Fiction by Skyler Nielsen


 

Any of a Thousand Points

If you’re the type who likes categorizing, you’ll be interested to know the community’s obsession with the field falls into two columns. For those who find such exercises divisive, rest easy, because both sides prove that reasoning is little more than words placed in a certain order as a way of rationalizing emotion.

The field drew newly minted members of the community because they needed connection with their new home. Noticing the signs and monuments littering our otherwise unimpressive town like graffiti, these searchers traveled seventeen miles passed city limits to the park.

The others have lived here for generations, some tracing their history back a hundred years to that bloody day. Monuments and visitor displays are static things, and deep-rooted locals need something more…alive. So, they return again and again to exchange stories they all knew by heart. Pointing towards the slopes, drawing imaginary formations and maneuvers in the air to other members of their family who needed no explanation.

I’ve never felt connection to either. I’m only rambling because I can’t imagine a better starting point. I’d been out there, probably a few times a year for a decade and a half. Whenever, the park held an event coinciding with my needing a break from the rhythm of small town life. That’s all the old battlefield was to me. Only a reprieve from the minutia.

Then my girlfriend broke up with me, and it was eight days before the start of the new school year. More time would have made it old news, replaced by the next bit of meaningless drama. I wanted a car accident. I needed a restaurant fire. Maybe a heart attack after church. These things weren’t daily events like in the city, so when they happened they could bury everything for months.

Staring at the walls of my room for days, being checked on every hour, on the hour by my parents had driven me mad. Horrible, absolutely horrible. Not to mention invasive, and it made me feel weak willed that they could read me like that.

On the way, I swung by Harvey’s. A jackass, but he was the only dealer around, an attribute necessary to my survival at the time. I wanted mushrooms, and the bastard was out. The best he could do was a tab, which I bought reluctantly because fourteen hours on the other side was more than I wanted, especially with a day of school shopping coming up.

I suckled a pint of cinnamon flavored whiskey I lifted from my uncle. He’d be pissed, and would blame everyone in the house, but the great part of hailing from a family of drunks is they all live with alcoholic’s doubt. Even if the evidence pointed to me, Uncle Pence could never really be sure.

I hid my car at the bottom of the draw, and climbed up the ridge, which is when first wave hit. It could have been a ripple of wind running over grass fertilized by ancient blood of those who stupidly chased the first scouts they saw up that long slope. It had been a trap, but they couldn’t have known. They had faith in the great chain of being, indoctrinated with the assurance of superiority.

The grass looked black under the moon, but I knew the daylight would have brought out the red. A vermilion sea leading up the ridge, and I stumbled backwards as it advanced.

“Maintain,” I whispered.

Tumbling backward as the scout rode up, drawing enemies across the kill zone, I concentrated on levitating above the tips of the bloody grass that wanted to drag me down. Stretching toward the stars, which wept frustrated tears, I looked north where the ridge opened to the soldiers’ ascent. I don’t know how they didn’t see the warriors riding bareback on steads of smoke and stone.

The rapid tapping started, but I found myself distracted by haughty laughter. I felt someone next to me, levitating at my height, but lacking my grace. He giggled, and his horse cursed at the tears landing on his back to ruin his fall coat.

“Why are you here?”

“Where should I be?” the brave said, still laughing.

“Down there, sharing in your people’s victory. This could be the moment it all turns. It could be a new future.”

“Stupid. So stupid.”

“That’s a little harsh,” I snorted.

“There’ll never be a new future. There can’t be. Not with humans in the world.”

“You think the dolphins will do better.”

“We can’t see another way, it’s out of our reach.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I had a vision. I saw our victory, and the elders believed me, so here we are. It’s only now that I understand the waste I’ve taken part in.”

I laid still, not wanting to listen, especially while trying to focus on getting the grass back to normal. The warrior didn’t care though. You know it’s amazing how few people understand the import of prioritization.

“Don’t listen to a damn thing he says, son. Savages, they don’t understand anything.”

I hadn’t seen the limping soldier approach, his blue uniform turned purple by mixing with the red glow rising from the field. His appearance horrified, though I tried not showing it.

“You’re sinking. Don’t you feel it, you must? No, that’s not right. You’re melting. God, you have to stop, don’t you get it.”

“I gotta bit left.”

“The ground spoiled by idiot blood.”

“Better the blood of professors, aye,” laughed the shrinking soldier.

“The death of the wise and innocent sanctifies a place, the death fools taints it.”

“Dear God, we just had our butts handed to us by a Poet. Can you believe that son, cus I can’t. Damn embarrassing. And what are you supposed to be young man?”

“You’re melting!” I hollered, still trying to keep off the grass while making the soldier understand.

“He’s a sensitive one ain’t he Poet.”

“Far, too excitable. Won’t listen to a word. That makes him an enemy to us both, you understand, don’t you soldier?”

“Course I do. The only thing about being dead that’s really intolerable is when the living don’t learn nothing from it.”

“You’re not dead, you’re only melting,” I pleaded.

“Ain’t nobody but dead men on this ridge.”

“I’m not dead, neither is he,” I added, pointing to the scout who frowned at my lack of understanding.

“We’re all dead,” the soldier said, “A dead future, a dead present and then there’s you. I stupid boy with a dead past. Three men, dead.”

The moon rose, bouncing to the beat of my favorite Rage song. In the distance stood a round hill, backlit by a pulsating moon, and along the summit was a line of cannon, placed to destroy the ignorant heathen. The canon crews shouted in anger, demanding their targets ride into range, but the warriors refused to cooperate.

“Come closer, you must ride closer, otherwise we don’t work.”

Down at the bottom the warriors rode across the bloody grass, calling back toward the cannons, “Why should we?”

“Because you must play according to the rules.”

“But why? Why take part in a game that’s not for us? Why care?”

It went on like that, and I tried following. Not that it was all that interesting, like two brothers yelling at each other because they refused to agree on the parameters of a board game, but neither read the rulebook. Still, something about the conversation felt important.

“Com’on now, stop daydreaming,” said the melting soldier

“You are being rude,” added the scout.

I didn’t feel the transition into dream, floating between consciousness and the other side. Wondering if the next step in our evolution will be where dream and reality become one perception. That’s when I understood the battlefield represented broken potential. It could have come together, at any of a thousand points. Even on that bleeding field of glass, the dream, the reality, they could have merged.

I envisioned a realistic mystic having coffee with business men who considered consequences beyond numbers. I saw grounded artists having deep conversations with construction workers who spent their free time debating stoic philosophy. I saw countless groupings, all beautiful, and by the time the soldier melted away, and the scout had ridden into the mists surrounding the ridge, I watched in horror as the bleeding grass swallowed all that hope while warriors, and artillery crews yelled at each other, demanding the other play fair and just lose.

 

Skyler Nielsen grew up on a small farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley. After the family business went under in 2003, he began writing fiction to fill free time. He graduated from UC Riverside in 2002 and his work has appeared in Crack the Spine, A Literary Nest, Main Street Rag and Adelaide Literary Magazine.

Edward S. Gault is a poet and fine art photographer. He lives at Mosaic Commons, a co-housing community in Berlin, Ma. He has a wife Karen, and daughter.

 

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