Thanks to overwhelmingly positive support from my Kickstarter patrons, I’ve been given the go-ahead to post the first “No Dominion” campaign short story publicly as part of the proof-of-fiction-committed for the The Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award. So if you’re not a Kickstarter patron, say thanks to the generosity of those patrons as you read this story!
“Forgotten But By A Few” takes place the same weekend as SPIRIT DANCES, but contains no spoilers. Of course, you’ve already read SPIRIT DANCES anyway, so that shouldn’t matter, right? :)
Forgotten But By A Few
I woke up on the plane with the feeling somebody’d been sittin’ on my chest. Ain’t a nice feeling, ‘specially when a heart attack snuck up on you a year or so back. Well, it hadn’t snuck up on me, I’d been witched into it, but when you’re lyin’ in a hospital bed with a nurse who don’t never say more than two words together at once scowling down at you, whether it snuck up or got sent don’t really matter. So wakin’ up with that feeling made me a lot more nervous than it used to woulda, and that was a lousy way to start a holiday weekend.
‘course, it coulda just been the warm humid air in San Diego feelin’ thick in my chest. Not that Seattle ain’t humid, but it just ain’t the same. San Diego’s got no winter, plenty of sunshine, beautiful women hangin’ out at the beaches, and one of the best zoos in the world. In the long couple years between my wife dying and me meeting Joanne, I’d wondered why I still lived in Seattle. Now I knew, a’course, but that didn’t mean I was gonna miss my St. Patrick’s Day weekend with the boys.
And it was gettin’ important to show up every year. The number of us who could make it was shrinking, and not because we couldn’t afford to come. Whether we liked to admit it or not, none of us were spring chickens anymore. I was one of the youngsters, and my seventy-fourth birthday had been a couple months ago. Korea had been a long time ago, and nothin’ but M*A*S*H re-runs kept it fresh in folks’s minds.
Two of my buddies were waitin’ for me at the luggage carousel. One of ’em held a sign that said my name in big ugly Army-style stencils: GARRISON MATTHEW MULDOON, with a military rank that hadn’t meant anything to me in fifty years. The other guy, Dave Ackerly, had a sign reading ANDERSON COLVER LEE, MASTER SGT. tucked under his arm. Andy was the guy holding my sign, and I had one in my bag that said CORPORAL DANIEL BAE KIM. Sun would have the next one, and the last guy in would have a sign for Ackerly, the first fella in. That sign would say WHERE THE HELL’S THE LIMO, ACK?
We’d been doin’ this a while. There were rituals. Sometimes it meant we spent about six or eight hours at the airport, waitin’ for everybody to come in. Truth was, we could spend our whole weekend in the airport and none of us would care much, except for it was hard to get beer at baggage claim. Mostly it was about seein’ each other again, always maybe for the last time. Don’t much matter where that happens, as long as you get to say goodbye.
Andy pounded my back while the sign with my name on it jabbed me in the ribs. “Muldoon! You look good, you look great, you look–” He let me go and took a step back. Andy was a little black guy from Alabama whose skinny bones had gotten him out of more tight spots in Korea than any of us could count. He was strong as hell, made up of baling wire and sprung steel, and every time I saw him his eyes had sunk farther into his head. He looked terrible, though I wouldn’t tell him that to his face.
“You look great,” he said again, except this time he meant it. “What’s going on, Muldoon, you got a new girl?”
“Yeah, Andy, a hot young thing who can’t get by without me.” Funny thing was, it was true, not that he’d believe me. “You’re lookin’ good too, old man.”
“Bullshit, I look like hell, but that’s okay, I been through hell.”
Anything else he said was lost as The Ack-Man elbowed him out of the way to shake my hand, then, who were we kidding, offer up a bear hug as big as Andy’s. I felt his ribs when I hugged him. Dave was closer to my size, couple inches over six feet, but his muscle had withered away over the years until he was tall and skinny and old. We were all old. It just looked better on some of us than others. We grunted each other’s names into each other’s shoulders, no sentimentality here, no sir, then stood back and all three of us looked each other up and down, seeing what the past year had done to us.
We were so busy doin’ that, that Daniel snuck up on us before I got his sign out. He said, “I see how it is,” out of nowhere. “You make a fuss for all you white guys, but you don’t give a damn about the Korean.”
“Man, I am not white!” Andy and Danny had gone around on that one for fifty years and would keep doing it til they were both dead. I scrambled for Dan’s sign, held it up, checked it, and flipped it right-side up, puttin’ as big an innocent grin on my face as I could manage.
