I’m facing the front. The only door of the room opens quietly. A man wearing monochrome black clothing enters with a blank face. His lack of gesture and body language sparks a
curiosity in me. His leather jacket lies still on his shoulders.  His eyes are empty and still. I’m looking at a mannequin. I don’t even bother asking questions. He cannot be reasoned with. Slowly, his hand rises. He points down at the table that splits the room. He has a steady arm. His movements are few but decisive. I can tell he wants to see my fear. I won’t give him the pleasure. I smile at him. He gives me nothing.     
     No limit hold’em. We approach the table calm and ready. The cards are dealt. I’ve got a pocket pair.  I don’t give him anything. He makes a strong bet with his eyes, telling me he’s
  got the cards. He’s bluffing. I didn’t get this far in life by getting pushed around. I raise over the top. His eyes get wide. He doesn’t like me pushing him around. He calls. I meet him at the turn. We both hit. I don’t give him anything. I know he has the same pair I started with. I can smell his arrogance. 
     He takes me dancing with him. Back and forth to a steady pulse we step. It’s a familiar song. Again, I catch him over the top. He calls. Down the river he hits again. He’s paddling for his life. He doesn’t know it. I’ve got him. He waits. No reason to hurry the inevitable. What it must be like to walk blindly into the street. It only takes one car. One car to end him and I have a tank. He bets.  The fool makes a bet. I raise him over the top again. He stops. The mannequin looks at me. Blank. Moments pass by. He stares. He knows what I have. He calls.
  The cards in my hand drop to the green felt like boulders falling from the hillside. The emotionless face grins. He’s amused. His cards flip over and he gently lays them out. Nothing. He was bluffing. 
    The man stands up and reaches for the inside of his jacket. Stainless steel presents itself as payment. His hand grips the object. He’s not here to play cards. He’s here to collect. He’s going to get what he came for. He wants to see my fear. I won’t give him the pleasure. I smile at him. He pulls the trigger. I’m hit. 
    The ground catches me. I lost. The man hovers over me like a shadow. He beat me. I was playing in the wrong game. 
    The man wearing monochrome black walks to the only door of the room. He walks out the same way he walked in. Nothing changed in him. He’s done this before. I’m not so lucky. The lights slowly dim. Sleep keeps me.  
 
 
    We packed the last of our luggage into the back of the forest green Suburban. Before I closed the hatch I counted to make sure we had everything. Food, books, guitar, and towels. That last one was especially important. Don’t forget to bring a towel, you never know when you might need one. Whenever I go anywhere I forget a towel, but not this time I thought to myself. I closed the cargo door and hopped in the back seat next to my girlfriend. She had just finished her finals and we were off to celebrate with a weekend at her families cabin. Even though I had school for another month I couldn’t pass up a trip to my favorite place in the world. 
    The beast of a truck roared as Dick turned the key. He pulled away and we were off. Thoughts of fishing washed over me. Maybe Dick will teach me how to gut a fish this weekend I thought. My mouth started to water at the thought of fresh caught fried Northerns. 
    We were on 35N, and already making good time. I put my headphones on and blasted my current favorite band Woe, is Me while watching the trees pass by. I tapped my fingers lightly on my knee imagining each instrument coming to life.  The world I once knew started to fade away and was replaced with relief and excitement. I was finally away from the thought of school, work and people.  Being around people all the time gets to be obnoxious, and the cabin is the best solution to that problem. I watched as the trees grew thicker and the forest
became more dense. 
    I stopped paying attention to what roads we were on. Every thought seemed to disappear except for the thought of trees. How long have they been here? I tried to imagine the forests surrounding us on both sides as infants. I smiled at the window breaking my deep concentration, picturing baby trees sucking on pacifiers. I looked over at Melissa who was passed out on her seat. She used a towel from the back as a pillow. I knew those towels would come in handy. I rumbled around in my back pack looking for something else to keep me busy for an hour. Underneath my own towel I found some snack crackers with peanut butter and
my eyes lit up. I slipped off my shoes and crossed my legs and used my towel as a soft table to make my peanut butter cracker sandwiches. I didn’t have a knife so I used my fingers.
    “20 minutes,” said Dick. That was the first time he said anything the entire trip I realized. Usually you couldn’t get him to shut up. I put my snack back in my bag and wiped my face of left over crumbs. I gave Melissa a shove and she growled and continued sleeping. I couldn’t get my legs to sit still. The first thing I am going to do after helping unload is put together my fishing pole and go straight down to the dock I thought. We took a left onto a dirt path and continued onward. The Road curved and we made another left. After five minutes we finally pulled into the driveway of the cabin. It was just like I remembered from the previous summer. The cabin itself was longer than it was wide and raised off the ground. It was a light tan color. There was a stained wooden deck and a cobble path leading down to the lake. To the left of the driveway was a garage for the boat and a shed for the fishing and swimming gear.
I gave Melissa another shove.
    "We’re here!” I said to her in excitement. She stretched and nodded with an audible yawn. I smiled at her and she smiled back. We opened the doors and stepped into the afternoon sun.
 
