Seth Kristalyn

Train Wreck at Literary Fields

In the seventy-seventh paragraph of this story a train will begin to derail. The reader will want to write that down or keep it in mind. But first, the author will paint a word-picture. He’s going to describe an apartment complex similar to the one in which he resided during college, yet this one will have a twist to it. The inhabitants are all characters, and unlike the author and his neighbors, they all know each other. This is not to say the author didn’t know any of his neighbors. The girl that lived next door was a year below him in high school, and he once saw her walk into a stop sign as she talked to him while he drove slowly down the street with his window down. The denizens of this apartment are all characters in a story. Not characters in the way the old ladies at church called the author a character or a card when he was growing up, but quite literally characters. First, however:

#

The Apartment Complex

I type away on a laptop at 6:45 a.m. with rain pit-patting my window. I keep telling you this imagined locale is an apartment complex. Confession: what I’ve said isn’t entirely true. As a fiction writer, I basically write elaborate lies that may or may not have a deeper meaning depending on who you talk to. In this lie, only one building exists for the purpose of this story. Other buildings are around, but since I’m not concerned about them, neither are you. This singular edifice has three stories with four apartments on each floor. The stairs and walkways are made of rough-cut wood. If you used the railing, you would get a splinter.  In time, the wound would get infected and erupt in pus. I suggest foregoing the railing altogether. The roof has ordinary grey-black shingles. The building is clothed in beige siding. When it rains, water pools in front of the doors and lazes about for days.

Sorry-looking evergreen bushes, possibly identified as Juniperus chinensis, snuggle between the two sets of stairs leading upwards. In the short plot of lawn between bushes and sidewalk, a tree stands with a cardboard owl placed in it. The owl is bad at his job. The real birds perch all morning on emergency lights and chirpily-chirp. Beyond the sidewalk is the parking lot. Next to this is a single set of train tracks on which freight continuously runs. The train track is less than fifty yards from the building. As the trains come into town, they angle closer to the building before gradually meandering away into the trees to the north. The name of the solitary apartment complex is Literary Fields.

#

Nikolai Stanislav

Nikolai is a character I made for a writing exercise several years ago. I’ve always been quite fond of him but have never done anything more with him. Perhaps I like him because he dreams of being an NHL player. A girlfriend once told me she admired my ability to dream. Someday, John Lennon, Nikolai, and I will have a drink and discuss the pros and cons of being a “dreamer.” I hope Nikolai gets his own story. He deserves it. For now, let’s see what he’s up to in apartment 103 on the first floor of Literary Fields.

As we approach, we see that he’s outside sitting on the wooden steps of the stairs. That terrible timber is going to cut snags in his sport shorts. He’s on the third step, left leg stretched straight, a red cast going to mid-thigh. His crutches lay on the sidewalk from when they toppled over after growing tired of leaning against the rail. The bottom of the staircase opens up into the wall of apartment 104. The entire building is essentially a giant bracket shape with the bushes, walkways, and trees nestled inside. Something like the key located to the right of “P.” Nikolai doesn’t mind staring at the wall, and he doesn’t mind the clitter-clatter of the train passing by at this moment. The horn that warns of the train’s imminent approach to the town that doesn’t matter in this story is lost to Nikolai and his thoughts. It is obnoxious and deafening to all else. He’s wearing a Lokomotiv Yaroslavl jersey.

To his left, the door to 104 opens. He sees it swing inward like the slow-motion replay of the game-winning goal he longs to score. He tries to get up and grab his crutches at the same time. Failing both, he succeeds in flopping onto the concrete—an octopus on ice. He looks over his shoulder to see if she has come out of the doorway and grimaces when he sees her. He shuts his eyes and imagines she is laughing at him.