“You’re still a goddamned sneak, Danny.” Danny had been our secret weapon, the American-born Korean who walked in and out of enemy territory without ever raising an eyebrow. He was the only one of us without any body scars from Korea. Fifty years later I still didn’t know just how deep the other ones cut, the ones on his heart. “Thought your plane didn’t get in for another twenty minutes.”
“And you’re still goddamned blind.” Another round of hugs and hand-shakes went around, Dan saying, “Tailwind, we got in early,” between greetings. If I looked good, he looked like an anti-aging commercial. He had that luck of the draw a lot of Asians seemed to get, the tight smooth skin over bone structure most women would kill for, and his hair was still black as pitch. He coulda been anywhere from his late fifties to a couple weeks older than God, and I knew for a fact he was the oldest of us, turnin’ eighty-three in another week. He stepped free of Ack’s hug, then, with a sigh, took his sign from his duffel.
It said WHERE THE HELL’S THE LIMO, ACK?
We all stared at it, hardly understanding. Then the breath wheezed out of me, my chest feelin’ as heavy as it had on the plane. “Wait, what the hell, where’s Mick?”
“His wife called me this morning. You guys had all left already.” Dan was up in San Francisco, the shortest flight any of us had to get to San Diego. My shoulders fell. There wasn’t much else Dan had to say, though he went ahead and said it: “He’d been having a hard time breathing the past few days, she said. He went to the doctor, they said he was fine, so he was planning to come up just like always. He went to bed early last night, and when she came to bed…”
“Dammit. Dammit.” Seventeen of us had come back together from Korea. Time and trouble had taken most of us away, but these five–me, Andy, Dan, Mick and Dave–we’d stuck through. The last three years it had been us five, and just last night it had looked like it would be all five of us again.
Andy had his hand pressed against his chest, same way as I’d had gettin’ off the plane. We all looked like we couldn’t breathe, and I sure felt like the breath had been knocked outta me. The older we got the less like a crime it felt when one of us died, ’cause there was nothing so bad as a kid losin’ out on all those years ahead of him, but that didn’t make it easier. One of us muttered, “Son of a bitch,” and we all nodded.
“The limo’s waiting,” The Ack-Man finally said. “Let’s go have a drink. It’s after five in Korea.”
“She’s a kid,” I said into my beer. Green beer, an Alaskan Amber with food coloring. I’d had enough to drink that I’d stopped tellin’ the bozos behind the bar not to color my booze, and we’d all had enough to drink that we’d stopped talking about Mick and were on to our own lives. “She’s a mess. Nah. She was a mess. She’s growin’ out of it.”
“Lemme get this straight.” Dan leaned forward over a cup of tea. Not even in the worst of it in Korea had I ever seen him drink anything stronger than tea. “You’ve got a twenty-seven year old girlfriend and you think she’s a mess?”
I couldn’t help laughin’. Alla Joanne’s friends thought she had somethin’ going on with me, but I hadn’t figured on my friends thinkin’ I had somethin’ going on with her. “Ain’t like that, Danny-boy.”
“Oh God,” said The Ack. “Don’t let him start singing. I’m not drunk enough for that. Hell, Mick’s not drunk enough for that, and you can bet he’s out-drinking the Devil right now.”
“The girl’s magic,” I said to the beer, and my buddies, the guys I’d known a lifetime, all burst out laughing.
“Last time he said that was about Annie.” Andy went from grinning to solemn and raised his glass of dark ale. “Miss that lady.”
I tapped my glass against his. “Every day. But this girl, Jo, she’s real magic. I had a heart attack last year.”
That shut them up, three old guys sitting around a boozy table in what woulda been a smoky bar, back in the day. Little bastion of quiet, that was us, all silence and worry on a Friday evening in a pub full of kids. Lotta them were in the military, Navy kids who reminded us of ourselves, ‘cept about a million years younger. The Ack still wore his hair in a crew cut, and Andy didn’t have any. Maybe we looked ex-military to the kids, or maybe we just looked old and boring. Either way, they left us alone, but when we got quiet it spread out around the bar for a minute. Then The Ack got himself together enough to say, “You never said. What’s the cardiologist say?”
“That I got the heart of a twenty-five year old.”
Andy, deadpan, said, “Thought you said she was twenty-seven,” and all of us laughed again. The kids in the bar relaxed and the noise level went back up. Nothin’ like a bunch of old farts to bring down the mood, I guess.
Ack waved Andy’s joke off, though. “How’s that possible? Don’t get me wrong, Muldoon, but you were a smoker. That leaves marks.”
“It’s the girl. Joanne. The kid’s got magic.” I looked between my old buddies, then pushed the beer aside and sighed. “Don’t give me those faces. You remember the war.”
