit me? Bad luck? Destiny? Did the Tarot cards predict this?

“Yes, I can see it now, the cards will predict your future. You have drawn the Greyhound Card, along with the Hanged Man. I predict you will be smacked by the Lexington Avenue Cross-Town bus at seven thirty AM June 23rd 1998, after leaving Starbucks, looking at your watch, trying to catch the train.The bus will have an ad on the side, for Tyrone’s Seafood (Plate O’ Shrimp – $4.99), the driver’s name is Roger Slothrop.”

“But that can’t be true! I don’t even drink coffee!”

Our daily struggles we blame on the stars, on our parents, on the government, but who is to blame?

I suppose we need to watch out for that bus, but it would sure be nice to be able to pay for a ticket to the children’s theater and get to see a real dinosaur.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Keeping an Eye on You by Robert Garner McBrearty

from Flash Fiction Magazine

Robert Garner McBrearty Webpage

Sunday Snippet, No Throwing the Corn by Bill Chance

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

― John Green, Looking for Alaska

On the way to Toad Corners

No Throwing the Corn

Amanda found an article in the newspaper about some guy that had cut a series of mazes into his cornfield, about a half -hour east of the city – and was charging folks to walk around and get lost. It sounded like fun, so we bundled the kids and a friend up and headed out of town.

It was getting late, the sun was setting as we pulled up. It was a fun place, although everyone was tired and grumpy.

They have a number of mazes. One made out of hay bale tunnels – with instructions posted on the hay. It’s more of a puzzle than a maze. Then there are three labyrinths made up of fencing right near the parking lot. Jim liked those the best.

The main attraction, though, are the two labyrinths cut into the cornfield itself. They are huge, covering about a square mile or so. One maze is more twisty and complicated, the other more open, with long straightaways.

The rules are simple: no running, no pulling the corn, no picking the corn, no throwing the corn, no cutting through the corn. The smell of the ripe, dry cornfield was wonderful.

I can’t speak much of what it looked like because by the time we hit the cornfield maze the night was pitch black. A lot of people were in the maze had flashlights and/or glow sticks – plus some light (and noise) filtered across the freeway from the drag races going on there.

It was fun, wandering around in the dark, dodging the clumps of screaming kids (many ignoring the rule about no running), and trying to figure out the overall layout of the corn. It was easy to get truly lost, especially in the dark. There are clues to help you find your way out, plus a lot of workers in there checking on the customers… though we never needed any help – simply a lot of walking.

It took us about forty minutes to get through the Phase I maze – we probably walked two miles or so. Jim’s knee was aching, so he sat it out while Amy and I made it through Phase II a little quicker.

The kids kept getting frustrated in the maze when we would hit a dead end or realize we were at a spot we had passed before. I told them not to be so bothered, to relax and keep moving. “You have to walk down the wrong paths to find the right ones,” was my fatherly-zen advice.

They groaned at that.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Mannahatta by John Keene

“Canoes, too, are unobtrusive; they don’t storm the natural world or ride over it, but drift in upon it as a part of its own silence. As you either care about what the land is or not, so do you like or dislike quiet things–sailboats, or rainy green mornings in foreign places, or a grazing herd, or the ruins of old monasteries in the mountains. . . . Chances for being quiet nowadays are limited.”

― John Graves

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, March 13, 20008.

Into the wind

There’s this thing about being in a canoe, or a small sailboat even, on a lake in the wind. When you are going into the wind you’re going very slowly and in the case of a canoe you’re working very hard to push against the resistance. But since the waves are going the other way, opposite you, it seems like you’re moving very quickly, rushing along. It’s only when you watch the shore that you see the glacial progress you’re making.

On the other hand, when you turn around, and go with the wind at your back you, hopefully, will move right along with the waves and appear, when you look at the water, to almost be standing still. Again, it takes some proper point of reference, some object on the shore, to gauge your true rapid speed.

Nick, Lee, and I rented a canoe today, and went from one end of Cedar Lake to the other.