At: preposition. Him: object of preposition. The normal connotation of one laughing at another is negative. While laughing with someone shows an element of camaraderie, agreement, and affability, laughing at someone places the laugher above the laughee and usually results in the bruising of egos and the hurting of feelings. The use of laughee in the previous sentence is a neologism created by adding the double “e” to the end of the word to create the victim. This is not an accepted word in Standard American English. It has a red squiggly line under it, but the majority of readers familiar with the language will recognize what I have done. They may go so far as to applaud the effort or say, “This didn’t work for me.”

Nikolai opens his eyes. Her name is Canada Ross and Nikolai can’t help but stare. I stare, and you can too. He sees her smile and realizes her teeth aren’t straight. His remaining teeth aren’t either. He wants to look into her eyes, but he thinks that might be too forward. The wannabe hockey player who dreams of dropping gloves to defend the dignity of his goalie can’t look an American girl in the eyes. Instead, he looks at her American lips. They are gleaming Americanly with American gloss. The American reflection bounces back and forth from his Russian eyes to her American lips several times before the small moment is broken. He turns his head forward again and sees under the first stair step. An American terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk, a snail, is attempting to secrete a slimy path over an American cigarette butt.

He is startled when he feels her soft hand grab his. Her hand is supple in his as she helps him up. She bends back down and retrieves his crutches and hands them to him. He doesn’t grab them right away because he is busy staring at his hand. I want to frame the moment. Rewind time. Go back to where her hand is in his. Her pink fingernail polish chipped off from where she picks at it when she worries. His knuckles permanently chapped from the cold air at amateur ice rinks. I want to remember this moment for them.

Fiction doesn’t have a soundtrack. Movies. Radio. Television. Even life seems to have a certain musical progression. Poets pay attention to alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, meter and a plethora of other things to make each line ring with a certain tonality or atonality. Prose has too many words. Surely each and every one is selected for a reason, but many of us writers can’t reach the limits of language that we want. Not all of us are language writers. Thus, we have no recording to play during our stories. We are left with settings, inverted checkmarks, and counterpointed characters. My fictional soundtrack is the music I listen to while I read or write, but as soon as a story leaves my hands, it is subject to someone else’s backup group. A good writer gives guidelines for how the piece should sound while allowing the reader the flexibility to interpret their own fictional dream.

In the moment wherein Nikolai’s hand is embraced by Canada’s, a song by The Guess Who plays in the background. “These eyes have seen a lot of loves / but they’re never gonna see another one like I had with you.” Read: these eyes have seen. Think: these hands have held. Read: never gonna see. Think: never gonna hold.

Canada’s glistening lips mouth something. He shakes his head. The immaculate lips part again. He shakes his head. English is hard to lip-read. Such a bastardized language. He signs something to her. Her upper lip curls and eyebrows frown. Canada looks out at a man in the parking lot sitting on the roof of his car, then whirls around and goes back into her apartment.

Nikolai settles his armpits into his crutches and heads for his apartment. As he is pulling out his key, he feels a tap on his shoulder. She is standing behind him with a marker board in hand. Underneath a grocery list made of ice cream and chocolate syrup is a question.

“You’re deaf?”

Nikolai nods his head and points at his mouth. She mouths the word mute and he nods, able to make out that word. He looks down at the small slope of concrete that runs up to his doorway.

As you and I head up the stairs to investigate more apartments, we catch a glimpse of Canada stepping into Nikolai’s apartment. Another train shuttles by the apartment, and the building shivers.

#

Finn the Fisherman

Finn is a character I created for my first try at fabulist fiction. I had earlier attempts, but back then I didn’t know magical realism was a thing. So, Finn was the first true go-around with the concept. Finn was a fisherman before he came to Literary Fields. Now, he no longer fishes. If we peek through the window of apartment 201, we’ll see him sitting at a card table sipping coffee in the dark of the room.

Go ahead and look. He won’t mind. He’s a rural man, and it’s normal to check on your neighbors. The particle-waves of sunlight disperse into the living room and fade, but you can make out Finn in the corner of the dining area next to the kitchen. Squint your eyes and tilt your head. You’ll see a small glint of coffee trapped in his shaggy beard. The lines around his eyes crease and the mug freezes half-way to his lips. His mind is occupied. Let’s see what he is reminiscing about.

