Hope you enjoy these short story excerpts. "Unwavering" is an homage to "The Dead"; "Mick Glynn, Declan Glynn" is about two Irish brothers living in L.A.; and "First Time at Sea" is a metaphor. I'm not telling you for what.
|Sean Gunning, Writer||
A blind fog rose from the Pacific Ocean, entombing everything in its path from sea-level to heaven. Signature redwoods, oaks and cedars, the Santa Lucia Mountain range, every breathing creature, even the sea itself ghosted into pale-grey nothingness. Big Sur, California, one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world, disappeared.
In a six-home woods known as Hurricane Point, ten-and-a-half miles north of the Henry Miller Library, Aaron bumped his rusting white Tacoma down a dirt-road driveway. Worn tires, like an old man’s lips, kissed dust clouds into the low-prowling fog. Without stopping, the truck bounced onto Pacific Coast Highway, turned left and headed south. It was 7:10 p.m.
Six miles further south, John eased a dark-red Mini Cooper across the soft-lit parking lot of the Glen Oaks Motel and stopped at PCH. Repeatedly, he peered left and right, trying to calculate when to accelerate.
—It’s clear. Go! said Valentina from the passenger seat.
The rental car zipped onto the narrow two-lane highway, angled left and headed south.
Almost immediately, as though not fully understanding, John gasped.—Oh, my God.
Fog had completely camouflaged the road and was climbing the high mountain edging the northbound lane to their left. To the right, a clearing of pines that traveled between the twisting length of the southbound lane and the top edge of the cliff — not more than 15 feet wide in parts, and on a clear day offering snatches of the glimmering Pacific 900 feet below — was barely visible. It was 7:20 p.m.
—This is unbelievable. I can’t see a thing.
—I can’t go faster. I can’t see a thing.
—You can’t go this slow. I’m serious. Go at least twenty.
—This is unbelievable, repeated John.
—Go faster! repeated Valentina.
—Stop saying that. I’m not going faster.
John’s wife made a show of looking at the speedometer. —You’re going fifteen. Speed up! I’m serious!
—No. It’s not safe. Stop shouting at me. I need to concentrate.
He flicked the headlights to full beam.
Valentina stopped shouting but increased her will to be heard. —Speed up or take me back.
Why’s she so sovereign? Is she freaking out about turning forty? Be patient, John.... —Sweetheart, this is our last night here. We agreed to go to this music thing.
—Go twenty then.
He pressed the accelerator. —Okay, I’m going faster. But please; let me concentrate.
He became eighty-years-old. Hands tight to the wheel at ten and two, leaning forward, squinting. He became the source of light (more distinctly funnel-shaped in the canvas of fog). He wasn’t glancing in the rear view mirror routinely and lacked confidence in his peripheral vision and reflexes. This wasn’t who he was.
Mick Glynn, Declan Glynn
Declan read the thin paper pamphlet as he strolled.
The Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center is located on eighty acres of rolling hills, open fields, groves of trees and Monastery Gardens. At the neck of the San Gabriel Mountains in Sierra Madre, Mater Dolorosa offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of life. While the heart of ministry at Mater Dolorosa is the preached Passionist retreat, many other groups whose identity is in harmony with the mission and goals of Mater Dolorosa are also invited to come and receive the benefits of this beautiful and prayerful facility.
A condescending “Nicely worded,” addressed to God as if he was actually listening, classified the place as just another money-grab. Proving He was listening and didn’t care for the sardonic tone, the quarrel Declan had been having with himself more and more lately reared up again.
Why am I judging like that? Uh, because it’s true? No, I don’t know that. This is exactly what Alicia’s been on at me about. What hasn’t she been on at me about?
Declan Glynn. Thick black hair swept behind mildly oversized but otherwise ordinary ears; haunted, hazel eyes; freckles either side of a nose beginning to hue disproportionately red. Thin. Pale. Six feet. Black canvas Chuck Taylor’s crunching a percussion of leaves and twigs littered amidst a groundcover of bark and dark brown soil. Strolling east beneath an umbrella of elder, maple, oak, willow, aspen, and sycamore crowns.