We started at the little park store, which has rentals. We had to wait because the operator who lives in a recreational vehicle beside the store and lives by himself had to close up for an hour and go into town. When he came back he could rent us the boat. He made us fill out all the paperwork, apologizing, “Please fill this out in case the State audits me.”

Candy asked, “Well, have they ever audited you?”

He said, “Yes, once. They came out a couple years ago but I told them that my wife had passed away that week and I couldn’t deal with it so they went away and haven’t come back.”

So we rented the little aluminum canoe for an hour, six dollars an hour, and we went out in it while Candy waited on the shore with the giant killer dog. The rental place is in a cove down at one end of the lake and due to the drought we’ve been in for the last couple years the lake levels are way down. It was difficult to get out of the cove because the water was so shallow.

I wanted to go the length of the lake, all the way to the dam but as we moved out into the center I wasn’t sure we would make it. The stout wind would catch the front of the canoe, where Nicholas sat ineffectually flailing at the water with one paddle, and spin it around so I would have to paddle hard and carefully to keep us pointed at the dam. Two other families had rented canoes right after us and they were unable to get out of the cove due to the wind.

After being spun twice I decided to move over to the west coastline, as close as possible, and pay close attention to steering the canoe – we were able to make progress that way. It was work, pushing against the wind, taking all the strength I had in my shoulders. It felt good to be paddling a canoe again; I’m really pretty good at it. I had a canoe of my own once, for a little while when I lived in Panama – a hollowed out log really – that I could take down to the lake and paddle around with. I guess that’s when I learned how to handle a paddle with some dexterity. In college sometimes in the spring we would go down to the Ozarks, rent canoes and shoot some easy rapids. Over the years Candy and I have gone to Caddo lake or some other camping place by the water and rented a boat.

Nicholas and Lee had never been in a canoe before. Lee was surprised to find out it was made of metal, he thought they were all made of wood. They both said the canoe was more stable than they thought it would be, they thought it would be harder to keep it from tipping over. I told them a lot of that was because I was working pretty hard at keeping it straight while they flailed around. Especially Nick at the front trying to paddle.

Today we made it all the way to the dam. No big deal, no great feat, but the kids seemed to enjoy it. We circled the concrete drainage structure, a tall cylinder sticking out of the water with a wrought iron valve wheel on top. Then we turned and headed back.

The wind and waves bore us along at a rapid speed on the return. It took us maybe forty minutes to reach the dam and only ten to get back. Poor Lee knelt on his knees in the center of the canoe during the whole trip and could barely stand when we pushed up onto shore. His young legs recovered their flexibility quickly enough.

I’m afraid my shoulders didn’t recover quite so fast.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Mannahatta by John Keene

from TriQuarterly

John Keene Webpage

Sunday Snippet, Ghosted by Bill Chance

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

Ghosted

“I haven’t heard from Elana,” Sara said to the ghost of her nephew Jimmy.

“Really? Did you expect to?”

“We’ve been friends for years. We used to meet for coffee almost every week and lunch on Fridays.”

“And now?”

“She ignores my texts.”

“She ghosted you.”

“Yeah.”

“That sucks. I would never do anything like that.”

“But you’re a ghost.”

“Sure. But still. I never liked that term. It gives us a bad name.”

“Do ghosts ghost people?”

“Well, eventually we move on. To another plane – hopefully higher, but sometimes not. If we have been visiting people, live people, ordinary people, that can come as a shock. We disappear. Like ghosts.”

“So you do ghost people. As a matter of fact, you ghost people inevitably.”

“Well, it doesn’t count. We have no choice. It’s always a surprise, unexpected, when we have to move on. That’s how it works.”

“So you are going to ghost me? You said it was inevitable. You just don’t know when.”

“I guess. I’m sorry.”

“You and Elena. Both of you.”

“Which one is worse? Who will you miss the most, me or Elena?”

“That’s a hard question. With you, there is that feeling of guilt.”

“Guilt? Because you were driving. That drunk hit the passenger side of the car. You never saw them. That’s not your fault.”

“I know. I know. But I feel guilty. I was driving. You didn’t want to go. I talked you into it.”