He’s thinking of the years he spent in the single-room jail of Handan. In the village, everyone had his own duties to perform; the fisherman fished, the farmer farmed, the seamstress seamed, and the constable constabled. No one broke the law, but the constable watched regardless because that was his job. That is, until Finn broke his state-mandated Duty Contract, which made it illegal for anyone to do anything other than his or her one responsibility in the community.

One morning after a nasty storm that had breakers crashing high over the beach, Finn went to check his boat. As he drew near, he saw swooping feathers diving and rising. He rushed the flying thieves and threw his fishing net. The weighted ends of the net thudded in the sand, and the birds squawked at Finn through the holes in the heavy-woven fibers.

“What for?” they asked in their high-pitched tones.

“I’ve told you many times, you buzzards. This is my shore. Any food upon it belongs to me. You must find your own food and not pilfer mine.”

“No fair.”

Finn kicked sand at the protesting poultry, harmlessly surprising the wretched creatures.

“Go now before I change my mind and become fisherman and hunter.”

The agitated birds spoke, “You won’t. You only have one duty. No one can do two.”

Finn scowled at the trapped birds and released them, shooing them on their way. He turned to investigate where they had been dive-bombing. Instead of the normal shredded crab, he saw an exposed mound of sand with crushed eggshells nestled in it.

One egg hadn’t been eaten or carried off, and it now stirred. Shaking and cracking, the egg rolled onto its side and then finally split. Out waddled a puny sea turtle that started towards the sea. Finn took pity on it and let it go trundling to the surf. At the last moment, it looked back and squeaked what might have been thanks. He heard a voice from behind him.

“Finn, turn around slowly.”

Finn complied, turning around to see the constable with his baton out and ready.

“I’m sorry, Finn. I have to take you into custody. You could have used that turtle as bait or lure. You broke your Duty Contract by letting it go. You’ll have to spend the day in jail and wait for a decision. You know this is unprecedented. No one has broken a Duty Contract since Handan’s founding.”

Finn knew he had broken it, but it didn’t seem wrong to help the turtle. He hung his head and allowed the constable to bind his hands. His thoughts were of his unchecked boat and the tiny turtle.

Now years later, he has no duty to perform because it was stripped from him after he was released. He sits all day in his apartment drinking coffee in the morning, tea at noon, and then a pint of beer at night before going to bed. He only leaves to check his mail even though he never has any. One day, he thinks, I’ll get a postcard from that turtle. He knows it grew to be big and strong, and for that, it was worth it.

He gets up and tips his Greek fisherman’s cap at us through the window before leaving his apartment and heading down the wooden steps. He’s dressed like it’s winter (it’s not), and his heavy leather boots make the boards bend as he walks down to the mailboxes. We lean over the railing, careful of splinters, to watch him open the off-white plastic of the sun-baked bank of mailboxes. The failure of the cardboard owl is evident all over the top of them. Finn tilts his head as he pulls a letter out. He stares up at the tree a moment and then flips the letter over to see the address.

His shoulders droop, and the wrinkles of his face, which were gone in that moment of hope, return with even deeper grooves. A bead of sweat, or perhaps a tear, travels through the crevasses of his face before plunking down onto his oiled-leather collar. He disappears under the walkway and the echoes of his heavy-handed knocking on a door charge upwards on windy updrafts that carry the sounds up and up. Somewhere beyond the atmosphere the sounds of his knocking clatter with the clangs of a child beating pots and pans with a wooden spoon.

The hinges squeak and Finn erupts in a surprised grunt.

“Letter for Nikolai,” he says.

“I’ll make sure he gets it.” Canada’s voice drifts upwards.

“Thanks.”

#

T-minus thirty-seven paragraphs until train wreck.