I didn’t look at Danny when I said it, but the other two did. His eyebrows beetled at me and I shrugged. “Your culture. Your demons.”
“My goddamned demons are the same one every other American kid had,” Dan muttered. “Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and not meeting Marilyn Monroe.”
“You knew what they were called.” From anybody outside of this circle, Andy’s tone woulda been accusatory. It almost was anyway.
“I didn’t know how the hell to get rid of ’em, did I.” Danny drained his tea with an emphasis that woulda gone better with a shot of Jack Daniels, but a guy worked with what he had. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
We all grunted. None of us wanted to talk about it. None of us ever had, except obliquely. But there’d been something fucked up in the Korean nights, something different from the war. Not worse, but harder to understand. We understood the war. We hated it, we were scared of it, we didn’t want it, but we got it. Stop ’em at the 38th parallel, blast them yellow Reds to hell. Billy Joel was a kid while me and these guys were fighting that war, but he got it too. War was easy to understand.
The thing that came pressin’ down on your buddies, stealin’ their breath like cats were supposed to steal babies’, the thing that screamed all night like a Korean banshee, the things you didn’t quite see from the corner of your eye and died tryin’ to chase down, those were harder to understand. Danny’d had names for them, names his Korean-born parents had told him. Stay away from ’em, he’d said, they’ll steal your soul and eat your bones.
We’d listened. Our whole damned platoon had listened, even when it meant us sittin’ on each other to keep ourselves from goin’ out after the sound of a shriekin’ baby that just wasn’t quite right. We’d listened, ’cause Danny was our secret weapon and there ain’t no point in havin’ one if you don’t use it for all it’s worth. But other troops hadn’t had him, and a lot of their guys were the kind who went missing in action, no body or explanation to send home to his family, just a flag and an apology.
We lost two guys that way. Reckless Rick, he was always gonna get himself killed one way or another, but we found his body the next day, lookin’ drowned when we all knew there wasn’t any water for miles. And the other Andy, Dandy Andy, who the prettiest guy in our unit. Couldn’t keep his hands off the girls, or their hands off him. He’d gone off with the most beautiful local girl any of us had seen, and he’d come back in the morning white-faced and shaking. Never said a word, just died by noon, and when the doctors stripped his body to put him in dress greens, he looked like a hundred vampire leeches had gotten to him.
After that everybody listened to Danny, and listened good. He never knew how to stop ’em, just to stay the hell away, so that’s what we did. And now, fifty years later, we all sat there starin’ into our beers, still tryin’ ta stay the hell away.
‘cept I’d spent the past fifteen months hangin’ out with a girl who wouldn’ta done that, even if it’d been the smart thing to do. Especially if it’d been the smart thing. It didn’t matter that they wouldn’t believe me. What mattered was trying to make them believe there were people out there who could fight the monsters.
And maybe, just a little, it mattered to me that they learned I was one of ’em. “I do wanna talk about it,” I said abruptly. “Because didja know every one of us who came back from the war, every single one of us has died of a heart attack?”
They didn’t. I could see it in their eyes. Andy rubbed his chest again, makin’ me pull a deep breath too, just to make sure I could. “Every one of us, even when we were young. Died of a heart attack in our sleep. That’s thirteen heart attacks.”
“Lots of people die of heart attacks, Gar. You just said you almost did too.”
“Yeah, but–” All of a sudden I felt sorry for Jo. You couldn’t just say, “Yeah, but I was witched into it,” even if it was true. The poor girl had spent the last year trying to offer up sensible explanations where none existed, and now that I was trying to, it was harder than it looked. “But I had Joanne,” I finished.
They laughed at me again. I couldn’t blame ’em. “Arright, arright, yeah, I got myself a sweet young thing and she healed my heart. Gotta use that big fat military retirement check for somethin’, right?”
Ack-Man snorted. “You can use it to buy me another drink. Mick would’ve had us all under the table by now. Let’s show him he’s not forgotten.”
There was nothin’ to say to that but buy another round, an’ hope mentionin’ all the heart attacks might get one of ’em curious enough to ask me about it later, when we were all too drunk to see straight. In the meantime we took turns talkin’, telling tales about the past year, remembering old friends, and thankin’ God we were happy drunks instead of miserable ones. Danny kept us that way by stayin’ sober and dragging us out of self-pity when we went that way.
But him bein’ sober meant he noticed I wasn’t talking much about the past year after all, but about Annie and older times instead. He called me on it, too, after last call and we’d been poured out onto the street by a bunch of kids impressed with how well the old guys held their liquor. We staggered through San Diego toward our hotel, arguin’ over who snored worst and should have to bunk together, and Dan stepped up alongside me to say, “So what’s with the girl?”