He reached an angled driveway and paused. In the car lot opposite, his brother’s emerald green Silverado glittered in the setting sun like a gem in bedrock, giving the tarnished white Civic and beat-up brown Contour either side of it something to aspire to in another life. Looking right, his gaze travelled through the straggle of men climbing the driveway, through the futility, over the green hill and the roofs of cottages to the distant sky. Low right, on the trunk of a queen palm, a squirrel twisted into his peripheral vision and ascended in stop and go spurts. Only now did Declan register the Mardi Gras of birds in the trees all around him. A man climbing the driveway nodded hello without speaking. Declan reciprocated.
Past the man, something moved behind the car lot in the distance, beside a fenced-off electricity sub-station.
That’s a deer.
The deer raised its long neck and looked at Declan. Declan looked at the deer looking at him. Neither looked away.
What are you thinking? Do you think? Are you going to look away? If you’re God, what do you want me to do?
He began counting. On twenty, he stopped.
Alright Alicia, you win.
He turned left and ascended the final fifty feet of driveway in search of Possenti Hall. His countenance expressed a mix of uncertainty and seriousness, his normal look, giving the false impression that he wasn’t happy. An unbuttoned Dickies jacket, navy-blue, covered a long-sleeved black tee with a faded white Triumph logo across the chest. As they often did, his eyes avoided the good nature of other men.
First Time at Sea
The ship dipped, raised and swayed; dipped, raised and swayed. In the throes of an epileptic fit, a chrome door handle rattled. Exquisitely crafted inlaid walnut, geometric sunbursts and stale air from a more artful time sneaked a nervous glance in my direction. I gripped the handle with both hands, took a deep breath and pushed down. The hatch whiplashed open, pulling me with it in an airborne arc.
A shoulder and hip crashed against the hard wet bulkhead. One hand slipped from the handle as one foot, then the other, found the deck. An almighty custody battle raged. Gathering forces pulled and tore at the child wind, eating it and spitting it out again. Vicious, vitreous saliva pin-pricked every uncovered pore of skin. The ship dipped, raised and swayed. I weighed the moment to lunge for the handrail.
"What took you so long?” said the woman. “Changed your mind?”
She stretched out her arms and laughed. A throaty, rumbling laugh that wheeled away on the wind. A summer dress patterned with diminutive pink and green flowers pushed firm between her legs, then yanked above her waist. Barefoot, she walked toward the bow, each effortless step in rhythm with the bucking of the ship. Her buttocks flipped from side to side and a Tom and Jerry Boom! Boom! joined the chaos of sound. Her figure mocked me.
I called out, “There’s a storm brewing. Be careful!”
The alto pitch of “careful” sounded pathetically pubescent. I let go, zigzagged up down and across deck and grabbed the handrail. I scooted along, partly sideways, arm over arm, never not gripping the spray-soaked rail — except for when she turned and saw me straightened to my full height, taking a deep refreshing inhale, confident and composed, which is when a full wave battered my face. Hidden beneath that first gushing waterfall, I had gripped the handrail so tight knuckle bone almost broke through skin.
The ship motioned her lower and higher, forward and sideways, as if she was stepping over dead bodies. Black hair — knotted to hell — and the hem of the light cotton dress fought to lick her face. She turned and waited for my smile to meet hers. As it was about to, the sea arched its back and the ship lurched sideways, prying my grip from the rail. I slid across deck, upright, slammed a big toe into a rusted bolt, then slid back to where I was and regained the rail. The wind thrashed and screamed. The ship creaked and clanked. I cried a full-lunged roar, but didn’t hear a sound of it.
A huge man, fighting nature’s effort to roll him into a ball, and losing, tumbled towards me. The tail of a fisherman’s yellow raincoat whipped the back of his neck. A hairy rope, hanging by a single loop, lashed his bearded barnacled head and everything else in its path. He smiled an upside-down smile as he bowled by.
“You took too long, she’s gone.”