#

Mr. Shade

Next door in apartment 202 lives Mr. Shade. He used to be part-owner of the last jazz club in Kansas. He still is the owner, the sole owner now that the Barman died, but the bar is closed. In the last days of business, The Swing Eighths changed. Mr. Shade had turned a failing local man’s bar into an easy-going jazz club. In time, it became foreign with expectations and high-class clientele. The bar was an alien entity that began to cling to Mr. Shade. The memories of what the place used to be disturbed him until he closed the bar and left.

Years later, as Mr. Shade sits on the roof of his car, a Buick that is more rust than paint, The Swing Eighths haunts him. Nikolai Stanislav would have noticed Mr. Shade playing harmonica if he wasn’t deaf and too busy staring at the wall. If Finn the Fisherman hadn’t been preoccupied with his daily mail check, he would have seen Mr. Shade wailing into the twin reeds. If Canada Ross had really opened her eyes, she would have seen the mellow bronze notes waft upwards into the air and quiet the birds into awed silence.

He sits there. Black slacks. Black socks peek out of black shoes. Black long-sleeve button-down shirt. Sleeves rolled up to the elbow. These are the vestments denoting his place in the Sacred Church of the Blues. He is gaunt from his blues, and the quickening wind billows his black clothes. Another train hurtles by and slings gravel that pings off the rails. It does not pause to acknowledge his soul opening for the world. He plays on, unaware of the dissonant chords of the train. He warbles and bends. Uses triplets and glissandi. Twelve bar blues in B flat. Repeat without rest. D.C. al Fine without end. Forever and ever. Amen. Rust and bird shit crusts into his clothes in splotches. An ashtray sits next to him with a smoldering cigarette resting in it. On the side of the ashtray is signed the name John Lee Hooker. Mr. Shade continues to play for himself, for the Barman, for Finn, for the turtle, for Nikolai and Canada. For you and me.

#

Gordon and Leah

Gordon stands with his hand pressed against the window of apartment 203, and it leaves a smudge as Leah closes the door to the bedroom; the crib is still empty.

#

Albert

In apartment 304 lives the grown-up version of a character from a child’s-voice writing exercise. He no longer clutches his stuffed beagle to himself everywhere he goes, but he carries the memories like a blanket. He is the one who found the Stairway to Heaven.

“He beheld a spectacle in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to the Northern Lights, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it,” Albert 28:12. The footnote reads, “Stairway: not a ladder with rungs, more likely a stairway such as mounted on the sloping side of a ziggurat. Mesopotamian ziggurats were topped with small shrines where worshippers prayed to their gods.” Adapted from the book of Genesis in the Concordia Self-Study Bible: New International Version edited by Robert G. Hoerber.

Out in a tree late at night, he wanted to look at the Northern Lights. He saw them, and within them, he saw the Stairway to Heaven. He saw the faces of the angels, the saints, and even His face. He had not been scared. He was not Moses; this was not a burning bush. He looked upon the Face of Love and felt love. His soul burned with the fierce knowledge of God, and no amount of love would match what he felt in that moment.

It was in the tabloids that the Stairway to Heaven had been found, and it wasn’t by Led Zeppelin. You might have read about it and assumed it was a farce, but it was real. In fact, the Stairway to Heaven is still there. It has become a big tourist attraction and holy site for pilgrimage. The tree with the view of the Stairway to Heaven is surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Paid guards with semi-automatic rifles made to look like automatic rifles watch over every inch of the tree to ensure that only those who pay the proper fee and atonement may look upon it.

Albert did not receive any of the financial security his parents made off marketing his discovery. He was left out of all the news stories and local channel coverage. Now if he tried telling someone he had found it, he would have to convince that person it was real all over again.

He went back to see it once. When he got there, he thought about trying to slip in past the guards, but he ended up waiting in line and paying like everyone else. He was disheartened by what he saw. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were not there. Most of the celestials had left. Two angels and a South American saint were all that remained.