“You don’ wanna know. You don’ wanna talk ’bout it. You don’ wanna…woo. Too much booze. Shoulda shtayed shitting. Sitting. At the bar. Booze woozing. Shick. Ah, hell, Danny, I gotta get shome water. D’ya shee a water fantain? Foun. Tin.”
Dan did a good job of not sounding like he was laughing too hard. “In the mall, come on.”
“Mall’sh closhed at thish hour.”
“It’s open-air, Muldoon, come on. You get some water in you, you’ll be fine. Never heard of you having a hangover.”
“Yesh. Rep. You. Tay. Shun. To main…tain.”
Dan, grinning, got me pointed toward the mall and found me a water fountain. I leaned on it and drank til my head stopped spinnin’. My gut felt worse with the sloshing, but I could walk again. Danny got me pointed back toward the other two, and we were snickering at me like a couplea school girls when The Ack’s voice roared down the street: “Muldoon! Danny! Jesus, somebody call 911!”
Out of my head or not, I got my feet under myself and broke into a run, out-pacing Danny. Took maybe half a minute to get back to the other two and maybe half a second to realize The Ack was on his knees beside Andy, who lay sprawled across the sidewalk like a rag doll. I lumbered on, details coming into focus as I got closer. The Ack was in tears. Andy was still breathing, but labored, like it was gettin’ harder and harder. Lights were goin’ funny, smearing and stretching the way they did in movies to show the viewpoint character was dead drunk. I felt like I was seein’ another, messed-up world.
That mess snapped into focus, and I saw a ghost sittin’ on Andy’s chest.
It looked like a lover bendin’ to kiss him, all this smoky black hair trailin’ between its face and his. Its mouth was over his, but I could see his breath bein’ pulled into it, hungry soft an’ sweet. It didn’t look substantial, at the same time it looked heavy. It made me think again of bein’ unable to breathe when I woke up on the plane, an’ for a horrible minute I wondered if I’d had a real narrow escape there.
Then I did the only thing I could think of, and tackled the damned thing.
Now, there ain’t no way that shoulda worked, except for the girl in my life. Joanne Walker, the closest thing I ever had to a daughter. Whether my old Army buddies wanted to hear it or not, the girl had magic. Healin’ magic, the kind that could make an old ex-smoker’s heart as strong and healthy as a teen athlete’s three days after he went into the hospital in cardiac arrest. And more than that, the kind of magic that could go into a world of spirits and demons and ask the spirits if any of ’em would be willin’ to help an old guy along, to protect him a little an’ be there when he needed a little extra strength.
The kinda magic that would bring a tortoise spirit right into my soul, where it mostly rested and waited patiently for the times it was needed. It wasn’t until it picked me that I ever learned anything about ’em. Turned out they were symbols of immortality the whole world over, not that I was in any hurry ta live forever. Not that I was in any hurry to die soon, either, so we were both happy with that symbology. An’ everybody knew the tortoise won the race, so that was a good thing to have in my pocket too.
What I never knew, though, was that the world over again, tortoises were symbols of somethin’ able to protect itself. Made sense, once I found it out, but I never knew it before. And if I’d learned anything ’bout magic from Jo, it was that if a gift has one side, then it’s gotta have a flip side.
Somethin’ that could protect itself, in my mind, was also somethin’ that could fight.
I hit the ghost with two hundred an’ twenty pounds of ex-linebacker enthusiasm. Its mouth ripped open like it was screamin’, but no sound came out. We rolled together, me and it, until we hit a building wall still warm from the afternoon sunshine, an’ it came out on top.
The weight on my chest came back just like it’d done that afternoon. Pressin’ down, takin’ my breath, but this time my drunk old self saw the ghost leaning in, felt its cold mouth on mine. Saw all kindsa rage and fear in its eyes, and had no idea why. I couldn’t move, feelin’ like a hundred stones were flattenin’ me. It was desperate, trying to crush my life away as fast as it could. Like it was dyin’, and I was the only thing gonna keep it alive.
My tortoise flipped itself over, presenting its mottled shell to the ghost. It fell away and my breath came back, even though my head kept spinnin’. I sat up, checkin’ myself with my hands. I was still all there, still all breathin’. The ghost spun toward Andy again, and I remembered him actin’ like he couldn’t breathe all day. “Wait a sec!”
No way I thought the thing would understand me, but it stopped and turned, tremblin’ with need. “Wait a minute,” I said again. “What’s goin’ on, what do you want? How the hell can I even see you?”