“You didn’t twist my arm.”

“Yes I did, a little bit.”

“What about Elena? Do you feel guilt for her too?”

“Why? Well, maybe. I must have done something wrong.”

“Maybe she just moved on, like I will some day. Living people move on too.”

“Moved on? What, moved up? Without me? How does that make it better?”

“Maybe she moved down.”

“That makes it even worse. And I am so lonely. You are the only friend I have left.”

“You need more friends. Living friends.”

“Finding new friends, now, today, at my stage of life… it’s impossible.”

“Your stage of life? How about mine? You need to get out there more. You need to do something.”

“What?”

“Anything. Everything.”

“I miss Elana. I miss her so much. Does she miss me?”

“I’m sure she does. I’ll bet Elana misses you even more than you miss her.”

“Will you miss me? Will you miss me when you move on?”

“Of course I will. Of course.”

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Ramona by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”

― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Found by a photobooth, Molly’s At the Market, French Quarter, New Orleans

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, December 14, 1998.

The city at night

I’m writing another entry sitting in the van, waiting in a parking lot. This time it’s a long way from home. I have a focus group at eight thirty, on the tenth floor of a big office building, at Park Central on the northern arc of Dallas’ LBJ freeway loop. I have better things to do with my time than sit here, but they’ll pay me a hundred dollars, cash. Allowing an hour to get here, it only took twenty minutes, so I found this lot in a commercial strip right off Central Expressway. About a half hour to kill before I drive back to the building, that’s how long the batteries in this old Dell can hold out.

I had wanted to go exercise after work and there is a club located between there and here. I fogot my damn shoes again, can’t very well work out in steel-toed safety boots, so I stayed in my office a couple hours late. Time is becoming so precious, it drove me nuts. Nowhere to go, no money, nothing much to do .(I was so sick of work, it was tough to get anything extra accomplished). So I sat and did some light computer stuff and watched the hands turn.

At least the van is a good place to type. The middle bench seat is roomy enough for me to hold the laptop on my lap, there is enough stray light from the parking lot to illuminate the keys without washing out the screen. Also, the van isn’t stalling. I was about to give up yesterday, when I put another fresh tank of fuel in her, and presto- no more problems. My guess is that the recent cold snap condensed water into the gas tank, it took a refill to work itself out.

Across the street from here is a big hospital. This is where both Nick and Lee were born. It seems like I’ve been there a hundred times, for childbirth classes, medical emergencies, routine checkups. We don’t have the HMO anymore, so we don’t come back here now. One reason I dropped it was because I was concerned about the drive from Mesquite, it scared me to think of Candy driving over here in the awful traffic with a sick kid strapped in beside her.

The traffic is scary. The intersection of LBJ and Central may be the busiest in the Metroplex, maybe the country. Lines of white, lines of red. Going either seventy or stopped. I constantly look at these thousands and thousands of cars speeding past and wonder where all these people are going. What are their dreams? Are they happy? Do they really want to go where their car is pointing? Why are they in such a hurry to get there?

Honk! Honk! Honk! The car alarm on a big sedan is going off. A woman gets out. Is it her car? Is she confused by the alarm and can’t shut it off? Or is she stealing the thing? I don’t care. It stops, she gets back in. Nobody calls the police. There the car goes.

Behind this strip, this line of office supplies, fast food Chinese, medical equipment, and podiatrist, is the dark slash of a creek. I know that linear wilderness better than I know the wild street; the White Rock bicycle trail runs back there. It starts five miles to the south at the lake and winds along the creek embankment, using the floodplain to cut through these civilized islands unseen and undisturbed. The day was dry and warm, I wish I had my bike and was able to get some late season fresh air back there today. Or I wish I had a nice light and could run the trail now. Swooshing along in the dark, heart pumping, legs pumping.

Oh, well.

I think I’d better wrap this up, save the file and get going. I’m not sure exactly where to park (there is a maze of garages around the office complex) and I don’t want to be late. They won’t give me my money.

