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
Glacier Street lacked the visual beauty that it’s name implied. It was really an isolated narrow road, with storage units on one side and abandoned industrial buildings on the other. There was, however, an old withered tree, proudly standing guard over a young lady. When Ashlyn woke up, the first thing she saw was the tree, rooted there by the curb as if it was waiting for her to finally arrive again. She appreciated the shade of the old oak tree, as it was a hot mid-summer day. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember much more about her location - not the why or the where or the how of her situation. Ashlyn was alone in a memory that she didn’t know she was reliving.
She did sit up and the first thing she saw was… her name! Written in faded black on the smooth bark next to her was “Ashlyn + Dwayne = Amigos Siempre!” There was a flicker in her head, like a radio song coming in through the static on an AM station. This was more than coincidence, but not quite deja vu. Ashlyn touched the tree, walked around it, and explored it hoping for another clue or a clearer signal. But there was nothing, she was left with a maze of unanswered questions and no where to go. She leaned against the tree, closed her eyes, and sighed.
When she opened them again, she heard a sound coming from a storage unit to her right. The door was just rolling up, and a woman was fumbling with some keys and her purse. The lady was dressed in a colorful purple robe with an orange sash, yet she seemed gloomy and her shoulders sunk with an unseen burden. Ashlyn was watching her closely, but not sure that she should interrupt her to ask for help. However, the woman clearly knew about her spy and turned with a sad, welcoming smile and gestured Ashlyn to come over.
“Hello, dear. Are you waiting for something? May I help you?” It was exactly the question Ashlyn was hoping for, but she wasn’t sure at all what to answer.
“Uh, hi. I’m really not sure,” said Ashlyn. “Do you know the best way to get out of here? I think I am lost, but Glacier Street sounds familiar.”
“Certainly. I can help you. Let me find what I need in here somewhere, and I will guide you out. My name is Ahsan. And this is my only son, Anvay.” Much to Ashlyn’s surprise, a boy appeared from the shadows at the edge of the storage unit. He was small and quiet, but when he smiled there was another flicker in Ashlyn’s memory.
“Hello, my name is Ashlyn.” She said it with the calm confidence of a teacher on the first day of school, even though Ashlyn’s insides were churning much like that teacher greeting her new class. Was this practiced, innate, or a new gift? Either way, it wasn’t immediately working for Anvay. He hid his hands in his robe and his face behind his mother.
“Forgive my shy son, he is used to staying near my shadow.”
“That’s ok. Everyone needs a place that’s safe. He will find his time to shine in his own way, I am sure.” Ashlyn believed her words, even though she couldn’t believe much more about this scene at this time. Where could this all be leading? For now, all she could do was stay and absorb the moment.
“Somewhere in here is a piece of my past,” said Ahsan as she began rooting through boxes and bags, “but I guess most every door on this row could say that. Things that end up in storage units are somehow too important to throw away and too insignificant to keep at home. It is a strange mix of stuff. I know that I should be able to let go of everything here, yet I feel connected to the contents. They hold memories, and these boxes are my way to not lose those times. Good times and even … devastating times.” She picked up a soft, dusty pink blanket and seemed to fade to another place.
Ashlyn continued to quietly take in the scene, understanding what the woman was saying, but also appreciating that she had a totally different perspective and place in life. So much of time is about perspective, she thought. As this search was happening, Anvay made his way outside. Ashlyn was of no use inside for Ahsan, so she slid out into the sun and humidity.
“It’s not fair. It’s not my fault.” These were the first quiet words that Anvay had uttered. He was not saying them directly to Ashlyn, but he knew that she heard them.
“I know,” said Ashlyn with the same gentle regard.
“Sometimes I wish I could fly away. To another place far away. Maybe a magical world with dragons and giants and castles. And, and... I would be the hero who fights for those who need me.” Anvah was still speaking slowly without looking at Ashlyn. Then he turned and looked at her with a sparkle in his eyes and a question on his face. “Will you take me away?” Then his voice turned to a child-like whisper and his eyes widened, “I am ready for adventure!”