 
    It had been a really long night, and we all couldn’t sleep. They put us in trailer homes made to house 12 people in six bunk beds. Our entire crew was there. You would never know that we
were all in the same platoon if you didn’t ask. No two of us looked like we would ever be caught hanging out with each other if we didn’t have to be with each other, but one thing was for sure. When you got all of us together, we were an unstoppable machine. We traveled in two humvees through the barren desert to secluded towns. That was where it all went wrong. 
    Right as we entered the second town of the day, it got quiet. It wasn’t us being quiet, it was the people who not five minutes ago were walking around buying, selling, and trading food in
the market. 
     Fox team prepare for entrance was blasted over the headsets of everyone in my car.  We slowly rolled through the town, looking in every nook and crack in the building. It was just routine for us to do this day after day. After rolling in and out of the streets, and confirming that it was safe, we would venture out into the town in hopes to develop a relationship with the people. And they would be happy to see us most of the time. Yes, we would have to leave some places alone, but we wanted everyone to know that we weren’t here to hurt them.
     I slowly got out of the humvee and stepped onto the hard tan sand. I looked to the left and right with my gun cautiously at my side. I knew my job if anything happened. Surprisingly, I knew that the first step out of a vehicle was the safest one. My eyes met the driver of the humvees eyes behind us, my bunk mate, Jim Walson. He was always the one to make us happy and get us up and ready in the morning. I smiled at him, and he gave me a wink back and started to open the door. That is when the loud bomb went off, sending his car flying 40 feet into the air. I was thrown back by the explosion into a brick wall. 
    When I finally regained consciousness about five seconds later, I was covered in bricks, and bullets flew overhead. I was out of it, but not out of it enough to send back bullets into the storm. An arm grabbed onto the back of my coat and pulled me out through the bricks and about 20 yards back onto a wall. While sitting there, I blacked out. 
    When I finally regained consciousness, I immediately knew that I was in a hospital, and there was only 5 
eople standing around me. I silently named the people of my platoon to myself.
There was Allen, Sam, Doug, Jon, and Sid. Where is Jim I said in my head
as they all looked at me and started to recount what had happened. 
    I had been waiting for them to say that the other people were in the waiting room, but they never said that. They replaced it with they didn’t make it. I tried to get up and go find him. I
tried to get up out of the bed and fight past them to go find him, but it was useless. The remaining part of my platoon had me pinned down to the mattress until I finally gave in and just laid there looking up at them. 
     I asked them really softly to tell me where he was. They told me that they had been getting a ceremony ready for the rest of our platoon. It was what I had to live with. I wish it wasn’t
true. What if I had never gotten out of the car, what if we just drove on through? One thing we knew was for sure, we were here to stay, and once I got
better I would be back with my platoon driving through towns. It was my job. 


 
 