Thanks for listening to me ramble, thanks for helping me kill a few minutes away from home, thanks for the memories and the city at night.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Ramona by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

Sarah Gerkensmeyer Homepage

Sarah Gerkensmeyer twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”
― Mark Twain

View Skyward, near the Pearl/Arts District DART station, Dallas, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, October 30, 2000.

Home Alone

After school, Lee went to a friend’s house while Nick played basketball at the recreation center. Candy did some yard work in front of the house. Lee and his friend came over, walking in the back door and not seeing Candy – but seeing the van was there and assuming she was home. They never thought of looking in the front yard.

Candy’s mom called the house and Lee answered the phone, upset.

“I’m home but Mommy isn’t here!” said Lee.
“Now, Lee, you know you’re mother wouldn’t go off and leave you,” Candy’s mother replied.
“I’m afraid she’s been kidnapped… No, I’m afraid she’s been Mommynapped!” cried Lee.

Candy’s mother called Lee’s friend’s mother (they live across the alley) and she came over, finding Candy working in the front flower garden.

“Someone’s looking for you,” she said.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain

Sunday Snippet, The Tower by Bill Chance

“This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.”

― Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan

Leaning Tower of Dallas, Dallas, Texas

The Tower

Dean4217 was at the base of the tower, picking up a load of concrete and it was time for a Gathering. He was excited to see it in person. At the present height it took him a week to reach the top and another to come back down. Usually, he watched the Gathering speech on the tablet in his cab; so seeing it live would be a rare treat.

He was shocked and frightened by the size of the crowd. He had worked on the tower itself his entire life and he didn’t realize how much support was needed on the ground – several times the people working at the top or along the sides. The speech itself was familiar – they never seemed to change – a dry recitation of feet gained, tons hauled, how many accidents, people injured (Only fifteen killed this quarter!) and so forth. Then, at the end, the usual exhortations – how his Broadway tower compared to the other two hundred-odd towers going up all over the world (as always – somewhere in the middle) and how important it was to keep climbing.

The Leader looked so small surrounded by the vast crowd, even flanked by the giant video screens. Dean4217 though how much better he could see and hear on his tablet and vowed not to waste the time if he found himself on ground level during another Gathering.

His truck was loaded when he reached it after the Gathering had ended and he saw the mechanics had checked out and green-tagged (it no good to break down on the way up) everything so he followed the leader’s advice not to waste and time – starting the engine and heading right for the entrance ramp.

There was always something about entering that ramp – to a driver like Dean4217 it represented the entire enormous project. Yet it was so nondescript, only a wide concrete ramp arching out of the end of the huge staging lot up against the south wall of the tower. Looking up, you could see how it rose and rose until it became a barely visible ribbon and then turned around the southwest corner to continue on up the west side. Another, similar ribbon, the downward ramp was visible above it, a diagonal slash that Dean4217 knew ended on the opposite side. That ramp too was nondescript – and to Dean4217 it represented relief, a job well done, just as this ramp meant the excitement of a new trip.

He took out a sharp saw blade and cut another notch along the metal edge of his dash as he entered the ramp. He had to reach far over to find fresh steel and had stopped counting many years before.

The first few days of the climb were always the easiest. At the lower altitudes the wind wasn’t that much of a problem and the thick atmosphere meant he could drive without his oxygen mask. Still well below the usual cloud level he could look out and enjoy the view. It changed constantly as he drove around the tower, rising with each circuit. Twice a day he would stop at a corner station for fuel, food, and a bit of a rest. These high stops would serve both the ascending and descending ramps and would give him a chance to catch up on the news and gossip from the higher sections of the tower.

On the third day he had risen to the point where he could see the Samsara tower to the east. This was the nearest tower to the Broadway, the only other one that was visible. He wasn’t sure how far away it was – one day some of them had tried to calculate the distance, using the height that it became visible at. Dean4217 didn’t believe it however, the distance seemed too far away. It looked so solid, so close, even though the curvature of the earth caused the Samsara to appear to tip away from the Broadway as it climbed.