“Sorry, Albert,” Saint Francis Solanus said over his shoulder as he retreated up the steps.

In his apartment, Albert stares at the sterile walls as he lounges in bed. Gordon knocks on the bedroom door with no reply. Mr. Shade permeates the parking lot with his harmonic banshee wails. Finn trudges his way back to his apartment and cold coffee. Over Nikolai’s shoulder, Canada reads the letter that says Nikolai’s professional tryout has been cancelled. The winds bend the building and Canada’s door pops open from the change in air pressure. Another train passes. The horn it blasts is lost in the silence of thought.

#

Whittaker the Traveling Mortician

In apartment 302 lives a character that has not existed on paper up until this point. He has moved out of his room in my brain and has taken up residence on the third floor of Literary Fields. This isn’t completely true. The parts involving the shower and the plunger are adapted from one of the first creative writing exercises I did in college. Because of his occupation as a traveling mortician, he is often not home. However, I have a funny feeling that he will be right now. We’ll see if he is.

Before I can knock, the door opens. There is Whittaker, naked, shriveled, and dripping with water and soap. He is brandishing a plunger like the Don Quixote of the bathroom and I am a windmill. Sancho Panza and his donkey waddle over combined in the form of a morbidly obese wiener dog named Donatello.

“Hi, I’m the author,” I say to Whittaker.

He eyes me and makes as if to brain me with the plunger. He decides against it. I do, after all, have the power to erase him.

“And this is the reader,” I say, gesturing to you. We’re standing on the wooden walkway and Whittaker is in the doorway.

“Mutual I’m sure.”

As if that makes any sense in the context of the conversation that is quickly failing.

“He’s an odd one,” I whisper to you. “Just nod like you understand.”

“Know of anyone who is about to croak nearabouts? I haven’t had much business lately.” He flicks the plunger in the direction of an oversized white van that has “Whittaker’s Traveling Mortuary” written on the side. Above the peeling words is an inaccurate depiction of Donatello.

“No,” I say, “but a train is going to wreck soon. Maybe that will give you some business?”

He snorts and the chubby dog sidles back inside the apartment. The three of us watch Donatello as he turns the corner into the kitchen and disappears. Our ears are greeted with the sloppy sounds of the dog lapping up water.

“Why don’t you put on some clothes and tell us why you are running around naked with a plunger?”

“I suppose since you’re the boss and all.”

He leads us inside and gestures to the couch. I grimace as I see it’s covered in hair either from his business or from Donatello. The cushions are stained with liquids and the air of the apartment is thick with the miasmatic stench of sweat, death, and dog.

“I’ll stand,” I say. You can decide whether to sit or not.

Whittaker doesn’t get dressed, put on a towel, or even fetch a robe. He sits right down and calls for the dog. The dog returns with water dripping from his jowls that leaves a trail across the floor. With herculean effort, he climbs onto the couch and settles in Whittaker’s lap. The dog’s pudge oozes over Whittaker’s mayonnaise legs. Thankfully Whittaker’s shrunken jibbly-bits are now covered.

“I was in the shower,” he says.

“Clearly.”

“And I heard a noise. Some thumps and thuds and then Donatello here barked.” He pats the dog as he says his name. His tail wags, but I think it is mostly from the transfer of energy across the dog’s blubber and not from any physical effort on his own part.

“Interesting.”

“I thought someone had broken in, so I shut off my shower and grabbed the nearest weapon I could find.”

“It was probably just us walking up the steps. They’re pretty loud,” I tell him.

“And what about the bark, eh?”

“That was just Donatello barking to greet us. Wasn’t it, boy?” I address the dog. He doesn’t even bother to open one bloodshot eye to acknowledge me.

I start to ask you to come back down to the first floor and meet another character of mine. He has a great tale about a ghost he saw on campus one time, but a train’s horn blares. The horn keeps going, but it fades into the rush of an extreme gust of wind. The brakes scream and the horrendous sound of metal scraping on metal is added to the cacophony.