    The air that night was thick, and the smell of sewage heavily reeked the neighborhood he lived in.  As he walked down the street, the sound of sirens were all around.  He didn’t feel safe, nor has he ever felt safe since he moved into the city.  The people were unfriendly, and the nights were so dark, that even under the streetlights he felt vulnerable.  Most of the people
here towered over him and he always felt like a lost little kid when he would walk around the city.  He would look up at strangers, nod and smile, and in return would get a blank face. Not angry or mad, just unnoticed. 
    This particular night though, felt different than most nights walking home.  It was darker than it had ever been before, there was no moon. He walked at a faster pace than usual and clenched his keys tight in his hands, with the ends of each key lying in between his fingers, like brass knuckles, hidden slightly under the sleeve of his hoody, so if the moment ever arose, he was prepared.  He laughed at the thought of himself actually hitting someone with the “brass
knuckles” he had concocted with his set of keys.  It was nothing like him.  But he knew in this hostile environment, it was every man for himself.  
    The closer he got to his apartment, his heart sped.  Every block seemed to be getting longer and longer, and with every alleyway he passed, he held onto his fake brass knuckles as hard as he  could.
    Would he really do it though?  He thought to himself as he briskly walks.  He’s never hit anyone before, and doesn’t know how much power he would need if he actually were to hit someone, there’s no way he would do it even if he had to.  He’d fall to the ground and give them everything he has because he knows that he doesn’t have the strength to bring them down, whoever they even were, or if there would even be anyone.  He wonders why he’s even
thinking about it, it’s not like it would actually happen to him anyway, he thought.
    As he approached the last block leading to his apartment building, the thought of actually getting attacked by someone at this point was rather stupid.  His hand had eased up on the keys, and the keychain hung lazily on his middle finger.  He slowed his pace down to a steady walk and continued down the last leg of his journey. As he approached the final dark alleyway before his place, he noticed a shadow of a person coming off of the graveled street, and his mind started to race.  
     He had no idea what awaited his next few steps, and began to breath heavily. As he passed by the alleyway, he could see the person in the corner of his eye, but couldn’t tell if he meant harm or not, but all the thoughts of what might happen to him made him go dizzy, and his adrenaline kicked into override.  He swung his body around and threw his arm out, keys in hand, and like a master’s whip, slashed the keys through the face of the stranger, and jetted out in an all out sprint towards his apartment door.  
    Everything happened so quickly he could barely process it all as he tried to calm himself down inside the apartment.  He sat down on his bed, and leaned over with his elbows on his knees, shaking.  After sitting there, trembling for a while, his heart beat slowed again, and he relaxed a little.  He stood up, and went into the bathroom where he washed his face and got ready for bed.  
     He lied in bed for a long while, finding it hard to sleep.  Though he was calm now, his mind still raced.  He couldn’t remember if the stranger fell down or started chasing him after the encounter.  Or if the guy was even going to attack him in the first place.  These things didn’t even really matter to him that much.  But what he really wanted to know was if the stranger was okay.
 
 
    There I am, staring at the ceiling as if it were going to change any minute now. All I could
hear is a pen scratching at a pad like a dog trying to go outside. So many thoughts were in my head. I fidget with my finger and pick at my clothes because I had no place to put my hands. I shoved them in my pocket and took a deep breath, then, out of nowhere I heard, "why do you feel this way?" 
     "Well," I start off with, "I never truly been in love. I was unconditionally loved as a child
but it’s not the same. I grew up inner city in the late 80's, early 90's where gangs and drugs became a big issue in Minneapolis. My mother strung out on cocaine and my father nowhere to be found, I found myself thinking, was I an accident child? But that thought left my mind when I looked at my brother and sister realizing we look too much alike, plus we share both bloodlines. That would be one hell of accident to have happened 3 times. Am I rambling?"
    "No, continue. Just express yourself" she says. 
    "But what is love? My whole child hood, I thought marriage was something that just happens. If you’re together for 15 plus years, you're automatically married. That's how it was in my family. Knowing the definition of marriage now, I realized only one couple in my family tree was truly married, and that was my great aunt and uncle who both past when I was less then 10 years old. And that's a shame". 
     Instantly cutting me off, she said "It's not a shame, its just the way things were, but you have to depict whether you're going to follow what was, or are you going to change the future". Then she goes back to writing. 
     It was quiet for about 30 seconds. I guess that was a good time to gather my thoughts. For some odd reason I was trapped thinking about a bunch of "what if's". I know I don't want to be alone forever but at the same time I hide my fear of getting hurt with masculinity and holding back words, knowing in the back of my mind, I wanted to teach my heart the meaning of love.
    Finally I spoke again. " I would say the mother of my son was my first love but she put me through hell. I think we were just deep in lust but never truly found love. One minute we're in each others hearts, the next minute, we're at each others necks, and as quick as we became a couple was as quick as I moved on".
    Once again, we
had that awkward silence. Then I felt a cold hand on my arm. She leaned over and softly said "your a great guy. You make me happy. I love that we can talk about anything and be ourselves around each other" while being rudely interrupted by a yawn. 
    It was getting late, and we both had to get up early in the morning. She stood up, slowly sat her math book on the table as if her body was warn out and heads to the master bedroom. I just lay there still scrambling with my thoughts. 
     Instantly she stops, as if she forgot something. Then out of nowhere she said, "no matter how we end up in future, right now in the present, I love you." Then she turned off the light and continues her way in to the room.
    I froze. Not knowing what to say, all I could do was smile in the dark. Inside, I was filled
with anxiety. I lay there wanting to reply but couldn't. As I was building up my
courage, 15 minute went by. By that time she was sleep. I called her name and
didn't receive a reply. I wanted to let her know how I felt but I didn't want to
wake her. The only thing that I could do was whisper back, I love you too. 