He reached out for her hand, and she was ready to take it, except for a clattering sound down the street. It started out as a dropped piece of glass; then it was a sound of metal screeching. Then plastic and coins and a cacophony of destruction which couldn’t be ignored. The young hero and the unsure mentor turned and headed to the unit three spaces down, right by the tree where Ashlyn began.
Ashlyn and Anvay both involuntarily sighed with relief after they had stepped out of the searing sun and into the stuffiness of the storage unit. Ahsan, absorbed in past memories, did not seem to notice.
Ashlyn sat down on the cement lip of the unit and invited Anvay to do the same. The garage-style door still provided adequate shade. Static was still bogging her mind, but through the muddle there seemed to be some hint of familiarity. Anvay’s smile gave her a sense of belonging even if temporary and not at all comprehended.
“So you like adventure?”
“Very much. My life is dull without it.”
Ashlyn chuckled appreciating the response.
“Do you like adventure?”
“Hmmm,” Ashlyn thought a moment. “I do.” She widened her eyes a little. “More so in books than in real life I think. Although I can’t help to feel I’m in the middle of one right now.”
“How exciting! Let me join you, please! I would make a good sidekick.”
This time Ashlyn burst out laughing, but it was quickly stifled by more clanging of clutter from several units down.
“That’s Mr. Forrester. He’s angry.”
Ashlyn maintained her seated position, but leaned over and peered down the row of storage units. She wasn’t certain if she wanted to see anything or not. “At what?”
“Who knows?” Anvay answered. “Mother says rummaging through old memories can help people remember things.” They could both hear more clanging accompanied with a verbal outburst. “And sometimes, it’s things they’d rather not remember at all.”
Ashlyn, intrigued by Anvay’s vocabulary, was curious. “You’re very well-spoken for a…what grade are you going into?”
“Fifth. I’ll be the new kid in school this year.”
“Oh...well, there you go! Sounds like a grand adventure in my book.”
“You must be joking.”
“Oh, come on. It’ll be fine. I think once they see that smile, they’ll realize they’re in the presence of greatness.” Ashlyn smiled and nudged Anvay. Anvay exhaled through his nose and smirked.
“Do you know who your teacher will be?”
“Not sure, but I heard she was nice.”
Some of the static in Ashlyn’s mind cleared, but rather than create clarity it created confusion. The moment rang a bell. Resonated within her. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she was overcome with the need to figure something out.
“Ma’am?” Ashlyn turned towards Ahsan who was staring longingly into an unframed picture. She felt badly for interrupting, but her sense of urgency was building. “Ahsan?” No response.
Ahsan inhaled sharply. “What? What?”
“I’m so sorry for interrupting, but I have to be going. What’s the best way out of town? Is there a bus or…?”
“No bus until evening. You may have to walk a few miles and hitch a ride. Depends on where you want to go. Don’t go hitching around here though. You’ll have nothing but troubles along the way.”
“Unless,” Ahsan interrupted, but then got caught up looking at another photograph.
“Well, there’s a grumpy gentleman that lives just up this alley who runs a taxi. If he’s home, he may be able to help.”
“Great! Which house exactly?”
“Take a few steps back and you’ll see the attic window above all the other rooftops.”
“Thank you very much.” Ashlyn knelt down next to Anvay. “I hope I see you again. Have a great year in school. I have a feeling your teacher will love your adventurous spirit.”
To this, Anvay smiled and acted as though he wanted to give her a hug, but just managed a good-bye and a very quiet, “I would have made a good side-kick.”
Ashlyn stood and ruffled the hair on his head. “I believe you would.”
Glacier Street was horseshoe-shaped and had three different alleyways that connected it. The alleyway Ashlyn walked up might as well had been an alleyway in the deepest, darkest part of Detroit or Chicago. Although vacant of people at the present time, there were signs of life that Ashlyn figured would occur once the sun went down.
Upon arriving at the house with ‘the attic window that stood above all other rooftops’, Ashlyn once again felt the static in her mind clear. Still feeling as if she were in a dream or had jumped through a photograph, she hesitantly ascended the stairs. With her thoughts more fluid and curiosity racing, she knocked on the blue wooden door below a faded sunflower.
