Friday, August 28, 2015

Stepping Stones and Crossroads: Part 9 of 10

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

Part 9

“Oh… Hey, Dwayne… check under the floorboard in the attic. You might find the object you were looking for. It might even get you back to that intersection.”

“The cross? Up there?! Well, I’ll be! Thanks! Safe travels.” And Dwayne waved and headed towards their home. Their temporary purgatory.

Ashlyn, on the other hand, sat behind the wheel of the beat up old taxi and wondered where Anvay the boy might be at this point. She drove ahead to the nearest intersection and waited for a sign. She didn’t need to wait long.

“Psssst… hey, what were you two talking about? Doesn’t he scare you?!” The young voice came from the back seat. Gasping before turning around, Ashlyn saw Anvay crawl up off the floor with a hope glistening in his eyes.

“Well, hello there, Anvay!” Ashlyn chuckled at her overreaction. “No, he isn’t so scary once you put yourself on his path and get to know him. Apparently I have known versions of him before. I learned that the same may be true for you. Let me ask you: Why are you here, Anvay?”

“I told you. I am ready for an adventure. I am tired of being lost in the shadows of my parents.”

“I understand that. Let’s try this question: how long can you remember being here?”

Anvay pondered the question. Time for a child is only a fraction of an adult’s view, but just as relevant. The question did make Anvay realize something that he took for granted but could no longer remember: his past. It was now just stored information, mostly from what his parents told him. They were  pre-loaded memories, if you will; like seeing old photos and knowing that you were there even if you could no longer hold the memory of the occasion.

“Yesterday. That’s the best that I can come up with. We were settling in to our new home. My parents were very stressed, but they kept alternating between ignoring me and fretting over me. I was both suffocating and starved, and I said some things that I shouldn’t have said. I am ashamed now, and afraid to move forward and say anything else to them. How do I share my love for them and my love for adventure and find happiness? Instead all I feel is guilt and shame and pressure to be the perfect son.”

It was quite a speech for a little boy, but Ashlyn could tell that he had wisdom beyond his age to go with the heart of a leader. She was also getting a reason for his place in this world. She couldn’t help but wonder what her reason was for ending up here. What had she done wrong? What did she need to take back or fix? Ashlyn wanted to send a message to herself she thought. Sooner, or later, or never - she would need to do just that.

“Anvay, are you ready to try something with me? I think we need a new page, a new photo, or a new layer to our lives. I think we need to find a place that we belong, and I think this will definitely be an adventure! Are you with me?”

“Most definitely! What do we do?”

Ashlyn didn’t really know, but there was an instinct that guided her. She knew that they both believed in the impossible and she knew they were both ready to make the leap. With that, she reached across Dwayne’s cab to the back seat and took Anvay’s trusting hand. “Hold on, and I will look for you soon.”

There was a short blackness - an extended blink - and then they had moved on.

The sound of a school bell brought Ashlyn’s eyes open in a flash. This was a scene that was a fundamental part of her - students talking, laughing and walking into the old two-story brick building. Busses were grunting away after unloading, while the parent lane and parking lot were full of rushing students and staff trying to hold the world in their backpacks and bags and binders. Ashlyn could breathe the spring air and feel good about her surroundings. Then she remembered something about being on a mission to save two long lost friends. And she joined the masses of books and bodies streaming into the front doors, all with survival on their minds more than enlightenment.

She took a right and headed into the office. Hopefully things would clear up in her head, because she needed answers, and she felt a sense of urgency.

“Good morning! Can you please help me find a student? I think his first name is… uh… Anvay! Yes, that’s it! I am afraid that I don’t have a clue about his last name. Any ideas?” Ashlyn gave her best smile and pleading look to the secretary in front of her. But there was no response. Not even a glance up from her computer and stack of inter-office envelopes.

Ashlyn tried again, “Hello? Is there someone else that I should talk to? Is there a computer that I can do it myself?” When that got no reaction either, she felt strangely out of place (or time). She turned and headed back the hallways. As Ashlyn wandered past a group of boys who were looking at a girl by her locker, she tried waving in front of them, but they looked right past her. She wondered if the girl wished she was invisible too.

Then a little further down the hallway she saw a boy slumped over on the floor. He was half asleep from working the night before and his drink fell out of his hand as his backpack slid off of his shoulder with a crash of papers and pencils. No one came to his rescue; in fact, no one seemed to care. Ashlyn tried to help pick up the mess, but was now fully aware that she was only an observer in this school, not a participant. She wondered if the struggling boy wished he was not invisible, and empathized deeply with these neglected and vulnerable students.

“Watch out ma’am. I can clean this mess up.” The voice behind her was old and gruff, but tinged with compassion. It also sounded like an angry man from her past!

“You can… you can see me?!”

“Sure thing. But you look new here. Are you a substitute teacher?”

“No, I don’t think so. I feel like a shadow. And you… are you Dwayne?!”

The gray haired man felt a surge of joy build up inside him. He was recognized, known, and hopefully understood! “Yeah, you know me?!”

“Sure, I am Ashlyn Sojourn. We met… before. Do you work here as a custodian now? I am trying to find a boy named Anvay. Maybe you remember him?”

“Yes, I am the custodian here. Crazy thing to be in charge of cleaning up when as soon as I clean up stuff it looks like a mess again. But there isn’t a boy named Anvay here that I know of.”

A man was strolling down the hallway behind them. He seemed to be humming to himself, when he suddenly thought he heard his name.

“Excuse me,” he said in a jovial tone.  “Are you looking for me?”

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