 
 
    Samuel paced back and forth in the hall of his great castle. The empire he’d built from the ground up was hinging on this very moment. He was praised in his kingdom for all he had
accomplished, but now someone was threatening his reign.             
     Andrew was new to the kingdom, but he was known throughout the land for his bravery and courage in the face of danger. He had come to take the throne, not because Samuel wasn’t a great leader, for he was the best the land had ever seen. This was a matter of pride.
    Samuel had brought order to his people. Before he himself founded any sort of establishment, the people here would simply run about, doing whatever they pleased, until there was disagreement. These disputes often ended with someone leaving the country, preferably before they were pushed off of the nearest structure. Samuel built his castle on the north side of the land, on top of the hill to oversee his people. He settled arguments with little more than the look in his eye. Samuel gave just rule to everyone who dwelt in his land, his playground, his empire. They called him Samuel the Fair.
    Andrew, on the other hand, believed he could do better. He quickly made peace with all of the residents, making sure each of them knew he was on their side. He would settle street level quarrels not by letting the people take what they wanted in turn, but by giving them the opportunity to take it in stride, together at the same time. Samuel saw this as nothing more than a facade: he could see behind the cover of kindness and into Andrew’s eyes, where he saw
nothing but deception and deceit. 
    Andrew waited patiently in the commons, until the next day, as he approached the castle where Samuel the Fair watch over his kingdom. His plan was to trick Samuel into meeting him in the the sand hills, where they would duel. Andrew would emerge victorious and take the
crown.
    Samuel had seen it coming. He was under the suspicion that Andrew was coming to take his reign, his kingdom. But how? He paced as he tried to piece what he knew together into some sort of tangible solution. He had an option.  Either he would banish Andrew and convince the people of his treachery, or he would defeat Andrew in battle and remain king of his land. He had to decide quickly. Andrew was knocking at the door.
    Andrew stood at the door, doing his best to maintain his innocent appearance. He could barely suppress the excitement that he felt. The double doors opened slowly, and for a moment, Samuel looked as if he stood so large, he would not fit through them. Andrew blinked once, and the illusion was gone.
    Samuel glared into the eyes of his foe. In a matter of seconds, both of them had abandoned their preconceived plans. Simultaneously, they unsheathed their swords. 
    Andrew lunged forward, swinging his weapon hoping to make an impact. Samuel was quick to block, and the air filled with the dull “thud” of sword on sword. The warriors began to grow weary after several minutes of combat.
    Samuel raised his sword high above his head, and in one final swing, brought it down upon his opponent. Andrew fell backwards, and began to tumble uncontrollably down the hill. Samuel turned and entered his castle, closing the door behind him. Victory tasted so sweet.
    Andrew would never again return. Samuel reveled in his victory, when the walls of his castle began to lift off of the ground. It was too soon! He needed more time to explain to his people the treachery he had just defeated! His glorious home had been lifted into the sky, and placed on its side several feet away.
    “Alright, Sam. It’s time for your nap.” A pair of hands slid under his arms, pulling him, too, into the sky. They may as well have been the hands of God. As he was being carried away, Samuel looked back toward his domain, and saw Andrew being lifted by a woman, perhaps his mother. She wiped his tears and kissed the bump on his head where Sam had hit him. He didn’t feel sorry. In fact, he felt sleepy. He found comfort in his father’s arms that embraced him. Samuel leaned his head over the shoulder in front of him and let his dreams take him into his fantasy once more.
 
