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Last updateTue, 06 Aug 2013 2am

Monday, 02 July 2012 01:55

The Tower

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It was there waiting for him when Lloyd left work. He rounded a van as he thought of opening a beer when he got home, of sitting down on the couch and not moving until hunger drove him out into the world. His car came into view, an envelope glowing in the golden afternoon sun beneath his windshield wiper. His stomach churned with the angry memories of parking tickets past. His perambulation slowed to a measured step at a time, Lloyd's eyes scanning for the offending security guard, but all he saw were his coworkers, amused by their own internal plans for the evening of freedom to come.

Nothing was out of place, it was a perfect parking job. When he got closer, he saw a sprawl of letters, Aberghast, his surname, scrawled face up on the envelope. He slid it out from the wiper, unlocked and sat in the car. The envelope was thin, containing maybe just a single piece of paper, but the content was firm and difficult to bend. He cracked the window and lit a cigarette, he took an end of the paper and shook it, driving the insides to the opposite end before tearing open the other side. He reached in and pulled out a playing card. A man in bright and obscene dress stood at the edge of a cliff, a flower in one hand, a foot poised to step out onto nothing.

He slid the card back into the envelope and tore it clean in two, tossed it out of the window, and went about his commute.

The sun was inching its way upward, cracking a smile over the horizon when Lloyd left his apartment the next morning. Every plate and glass were soaking in the sink for the evening's duty upon his return. He burned his tongue on his coffee and spat away his hatred of the world and there, beneath his windshield wiper, was another envelope. Inside were two cards: the one he had tossed aside in the parking lot the day before, the pieces taped together, and another of an old man in a dark robe, holding a stick and a lantern to ward against the night. He tossed it to the passenger's seat and forgot about them.

As he sat at his desk between calls, he watched his coworkers. Don was sitting at Nicole's desk as he did during his breaks, laughing between bites of Chinese food. They were unaware of their place in the office's interest. Nicole had three children and still lived with their father, a man of more height and girth than Dan, one with a police history that should have warned away Dan's attentions, but he was young and sure of his feelings for the woman. It was common knowledge through Carli that their first date was to the Cheesecake Factory, a fact often used to the more jovial coworker's advantage, be it subtle comments about the cheesecake they had last night for dessert or questions to Nicole of her favorite flavor. She said New York style and went about her duties. The desk to his right was empty. Yesterday, Michelle was walked out of the office, taking only her purse with her. The desk had already been picked over, shelves and lamps repurposed by the greedy. David was eating sushi across from Lloyd, doing what he could to display the image of a man not surfing the internet and failing. Lloyd tapped away at his keyboard and kept an eye watching out of the corner for Nancy. The boss was on a conference call in her office. It was a regular day.

When he left work for the start of his weekend, the envelope was absent from the passenger seat. He knew the car had been locked. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and scratched his nose, turned the ignition and left for home. After ten minutes he unlocked his apartment's door and was hit by a wave. There was something out of place. He walked through the kitchen, into the living room. A glass of water was sitting on the coffee table beside another envelope. The ink across the paper read "Come to me, eleven," and inside were the original cards and a new one. A tower in the midst of waves being struck by lightning. There was only one place it could be in the area. He had several hours before he was to be there. There was no question, Lloyd would show up. He sat on his couch and turned on the television, his eyes taking in the visages but nothing made an impression.

At eight, he left.

The Harbor was a lone vestige of nature in ruin and decay. Grand avenue took you through streets devoid of commerce save for liquor and food. Then came the downtown, where the city tried to maintain a semblance of prosperity. Buildings were being built or retrofitted to bring in artists with disposable income or businesses in need of lower overhead. Farther still you curved around the train station, the lake shimmering just past hundreds of boats, yachts or sail, dry-docked. Take a left and you cut through dead industry. Cars rusted to the rails and tagged by MS13 imitators. Great silos of concrete and hills of gypsum behind fences. Warehouses empty of stock. Fields of burnt greenery. Off in the distance, the spires and chimneys of an ancient power plant. Then it comes to sand and grass, soft rolling hills and the lapping waves of a lake that stretched far behind the horizon. Lloyd and parked and waited.