“That was paragraph seventy-seven!” I yell, rushing to the window in time to see train cars piling into one another. Coal spills into the air and mingles with the ballast that surrounds the tracks. The great grinding hulk of the industrial revolution slides towards Literary Fields, pushing dirt and concrete like a plow.

#

Train Wreck at Literary Fields

Vehicles tumble and crunch in the parking lot and add themselves to the iron behemoth bearing down on the building. The tsunami of wind blows the cardboard owl out of the tree just a few moments before the tree is uprooted and driven into the walls of apartment 102 and apartment 103. The evergreen bushes are smothered. The birds have disappeared. The building begins to bathe itself in stagnant sprinkler water.

Nikolai Stanislav sits up on his couch, confused by the sudden shaking. When the train hits, he is thrown across the room by the tree harpooning his apartment. He crashes into the counter dividing the living room from the kitchen. He sits stunned and wonders who body-checked him from the couch. He realizes he isn’t on the ice and the blow wasn’t from an opposing player. He stares at where his door and wall used to be, the same door that Canada Ross left through moments before.

Dust from the disintegrated drywall mingles with water from the sprinklers and forms sludge. His front door lounges as a guest in his dining area. A cold lump of ice forms in his throat. It works down into his stomach, and his vision fills with images of Canada impaled somewhere in the bramble of branches and mangled metal. He notices he is getting drenched and looks up at the sprinkler that is hanging haphazardly from the ceiling. Instead of sprinkling, the nozzle is dumping a solid stream onto his head.

With effort, he stands and looks for his crutches. Water trickles down his broken leg and his cast weakens. Less than three minutes after Canada wrote on it, her beautiful handwriting is blotting out. He finds one crutch exactly where he left it at the foot of the couch. The other one is nowhere to be seen. He hobbles to the gaping hole in his wall and tries to squeeze through. Hot metal hissing with water droplets blocks him from leaving. He wants to call out to Canada to see if she is okay. He wishes that he wasn’t a deaf-mute. He wishes he wasn’t crippled. He wishes, not for the first time, that he was anyone else but himself.

He stumbles over debris and heads to his bedroom. He tries to look out the window. Normally, he would be able to see her door because of the bracket shape of the building. All he sees are the numbers one and three painted onto the side of a freight car that rests against the building, causing the wall to bow inward. Glass from the shattered window cuts his good foot. He slams his shoulder against the wall and the train car. Nothing moves but his bones as they jiggle inside his skin like a fleshy sack of potatoes. He beats against the wall with his fist before heading back to his living room. Discarding the crutch, he gets on his hands and knees and begins to wiggle through the wreckage. He focuses on the images of Canada’s soft hands and American lips. He crawls and crawls, ignoring his broken leg and the cuts and burns he inflicts upon himself.

#

Being on the north side of the building, apartment 201 didn’t take as much damage, but Finn is still shaken by the sounds and the force of the train hitting the building. His coffee mug sits on the tile of the kitchen floor. The shattered pieces swim in a pool of freshly brewed coffee. He rushes out of his apartment. The stairs are intact, but the walkway is destroyed. Smoke billows from the wreckage and small fires are starting in places as exposed electrical wires come in contact with flammable debris. He hears a woman crying for help on the other side of the train’s carcass.

He runs down the stairs and out onto the body of the crash itself, burning and cutting himself on rubble. The burns remind him of smoking fish for the village. The lacerations recall the jagged rocks that cut into his feet and hands as he fished the tidal pools. His clothing tears and leaves bits of fabric fluttering in the same wind that carries the black smoke upwards. He thinks of the turtle he saved so many years before.

He reaches the other side and sees that apartment 104 has its door open, a trail of blood leading inside. He winces. This isn’t fish blood and guts.

“Where are you?” he calls.

“Inside,” he hears her choke out between sobs.