 
    The secluded lake, nestled in the middle of a quiet forest, was surrounded on all sides by steep hills covered in towering, dark evergreens.  Next to one of the shorelines a small clearing was home to an old but cozy looking shack.  White smoke billowed softly from its crooked chimney.  The creaky wood door opened and a short and round man stepped out from inside. 
He wore a faded red plaid shirt that was tucked tightly into his jeans, which were held up by suspenders and pulled high above his belly button.  He waddled down the small hill to the  shoreline with the excitement of a child. His arms stuck out from his sides as he walked, holding a small fishing rod in one hand, and a old tackle box full of jumbling lures in the other.  He reached the lakefront and witnessed the reflection of the sun shimmering on the
surface of the lake.  He stopped short of the beach, closing his eyes and breathing deeply through his nose to smell the fresh water.  He exhaled quickly, smiling with pursed lips.  
     He reached the small wooden boat that was beached on the soft sand.  He clumsily dropped his rod and tackle box into the bow of the boat and pushed it into the lake.  He struggled as he quickly swung his stubby legs over the side of the boat. His round body followed as he tumbled into the boat, hitting the bottom hard.  He laughed as he got up, picking up his
canvas fishing hat and placing it crookedly a top his bald, shiny head.  He grabbed a hand carved wooden ore and began rowing the boat joyfully to his favorite spot on the lake, scanning the tree line and shallow water for wildlife as his drifted along.  
     He came to a stand still at his destination and pulled out a small bucket filled with loose dirt and small worms.  He pulled a worm from the bucket and baited the hook of his rod, wrapping the worm around the end of the hook multiple times.  He stood up and drew back his casting arm behind him while holding his other arm straight out in front of him in an attempt to keep his balance in the unstable boat.  The boat rocked back and forth a few times while he checked his aim, sticking his tongue out as he did so.  He clumsily threw a cast right over his head, nearly capsizing the small vessel.  The small, poorly painted white and red bobber plunked onto the surface of the water, causing small ripples to glide along the surface. 
He let out a small chortle and pumped his fist shortly in front of himself in triumph. A
good cast,
he thought to himself.  
     He slowly leaned back and thumped back onto the bench, unable to bend forward to sit down gracefully.  Letting out a small sigh of contention he reclined back onto the stern of
the small boat holding his fishing pole in between his legs, and pulling his canvas hat over his eyes to shade them from the blazing sun.  
     The man lounged peacefully in his boat nearly the whole day without so much as a fly disturbing the water near his bobber.  The sun was falling faster and faster, nearing the tops of the western trees and threatening to disappear, no longer providing light and warmth for the
lake.  A faint splash could be heard and the wooden bobber plunged under the surface of the water causing the man’s pole to rattle and jerk violently.  He awoke so suddenly that he nearly tipped the boat over.  He grabbed his pole, fumbling it, and began reeling as fast as he could,
the excitement was pouring over him and washing away the tiredness from his face.  As he reeled he looked over the side of the boat where his clear fishing line disappeared into the water and saw a quick flash of gold and green scales just below the surface.
    “A big one!”he said with childlike excitement.
    The large fish finally broke the surface of the water.  He reached down into the boat and grabbed a small handmade twine net with his free hand and scooped up the fish.  He dropped the net and fish into the boat and it flopped about frantically, splashing droplets of water all
down the front of the man’s pants and shirt.  He grabbed his ore and quickly started paddling back to shore, laughing excitedly and congratulating himself on his big catch. He reached the shore and hurriedly pulled the boat onto the sandy beach.  He waddled his way back up to the small house as quickly as his stubby legs would carry him, looking forward to the hefty meal he would be enjoying that night and the opportunity to fish again tomorrow.
 
 
    I ran out of the door in a panic.  Immediately I was overwhelmed by the ice age, which was my front yard. It was like I just ran into ‘Empire Strikes Back’ but there was no ton-ton to crawl into this time. As I ran down the cold cement I could see my breath for miles, forming icicles to my face.                 
     “I can’t be late again”, I thought to myself. It was like the fear of missing the last spaceship from mars back to earth. “If I’m late one more time I’ll surely be dropped, I just know it”.
    I rounded the corner and crossed the street, taking the final steps towards victory. It felt like I had just stole home and won the championship. Upon my last footstep across the finish line, it had just pulled up.             
     “Perfect timing”, I mumbled out of breath. I then stood there, waiting to check into my prison cell for the next hour. It was like the gates of hell opening up for me, the only difference being, I was paying three dollars and fifty cents for the privilege.
    After I boarded the Flying Dutchman, I just stood there, doomed to sail the oceans forever.  Upon the empty ocean, across the empty sea, a little man treads water. That little man was I. I
felt cold and forgotten upon the empty vessel. What keeps me going? It felt so easy to just let go and sink down to the bottom. I was swimming for my life, completely lost at se -
    “Take a seat please”, the captain interrupted. I quietly took a seat amongst the commoners. We took off. We took off down the grid, the maze of road.  It was like a digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they whipped by the rattling glass. It forced me back to a time when the only thing you had to worry about was beating the next level of Mario.            
Those were the days”, I
muttered under my breath.


