Crossings and Stepping Stones is a short story I co-authored with Dustin Brackbill. This is our second completed story. Our first one, Crumbs of Curiosity, started with a simple prompt. I began the story while he finished it. We alternated turns in between. The rules were simple: no discussion of the story whatsoever. This was difficult and fun and it certainly stretched our creative writing muscles. With Crossings and Stepping Stones, we again alternated turns this time with Dustin beginning with an original prompt and the first part which left me with the job of finishing it. With this particular story we did have several conversations and as you read you'll see why that may have been a wise choice. Still stretching our creativity, we are very pleased with this story and we thank you for reading and sharing our dream...(speaking of sharing, please share on Facebook).
Crossings and Stepping Stones
A Short Story by: Dustin Brackbill and Ryan S. Graybill
A Short Story by: Dustin Brackbill and Ryan S. Graybill
The reacquainted strangers walked side-by-side not sure of what to say to one another. It was obvious to both that they each felt uncomfortable in their current surroundings.
Several yards passed the younger versions of themselves along an unpainted curb and some dusty dirt with patchy grass sat Dwayne’s cab. Upon reaching the tree of where their childhood stood, Ashlyn considered attempting a conversation. The two now were playing catch. While struggling on how to go about talking to oneself when said self is in a physical form – not to mention back in time – young Dwayne threw the ball over Ashyln’s head. Seizing the opportunity for an ice-breaker, older Ashlyn picked up the ball and tossed to herself. “Those crazy curves. Hard to catch sometimes, huh?” Little Ashlyn not only acted as if she wasn’t being spoken to, but she also reached down to pick up the very same ball that the other Ashlyn picked up. Or thought she had.
“No curves, remember?” Young Ashlyn shouted out to Dwayne.
“Right. No violence and no curves.”
“You act like we just met or something.”
Ashlyn looked upon the youthful game of catch. Shaking her head, she turned to Dwayne. “I don’t get it. I just picked that ball up for her.”
“They can’t hear us and they can’t see us. We can interact with their world, but just not with them. At least not all the time. I haven’t quite figured out why there are certain times that we can interact. Now, after meeting you, and seeing this memory play out before us, I’m confident in thinking that since this was a significant moment for the both of us, it cannot be altered in any way.”
“Confident or not, you sound like you’re speaking from experience.”
“I’ve been here… a looong time.”
“How is this possible?” Ashlyn shrugged and stared curiously into Dwayne’s eyes.
“Even if I knew that, I would venture to guess that I wouldn’t have time to explain it to you.”
Ashlyn turned once again and watched the moving memory in front of her. “So, they are shadows of our past.”
“I don’t think so. I think we’re the shadows. We don’t belong here, they do. We’re the ones visiting.”
Ashlyn scratched her head while pacing away from Dwayne.
Noticing her frustration, Dwayne said, “I’ve been here awhile. I don’t know how all of it works, but it’s going to be okay.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I guess a more appropriate question would be, ‘How many times have I been here?’”
“You’ve been here more than once?! How many times?!” Ashlyn retreated to her original spot next to Dwayne.
“I’ve lost count.”
“Why do you keep coming back?”
Dwayne almost chuckled. “Well, I don’t have a choice.” When saying this, Dwayne seemed to have a revelation. A look of both fright and anger appeared in his eyes.
“What is it?”
“I do have a choice. That’s what this whole thing has got to be about!”
“It’s gotta be! Like a rat in a maze. They put a rat at the same starting position every time. And every time the rat chooses which direction to go. Sometimes it’s the same. Other times it’s not. But the rat keeps choosing different paths until he’s on the right one.”
“Yes!” Dwayne shouted smiling for the first time in a very long time. The revelation had seem to give him a rebirth of hope.
Ashlyn looked distraught. “Don’t you see, Ashlyn? That’s what we have to do. That’s why we’re here! We’re here because of our choices and it’s by our choices…” Here Dwayne smiled and looked deeply into Ashlyn’s eyes convincing her that what he was revealing was true. “…that we get back.”
“Don’t you remember? Think. How is it that you know me? Not me as your childhood friend, but don’t I look familiar as a grown man?”
Ashlyn squeezed her forehead with her hand.
Dwayne continued. “We were kicked out of a vehicle and stranded on a corner of an intersection seemingly out in the middle of nowhere.”
Ashlyn shook her head.
“It will come back to you. Believe me. It will.”
“I do believe you. I just…”
“Take my cab!”
“I can’t come with you?”
“This version of me doesn’t belong back there on that intersection with you. When you remember, you’ll remember me, but I’ll be much younger. I know what I need to do now. It won’t be long until I’m taken away again and I’ll be right back here. But this time I know what to do.”
“You mean this version of you knows what to do? What about the version of you that comes back here?”
“I’m sorry. I may be wrong. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“But that’s just it. You do know. You’re right I won’t know. At least not right away. Not until the static clears anyway. Oh, brother! I can’t keep living so long here.”
“Wait, you said…”
“What’s twenty-five years?”
“Every time I come here, I stay for twenty-five years.”
“Why so long? I mean, why haven’t you made this revelation before about it being about choices?”
“I chose anger. Each and every time I choose anger. It’s what has prevented me from any revelations that may get me to where I need to be. When I come here and the static wears away, I remember my previous visits. Now I realize that each and every time I do the exact same thing with my life…and it never gets better.” He turned towards Ashlyn and gently grabbed her shoulders. “Don’t you see? If we keep making the same choices, nothing changes.”
“How do we know what choices we need to change?”
“I don’t know. Different for everybody I guess. For me, I’m realizing now, it’s something that’s been gnawing away at me for a long time.”
“My wife.” Here Dwayne paused with a look of chagrin. “My ex-wife. I never…I never treated well.”
“That’s great! You’ll be able to be with her, treat her right and not get a divorce.”
Dwayne pondered this, but he knew the reality. “I don’t know if I can save my marriage, but I can save myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like I said, I come back here to this time in the past, but I’m already divorced from her. That’s why I’m so angry. I never accepted that our marriage was over. I never accepted that it was my fault. And…I never forgave myself.”
“Well, it seems like you want to do all those things. So, that’s a good start. Right?”
“It is.” Dwayne sighed and looked down at the ground.
“I’m still not sure how I’m going to recall all of this when I get back here. I have to be able to remind myself of the revelations that have been brought forth.”
“Write a letter.”
Dwayne looked at her and began nodding enthusiastically. “Of course! A letter.”
“You can put it in your storage unit.”
“Perfect! Thank you, Ashlyn. If you never approached me I would continue through this maze for who knows how long. Go! Take my cab. Look out for other shadows to interact with. Think about what different choices must be made…regardless of how much they may hurt.”
Ashlyn hugged Dwayne and by doing so felt some hope be restored. “How do I know that it’ll all work out for you?”
Dwayne pulled her away and looked into her eyes. “You’ll know because once back at the intersection, different choices will have been made.”
“How do we end up at the intersection anyway?”
“By our own doing.”
“Until we meet again.” Dwayne smiled as Ashlyn turned and began to leave. She turned and waved once before situating herself in the driver’s seat of the cab. Peering out the window towards the tree with the names on its trunk, she rolled down the window and shouted to Dwayne, “Hey, where did we go? I didn’t even see us leave.”
Dwayne looked at his watch. “Probably school. Which is where that young boy you were talking to is. You know the young boy you interacted with.” Dwayne winked.
Ashlyn had her own revelation. She had talked to the boy, Anvay. She was convinced that meant it wasn’t a memory and perhaps he wasn’t from this time either. If not a memory that one interaction could mean something. With that, Ashlyn felt a little bit closer to home.