Remembering her mother loved sunflowers, she took a step back while waiting for someone to answer. Everything about the house struck a chord with her, but Ashlyn still couldn’t put a finger on it. Then she noticed something and she immediately knew that strange things were happening. The static had all but gone leaving quiet voices. Voices from her childhood.
About five feet above the door upon which she knocked she noticed someone had started to paint the house a dark blue, but only got about half way across. When she was about seven or eight, she stood below the ladder where her dad stood painting the house. She had helped pour the paint. Ashlyn specifically remembered telling him that there was no more paint left. That’s how they left it. It was never finished.
The realization that this was her childhood home brought on a heavy sense of pensive sadness. Her first thought was that she was somehow drugged and taken to this location on Glacier Street where now she stood in front of her house. The second was even more ludicrous: she was back in time.
The only reason she didn’t shake off the latter was because her childhood home was bulldozed a year after they moved out of it. Ashlyn stood in her twenty-five year old body and decided to do something she never thought she would do again.
Opening the door with caution, she was astonished to find everything was exactly how she remembered it. “Hello?” Her call went unanswered as it echoed through the halls. “I need some help? Anybody home?” No response.
Ashlyn walked through the halls and rooms of her former home, taking it in with all of her senses. The stale aroma made her yearn for her mother’s scented candles. Going up the stairs towards her bedroom, something put a spark in her movements. She sprinted the rest of the way up the stairs and into her bedroom. Lifting up the rug and placing it off to the side, she proceeded to remove the floorboard. Her secret hiding space.
Reaching down, she pulled out a shoebox filled with artifacts from her childhood: field day medals, perfect attendance award and the cross she hand-carved at summer camp. Briefly getting caught up in the nostalgia of her past she placed everything back in the box. Before putting the lid back on she noticed something. A folded piece of paper.
Opening it, she realized it was a letter. The fact that it was addressed to herself obviously didn’t strike her as odd. It was most likely a letter from a boyfriend or her dad, whom she remembered enjoyed leaving notes for her in the morning.
She quickly realized it was neither. It read:
What I am about to tell you will seem extraordinarily bizarre to say the
least. At this point I don’t have all the answers myself, but what I do
know, you must listen to the fullest extent. The space-time continuum
depends on it. Do I have your attention? While time isn’t completely of
the essence, connections do need to be met in order to restore
normalcy in your timeline. Confused? It’s okay, where I am
now…where WE are now, I feel we’re getting close. Just trust your gut.
The strangest feelings are the ones you need to tune in to. Following
your gut is key. That I’m sure of it. There’s one thing you should be
aware of. There are three
“Three of what! Three of what!” Ashlyn shouted into the empty bedroom completely bewildered why the letter stopped there. She searched with desperate earnest to find another letter in the box or just lying in the space beneath the floorboard. To her disappointment, there wasn’t any.
Standing, she started to pace when something from her past caught her attention. She opened the window and looked out across the three rooftops that separated her and the tree in which she had woken underneath. It was a bike. Purple, pink and white. She would remember and recognize it from anywhere. A young girl was holding it.
Leaving the house, she ran back down the alleyway and stopped at the corner of the storage units. The tree – and the girl – stood ten feet away. A boy of similar age and holding a marker was with her. Ashlyn felt like she was watching a home video.
“But we used a marker last time and it washed off,” the girl spoke while rubbing her hand up against the tree.
“I have a knife.”
“No! No, knives. You know how I feel about violence.”
“It’s a tree.”
“Okay, well, I have a permanent marker too. We can try that.”
“Perfect,” the girl said perking up. “Let me write it this time.”
Once she was done, a crash of what sounded like junk…a lot of junk interrupted them.
“He’s back again, Ash.”
“Let’s go. He scares me.”
Ashlyn stood mesmerized by what event just replayed itself right in front of her. She had already walked into a home unannounced, so why stop there? Ashlyn took a deep breath and walked towards the violent noise.