           
The rowdy ship finally docked. There I walked the plank back into the
pool of sharks waiting to feast on my flesh. A smile came over me. Then I
jumped.


 
 
 
    Across the colva sack from the house I grew up in, was the house of Mr. Peabody. I never thought it was a very attractive house, even when it was new. Before Mr. Peabody moved in, the place was empty. All the high school kids would go there at night and make a lot of noise. The mold encrusted wood paneling and dirt caked windows gave it a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe. For a little boy, this was not a great image to have outside my bedroom window every night before I went to sleep. I would have frequent nightmares about a werewolf or an axe murderer coming out of that house and chasing me. 
    One day a moving van was parked outside that crusty, old, dump. I watched to two movers unload every box and piece of furniture into that place, but no one else showed up. Not until midnight did another vehicle pull up to the house.  It was an old black Lincoln with dark windows and light rust spots on the bottom edges. From that funeral car came Mr. Peabody. From what I could tell by the light of the street lamp was he was older about 45 or 50, had a slightly balding salt-and-pepper part, and stood about six foot five. He was a giant of a man. He had very broad shoulders and a slim waste. He resembled a body builder from a mid-day television, home gym commercial. That was the only time I really got a good look at Mr. Peabody. 
    Before I knew it, weeks went by and I never saw that old Lincoln leave it’s spot on the street. My friends kept on joking that he probably died from all the gross things the high school kids left behind. I could only think about, ‘what if he did die? Should I do something? Should I tell someone? Should I go investigate?’ I would always shrug off my friend’s jokes because they didn’t see the beast of a man that I saw that night many weeks ago. I never did tell them what I saw; not that night, or any other. 
    One night as I sat up in bed, staring at that house, I noticed the car was gone. I never noticed anyone leave, or come at tow it. Nobody mentioned anything about him dying, so a wave of relief slowly washed over me, knowing that this man didn’t simple move in and die. I must have sat there for an hour before I saw that Lincoln pull up to the house. When Mr. Peabody got out of the car he had three large trash bags with him. I couldn’t really get a good look at him, or what was in the bags because for some unknown reason the street light above his car was out. And for the next few days those bags were the only thing I could think about.
    That Friday was my neighbor Ricky’s birthday. I didn’t really want to go, but my parents didn’t give me much of a choice because they are friends with Ricky’s parents. We were having a sleep over and at every middle school sleep over people played truth or dare. It would usually involve something stupid like licking your foot or telling everyone which girls you liked at school, except when it was my turn. Ricky noticed that all I did during his party was sit by the window and watch Mr. Peabody’s house like some federal agent, so when he asked me truth or dare and I for some reason said dare. 
    “I dare you to walk across the street, go inside creepy Peabody’s house, and come back.” He said with a grin.
    After wining and arguing with everyone else there I had to buckle down and does it for fear of getting beat up. The walk across the street was the easiest part. Except I could feel the eyes of all the other kids at my back, and I could almost hear them chuckling and making jokes from so far away. As soon as I crossed into that yard, my entire body got hot and my stomach felt like it was in my throat. Every step I took felt like an hour elapsed between each one. I  crept ever-so slowly till I got to the front door. I felt like I was watching my own body move without my mind telling it to when my hand reached for the antique brass door knob. The door unlatched and cracked open without a sound. I knew the kids across the street were absolutely speechless. I felt like it was some unnatural force pulling me through that doorway and into the living room.
    I stood there a minute and grasped my surroundings. There were no electric lights; there were candles on every table. The entire place smelt of wax and must, like an old basement. None of the furniture could have been from this century. It all had to be at least a hundred years old. The final thing that hit me was the sound. The sound I would never forget.
    At first it sounded like a high speed fan or something. Then I started to move toward the source; a strange door just past the living room. Then I realized that it was some sort of machinery, a saw perhaps… but that wasn’t it. There was more, as I listened closely I could hear another element to that buzzing and whining sound. It was a slight screech or a gurgle, like a hurt animal or small rodent. As I stood and listened with my ear next to the door the
noise went from a steady squeak to a piercing, gut twisting scream!  
    I moved so fast from that house I didn’t know how much noise I made, if I even shut the door, or if the kids across the street even saw me. I went straight home, and into my room. I could still hear that sound ringing in my ears. I could feel my heart beating threw every inch of my body. I stood by the window staring at that house for another half an hour before I closed my curtains and shut my eyes to try and keep myself from throwing up. 
    I always debated what was making that noise that night and why. I always wanted to tell someone what happened, but never could. Ricky saw me at school a few days after and tried to ask, but I ignored him. I thought it best not to tell any of the other kids. I feared they would investigate themselves and suffer a fate worse than mine. I never did look out my bedroom widow again and I never did see that old Lincoln move from that spot ever again.         
 