Finn works his way around a freight car leaning against the building and into the open doorway. A little ways inside, Canada Ross is standing pinned to a wall with a metal shaft through her leg. The muscles around the metal twitch and jerk like a worm on a hook. Nikolai is there with his hands and foot bleeding. His cast has almost completely peeled apart and staples grin from his broken flesh.

“Help me,” she pleads as she tugs at the extra-large nail. Nikolai is lying at her feet, trying to reach up and grab her hand. Every time he almost reaches her, she jerks away. She claws at the metal barb in her leg. Each time she pulls, more blood flows from the wound, and she cries out in pain.

“Stop doing that. You’ll only make it worse,” Finn tells her as he steps through the doorway. He wipes the hair out of her eyes when he reaches her. Nikolai wishes he could have done that for her, but he can’t stand. All three are bleeding. “You’ll be fine. I’m sure the emergency crew is already on its way.”

“Take it out,” she screams and grabs at his jacket.

“If I take it out, you’ll start bleeding more. It’s best to keep it in for now.” Nikolai is tugging at Finn’s tattered pant leg and making gestures with his other hand. Finn waves him away.

“But it hurts.” Canada clenches her teeth.

“I know. I’ll see if I can pull it out from the wall at least. We’ll have to leave it in your leg. If I can get you off the wall, you can lie down, and you’ll feel a little better.” He looks at it again. “This is going to hurt a lot.”

In order to get the shaft out of the wall, Finn has to push her leg further up the shaft. When he does, it makes a squelching noise and blood bursts out with every heartbeat. Canada has finally allowed Nikolai to grasp her hand and she white-knuckles his fingers as Finn tries his best to help.

Before Nikolai worries, Finn helps, and Canada hurts, Mr. Shade decided to go back to the bar. Now, he is driving down the highway listening to the slide guitar of Mississippi Fred McDowell on his car’s tape deck. He is completely unaware that his former home has been the site of a disaster. He will be back in time to appear in the closing paragraphs of another story called “The Swing Eighths.”

Gordon and Leah sit huddled together in apartment 203. He holds her head close to his chest, and she wonders if they’ve been hit by a tornado. The empty crib has toppled over, and the window has sprayed shards of glass across the carpet. Sunlight filters through the cracks in the walls, and the undulating smoke causes the light to play off the broken glass like the glow-in-the-dark stars they had planned to put on the ceiling of the nursery.

Apartment 304 is completely caved in. Saint Francis Solanus has come and taken Albert back to the Northern Lights. Together they climb the Stairway to Heaven, and Albert smiles again as he looks at His face.

In 302, Donatello trundles about barking and cannot be stopped. Whittaker looks at me with limbs askew and dreadfully naked.

“Now, why’d you have to wreck the train?” he asks.

“Well, it was a microburst that caused it,” I say.

#

Does a microburst really explain it? A concrete detail is given to close the story. The reader at least gets to know what caused the train to derail. However, so many questions remain. To some degree, all the characters have questions that don’t see resolution. Oh boy, the author is going into essay mode. He’s telling us the moral of the story. Time to pack the bags and check out. Yet, if the author has done his job right, after checking out and putting the story down, something will stick. The reader will want to read the story again. It is great for an author to write an entertaining story, but what the author really wants is for a person to come back again and again seeking new truths. He’s philosophizing again. Maybe on a second read Nikolai’s and Canada’s future will unfold. Perhaps Finn gets that postcard. One day, Gordon and Leah’s crib isn’t empty. Down the road, Mr. Shade plays a happier song. Albert’s love will make sense. Possibly a truth will emerge buried deep down in Whittaker and Donatello. The author doesn’t know what all can be found. Can I just have my receipt? Already the soundtrack is changing. Here’s your receipt.

Seth Kristalyn has an MA in English from Kansas State University. He has previously published work in Burningword Literary Journal and The Write Launch. He is an Associate Professor of English at Garden City Community College in southwestern Kansas where he lives with his wife, soon-to-be two daughters, and dog.