Cars came and went. Children screamed with joy, gulls chanted their desire for the detritus of the day's pleasures. Couples strolled hand in hand, steeling kisses when they could. The beach was to close by six, and soon it was him alone there in the municipal beach. Down the break, far into the water, the lighthouse came on, flashing out into the growing dark. When his watch read ten he got out of his car and wandered down to the beach. Snug between two breaks, the water lapped at the shore. Farther out, the waves were choppy, the wind fiercely bullying whatever it could.

He sat in the sand and watched the lighthouse. He tried lighting a cigarette but his lighter had found its better in the wind. The lighthouse was at the end of a long concrete break. In daylight, fishers came from all around to try their hands, fighting with the birds and the ghosts of the lake for every catch. The light circled slowly, each minute ticking away. The assigned hour came and he was alone. No cars had pulled into the lot, no soul wandered this refuge. He stood and arched his back to break away from the discomfort that had built. This was a waste of time, Lloyd thought to himself.

He sent one last glimpse to the lighthouse and saw a spark floating out in the dark. The cherry of a cigarette. His caller was waiting for him. To get to the break, you had to wander through paths cut into the dunes. With the bright moon he picked his way over condom wrappers and beer bottles, cigarette butts and fast food not fit for even the gulls. The sand was soft and made the going slow, each step sinking deeper than the one before. Finally he came to the break.

The concrete was eroded by years of surf and wind, pocked with bird shit and graffiti, rebar exposed like the rib of a decaying leviathan. The wind pushed him constantly side to side and the water sprayed him until his clothes were soaked. Farther he went out into the water, his eyes watching the small point of light dance out at the base of the lighthouse. When he was a hundred feet away, a form began to emerge from the darkness. A man in a suit, his jacket waving wildly about. Closer and Lloyd saw him to be tall and thin. More bone than fat or muscle. The man waited patiently until Lloyd stood before him.

"Are you happy, Mr. Aberghast?" The man's voice warbled on the wind, barely anything to it.

"You've been in my car. In my home?" Lloyd did not know if he was more angry or curious, but chose to adapt the former in his words.

"Yes. Are you happy?" His hand brought the cigarette once again to his lips, and with each exhalation the smoke whipped away, out into the nothingness over the water.

"As a man can be."

"The cards brought me to you. They told me of your past, of the days you spend in a mire of your own making. You are a fool standing at the edge of a great void, but you're too afraid to take that needed step."

The man turned towards the lake and started to walk around the base of the lighthouse, edging close to the edge where rocks sharpened by eons waited. Lloyd followed automatically. "The first card was you. The second maybe me. Someone to guide you along your path. I could be wrong, as the cards reveal only what they want. The third brought us here. This is a place of change and chaos for us, Mr. Aberghast." They walked to the farthest edge, the wind greedily ripping at the two men. The tall man tossed his cigarette out to the wash and it was taken away by the currents and from his pocket took out another cigarette. He held it in his lips and produced a simple lighter. Even in the wind, the flame caught the tobacco alight. "The only way to find your place is to face this chaos head on."

The man pushed Lloyd softly forward. The wind did the rest of the work. When he knew he was going in, Lloyd's last effort was to jump, to try to make it beyond the rocks before he broke the surface. The man watched and there was a smile as Lloyd went under, the waves pounding against the concrete and rock. The man waited for Lloyd to surface and enjoyed his cigarette.

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Last modified on Sunday, 08 July 2012 21:57
Chris Deal

Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina.  His debut collection of microfiction, Cienfuegos, was published in early 2010 by Brown Paper Publishing.  You can find and harass him at www.Chris-Deal.com.

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