 
    At this time of year the sun lays on black top like a flame spread over a flat cast-iron griddle. The vast plane of sand and cacti surround the residential neighborhoods that inhabit the salinas along I-80. Driving in a cramped station wagon with two people and a dog doesn’t that comfortable, but for Andy and Steve it was a great opportunity to experience life and learn about themselves. 
    “Let’s stop over at this cross street up here and let the dog out. I’m sure he’s had to piss for the last hour,” Steve says. He calls for Andy’s attention and waits for his head to nod.
    As the boys pull off of I-80 onto a single road that evaporates with the heat, their dog, Zeppy, gains a sense of whats going on and starts to whine. The wagon pulls into a lot where there rests an abandoned ranch plot. 
    “He really has to go,” Andy says as he chuckles.
    Steve opens up the back door of the wagon and Zeppy jumps out to find the nearest object that contains any residue of a previous animal. Zeppy ends up finding an old ranch post that had been degrading into the earth and submerses it with a steady stream of dog piss. Steve kicks up a rock to Andy and waits for the return like a game of hacky sack. As the rock goes back and forth between the boys feet, Zeppy starts to get involved by barking and dancing in the sand. 
     The rock finds its way into Zeppy’s mouth and the boys watch and laugh as their dog dirties himself in the sand. Beads of sweat start steam rolling their cheeks to the creases of their grins. An overwhelming sense of freedom inhabits the boys. No rules. No restrictions. Freedom to drive spontaneously with no caution.
    “This feels awesome,” Steve says. 
     “Ya.”Andy find’s himself agreeing.
    “It was pretty nice seeing your parents place. How long have they lived there.”
    “A couple years.” Andy loses the grin on his face.
    For the boys, the past has been filled with many escapes from home. Andy did all he could to avoid another night alone with his father. Steve was always there to pick him up and drive. Scars mark the endless battles between father and son, although Andy never acknowledge that Willie was his real dad.
    The sun starts to set over the mountains to the west and the temperature acts as the sun’s faithful sidekick. Andy goes to the back of the wagon and grabs the canvas sleeping bags and tent from underneath boxes and bags. As the wind starts to push through from the west, the boys use the wagon as a wind break and set up the tent on the opposite side of the gusts. 
    “This wind is killer,” Steve says.
    “Ya, we’ll get use to it,” Andy says. He nestles in a spot to lay down.
    Steve stares at the ground for a moment with a look of contemplation. He thinks of all those times Andy and him traveled to different towns in the region to escape from home. He remembers Andy fighting with his dad a lot. 
    “Hey, remember that time you pushed your dad down the stairs?” Steve asks.
    “Ya. Why?” Andy responds.
    “Why did you push him?”
    “He hit my mom.” Andy says. He lays down on his back and puts his hand underneath his head and uses his fingers as a pillow.
    The last remnants of the sun disappear into the horizon. Color has vanished leaving the contrast of flickering lights on black canvas. Not too often do the boys get to see such and amazing display of stars in the sky. Not even from a small town. Street lights and strip malls usually blanket the detail of the stars with an orange hue. Now they can see every single detail the sky has to offer. The galaxy expands further than they can imagine.
    Zeppy, pushes himself underneath Steve’s arms and sighs. He’s ready for sleep. The boys follow Zeppy’s lead and trail off into their dreams where the second part of the adventure starts. 
    The east side of the sky shares a colorful assortment of magenta and blood orange as the sun lifts off the eastern hills. The air is still cool but the sun gently rests over the boys like a warm blanket. Steve is the first to get up and walks with Zeppy to stretch their legs and relieve themselves at a distant corner of the plot. Andy lays still, unaffected by the footsteps grinding against sand as Steve explores the plot. 
    “Andy. Get up. We have to start driving. We need to grab some gas and food at the next gas station about 50 miles from here.”
    Andy doesn’t respond.
    “Hey buddy, get up. I’m serious. I’m hungry man.” Steve chuckles a bit at the silence. He thinks Andy is playing an old game they had called “Ignore Steve.”
    “Dude, you okay?” Andy is motionless. His body is still and his lungs don’t seam to push up the top of the sleeping bag as it did before the boys fell asleep last night. Steve stares intensely at the body of his friend looking for any movement or sign that he is ok. Nothing. Nothing happens. In a panic, Steve runs to Andy and turns his body from being on his side to his back. A plastic white face. Unreal. This has only ever happened in movies. 
     At no point in time has Steve ever shown any regret for these impulsive trips away from home until now. The boys made these trips to get away from it all and now Steve finds himself further than he ever wanted to be. The desert now seemed to him as an alien planet with no way to get home. 
    Steve begins to investigate his dead friend to find any sign of his sudden death. He placed his hand in every pocket of Andy’s clothes in hopes to discover a pill bottle or a message. Anything that would clue him in to what happened. At this point in time, Steve’s eyes were swollen from the sadness of his deceased friend and blurry vision acted like clouds possessing a white-walled cell. His hands were shaking more vigorously as he went from pocket to pocket. Nothing left to check. All of Andy’s pockets were empty. Steve fell back as though he was pushed over by the disappointment. His tears consumed him like a wave taking over a city with a tourist shoreline. 
     Zeppy was still there.  The dog that has been part of Steve’s life for the past 6 years was still there. Accommodating to the needs of his master, Zeppy began to do a search of his own.
Sniffing the stiff body that lay on the ground, the dog stopped at the clenched fist that was pushed slightly underneath the car which blocked the gusty winds from the previous night. 
    “Did you find something Zeppy?” Steve asks.
    Steve ran over to the alert dog and grabbed the hand of his friend and pealed back the fingers one at a time. Slowly, a message was revealed: 