He couldn’t help but look at it out his side window, trying to imagine a concrete driver crawling up that vast expanse, like a microscopic ant, looking over at him in similar wonder. It always bothered him that he had never seen the Broadway tower from a distance and had no idea what it looked like, although he assumed it was a twin to the Samsara over there. A dirt hauler in front of him had to stop to tighten a break line and Dean4217 reached across out his left side window to touch the vast concrete wall, trying to make some sort of connection with the overwhelming size of the thing he had spent his whole life helping to build.

At the first refuel stop on the fourth day, Dean4217 stealthily slipped the attendant a credit coupon to get him out of the station quicker than was his turn. One of the water drivers stared at him in frustration, but Dean4217 didn’t care. He needed to get to that night’s stop on time.

His girlfriend Jenny5309 was a rebar driver and she was on the way back down. They had worked out by tablet message that they could get to the same overnight stop on the same evening, if Dean4217 wasn’t delayed. It was always tough trying to arrange a meeting – the rebar trucks took a lot longer to load and it would throw everything out of kilter.

But this time it worked and Dean4217 had barely had time to secure his truck in its spot and get the safety straps down (he was at a height where wind storms could come up without warning) and he heard a knock on his door.

Dean4217 and Jenny5309 slipped their oxygen masks off for a quick kiss, and then then crawled back into the sleeper compartment. He had spent the previous night’s rest period cleaning it out and straightening everything up and had spent extra credits on oxygen bottles so he could charge the whole cube.

“So we don’t have to wear our masks,” he said.

“That’s so thoughtful,” she replied while hanging her mask and bottle on a hook he had provided. “Are you sure you can afford it?”

“Of course, what else am I going to spend my credits on?”

They both had a little laugh at this, then settled back to talk about what had happened since they had last met. Dean4217 thought about how nice it was to hear a familiar human voice. Each had read most of the stories they told each other – Dean4217 and Jenny5309 sent tablet messages to each other constantly. But they didn’t mind the repetition – hearing each other speak live was such a treat. Dean4217 always laughed at her little jokes, even though he had heard them all before and always sighed when she spoke of delays or problems getting her loads up the tower and he empty truck back down.

“You are so lucky, hauling concrete,” she said. “A few minutes of pumping in and you’re off. At the top, all you have to do is dump into the mixer. It takes so long to get all the rebar loaded and tied down.”

“You get a little more rest time.”

“Rest? I have to watch those loaders like a hawk. They don’t care it won’t be their ass if something blows off near the top of the tower.”

They both giggled at that, even though neither was really sure what was funny about it.

The next morning, as she was getting ready to leave, Jenny5309 suddenly became serious. Dean4217 thought it looked like a cloud had passed over her face.

“Dean4217,” she asked, “Why do you think we do this?”

“Why? I’m a concrete hauler and you bring rebar. Without us… and the dirt haulers and the water haulers, and the supplies, and… well, you know, everybody, the tower couldn’t go up.”

“I know that, dummy. But what I mean is that I don’t know why we build the tower. What it is for?”

Dean4217 paused. His father had worked on the tower all his life. He was a dirt hauler. Dean4217 was born in a rest area. At the time it had seemed like it was very high, though now it was barely a tenth of the way up the tower. His father was so proud when Dean4217 had saved enough money working as a steel bender to buy his own truck and start hauling concrete. It was all he had ever known.

“What do you mean why? What else would we do? Where else would all this concrete, steel, water, and dirt go?”

“I know, but I wonder some times. I wonder too, when will it be done?”

“Done? What do you mean done?”

“I mean finished.”

“It will never be finished. The point of a tower is to grow. It can always go taller. There is no end to up.”

“I know what the Leader says at the Gatherings. I’ve heard it all my life, just like you. But I was thinking, surely, someday we will reach an end. Someday… maybe not in our lives, or in our children’s, but someday the tower won’t be able to go any higher.”

Dean4217 had never thought of that. He sat there silent, staring at Jenny5309.

“What will we do then.”

Dean4217 thought of looking across the vast space at the Samsara tower and remembered thinking of the tiny ant, just like him, working his way up.

“I guess we could build another one.”

“I guess you’re right.”

It was always difficult to continue driving on the day after he had met up with Jenny5309. He thought of her on the down ramp, getting farther and farther away from him every second as he climbed. This time was worse; he was bothered by her questions. He was bothered by the fact he had never thought about them before.

At a rest, instead of using his tablet to contact Jenny5309 he called up all the stored speeches of the Leader and searched them for what he was looking for. He found nothing. The Leader had never talked about the purpose of the tower, if there was one, or what they would do if the tower couldn’t go any higher. It was only the usual platitudes: “There is no end to up” or “We must improve our standing in the universe of towers” or “The tower must grow and the faster the better.”

Dean4217 assumed these bothersome thoughts would leave his head as he climbed, day after day. As he neared the top of the tower, the work began to grow more difficult. The air was thinner and he sometimes he had trouble keeping his head clear even with the oxygen. The wind was now a constant howl and keeping the truck on the ramp was a chore, especially rounding a corner and getting used to the gale which would now be swirling from a different direction.

He couldn’t look while he was driving, but he found himself staring outward at every rest station instead of talking to the other drivers. He was now well above the tops of the cloud layer and looking out all he saw was a vast blanket of white, interrupted by the gray mass of the distant Samsara tower. He found he could not take his eyes off it – it was tough to tear them away when it was time for him to head out.

He had to wait behind two other concrete haulers at the top. Everything had to be strapped down across the flat top of the tower because of the incredible force of the winds. He watched the water trucks loading into the mixer and the bundled workers struggling to unload, bend, and place the rebar off of a steel truck.

When it was finally his turn to dump, he hooked up his safety line and carefully inched out of his cab and down to the surface. First he bent down and felt the top of the tower in the same way he had the wall at the bottom, over a week ago. It felt the same. It was, after all, part of the same structure.

Dean4217 fought his was over to where the mixer operator was tied to a steel chair, manipulating levers to add concrete and water to the rolling tank, and then pump it over to where the rebar benders had finished a section. The operator paused, surprised to see a driver out of his truck under these conditions.

“Hey,” Dean4217 said, “I’m Dean4217.”

“I’m… uhh, I’m Willard3309.” There was a pause, as if the operator had to think for a minute to remember his name. The air was very thin.

“Listen, I’ve been thinking,” said Dean4217, “How much farther do you think we can go? The air’s getting pretty thin.”

“Well, there’s no end to up.” Willard3309 repeated the mantra. “And there’s been some engineers up here already. They’re working on pressurized cabs, helmets, and armored worksuits. I don’t think there’s any stopping us once they get all that figured out.”

“I see.” Dean4217 stared at the mixer operator for a long time, trying to decide if he should say what he was about to say. He realized he had no choice.

“Why do you think we are building it?” he said.

“What do you mean why?”

Dean4217 started moving his mouth, as if he was chewing, trying to figure out what to say next, when both men noticed an excitement among all the iron workers. It was strange they were silent in the constant roar of the wind, but they were all unhooking their straps, adding safety lines, and moving off toward the edge of the tower. Dean4217 realized he didn’t know for sure which edge it was, but the crowd began to grow, everyone looking out and gesturing wildly.

Dean4217 and Willard3309 hooked their safety lines together and Willard3309 began to move them toward the gathering crowd. They moved quickly, Willard3309 was very used to the top of the tower and knew all the handy clip rings and tie-off points.

At the edge, they put their heads up against another and found out what the excitement was about.

“Another Tower! We’re high enough, we can see it!”

Looking out over the edge, Dean4217 could make out a tiny sliver of light gray against the dark purplish blue sky.

“We think it’s the Wildsmith. The engineers have said it would grow into our view sometime soon. We need to wait until nightfall, we should be able to see their lights.”

Dean4217 was filled with excitement. Another tower! Imagine!

His heart was beating so hard he could barely stand. He stood and stared, though he wanted to get back to his cab and tablet so he could tell Jenny5309 about what he saw.

He remembered that he had a question that was bothering him, but in the excitement, he completely forgot what it was.