     To my dearest friend,
    We have been on many trips together. All of which have changed my life significantly. You have been the one and only true friend throughout my whole life. I’m sorry I had to do this. There was nothing left for me. Tonight the stars marked the last moment of my existence. It’s too perfect to pass by. I know you’ll understand when you reach your last breath. You’ll want it to end the same. Say good bye to Zeppy for me. He was a great companion and friend.
     Keep on keepin’ on,  brother,
    Andy

    This made no sense to Steve. Why would he just kill himself like that? What was going on? Puzzled, Steve decided to search the wagon for any answers.  He dug through all of the boxes Andy kept sealed tight. During all of their trips together, Andy was only ever particular about his boxes. He never let Steve move them. As any friend would do at this point, Steve opened the boxes to find answers. The first few items that were pulled from the boxes were old pictures of ex-girlfriends and panties. Steve has always known about certain attachment issues that were brought up in conversations but had never seen the evidence. As he dug further into the box, he discovered darker secrets. Black leather straps that have only been seen at erie sex shops lined the bottom of the box along side a rope that was covered in blood. Steve jumped back out of the car and started to gag. Vomit pushed out of his mouth in reaction to the recent discovery. All Steve could think about was his friend as a murderer. The
dark side of Andy that Steve always pushed to the side and ignored. He never wanted to think of his friend like that, but he knew that side was there. And still, there was one more box. Steve stood back with his hands grabbing the locks of hair that were standing up from the shock. What could be inside of that box? As Steve slowly crept to the box, Zeppy was already pawing and growling at the cardboard case that was strategically tucked away in the back of the wagon. Steve pushed Zeppy out of the back and the dogs paws imprinted the sand with
  perfectly placed marks. Both of his hands were shaking and the feeling of passing out was crowding his thoughts. The sun was getting higher in the sky and began pushing out heat like the inside of an oven. Steve felt like shutting down. He didn’t want to see the inside of this box. He was afraid. A pocket knife was resting on the front seat. It seemed to be staring Steve in the eyes, taunting him. He understand that he wasn’t going to like what was in the box.
    In fact, he didn’t want the box to sully the image of his best friend. Andy meant a lot to Steve. After a while of contemplating, Steve grabbed the knife and began carving the top of the box. A smell of plastic and dryer sheets invaded Steve’s nostrils. He realized that Andy had been hiding something from him this whole trip. Steve took the knife and pierced through the plastic. A smell of shit and rotten fish hit the inside of the wagon like an iron beam collapsing through the roof of a house. It was then that Steve caught a glimpse of the object. Willie. It was Andy’s father. He took the head of his father. 
    Moments passed and Steve finally forced his eyes to focus. Along with the head of Andy’s father, the box was filled with pictures of decapitated bodies that were bound by straps and rope. Dozens of pictures. Dozens of different men and women. All of which have most likely hurt and betrayed Andy in the past. I was his only friend. I was the only one he could trust. Zeppy and I.