“See who?” The Ack whispered, but Daniel hushed him. The ghost looked between us, haunted bleak gaze, and said something in Korean.
“I don’t speak–dammit! Danny! What’s–” I replicated the sounds it had made best I could, feelin’ like a fool. “What’s that mean?”
He hesitated. “Are you sure you got that right?”
“Because if you did, it’s asking for fish soup.”
I stared at him. “I don’t think life-suckin’ ghosts ask for fish soup, Dan. Wait a second. Can you see it?”
“Revenge.” The ghost spoke English that time, and its bleak haggard face started changin’, becomin’ more like a girl than a ghoul. I pinched my fingers against the sidewalk, gettin’ ready to run or tackle or whatever I had to, but she said “Vengeance,” again, and I figured that was communication, not a threat. “So long,” it whispered. The thing’s accent was pure Korean, like it’d learned English as an adult. As an adult ghost. Joanne was just gonna love this one. “My family…dead. For them…I slay.” She gestured to all of us, and I closed my eyes.
“Somethin’ happened in Korea. We, our unit, we killed her family, maybe. Killed her, dammit. I’m sorry, doll. I’m so damned sorry.” That was all explanation to my buddies and half a question to the ghost, but I hardly needed to see her nod to know I was right. “You been with us since then? Comin’ after us since then? Danny?”
“It came back with us,” Dan said miserably. “Fifty years ago, it came back with us. I can’t see it. Why can you?”
“’cause I’m drunk off my ass, an’ I been magicked up a lot lately. You gotta be in an altered mental state ta see this shit. Now stop avoidin’ the topic an’ tell me what you knew.”
“Nothing! I just knew something was there, and I never did know how to stop them. Then it disappeared and I thought…I don’t know what I thought. I never imagined it was coming after us, Muldoon. I had no idea. Heart attacks. Everybody dies of heart failure in the end. And besides, we were spread all over the place.”
The ghost peeled her lips back from black rotting teeth, an’ I was glad as hell she didn’t have enough breath to stink. “Long hunt.” Her ruined face crumpled and she reached out, not to any of us, but toward the sea.
Not the sea. Any idiot coulda seen that, and I wasn’t that much of a fool. Toward Korea. Toward her home. “Last blood.” She came alive all of a sudden, throwin’ off the smoky air an’ insubstantiality to look like a real girl. Just a kid with eyes haunted by death, same way as we’d all been back then. She wasn’t anybody, not a face burned inta my memory, not one of the regular nightmares that came through the long years to remind us what we’d done. She was just a girl, and we’d prob’ly dropped a bomb or fired a bullet and earned ourselves some’a what the brass called collateral damage.
She hadn’t been one of ’em, though. I could see it now, the bloody hole in her chest an’ the shadow of the knife that had put it there. She’d killed herself to haunt us, an’ there was a kinda horrible sick honor in that. “I am so sorry, darlin’. But you been pickin’ us off slow, when you coulda taken us all at once at one of these get-togethers. Why’s that?”
A laugh that wasn’t funny came right from my gut. Pain, for alla us who knew each other and had to watch each other die slow over the years. Thank God the ghost was a kid, ’cause real pain woulda been takin’ us all out at once and leavin’ our families to cope with the shattered remains of their lives. Still, I said, “Guess we got what we deserved,” and a big part of me meant it. “You’re hurryin’ it up now, though, sweetheart. Why’s that?”
Her face collapsed, no more girl, just ravaged wretched spirit. She reached toward home again, speaking in Korean. I ground my teeth an’ did my best to make the same sounds. I’d never managed ta learn Spanish, nevermind a tonal language. But I guessed I got it right that time, ’cause Danny started translatin’ and what he said made sense: “I need strength to cross the water. I thought I was the last of my family, that all the others had been lost in the war. But I feel it now, even from so far away. My daughter, the baby, she lived, and now she dies. I don’t want her to die alone, and I want to lay down my burden when she does. So you must all die now, to end my vengeance and give me strength to cross the water.”
“I thought spirits had trouble with crossin’ water. Or maybe that’s witches. Nevermind. Sweetheart, you got any idea how far that is? You ain’t gonna make it. Not even if you press us all dry, there ain’t no way you’re gettin’ across the Pacific Ocean on willpower alone. People been tryin’ forever, an’ it just don’t work.”
Turned out that wasn’t such a smart thing to say. She whipped toward me, leapin’ like a cat. My tortoise hunkered down, ready to take a hit, but Danny got between me and her and started shoutin’ in Korean. She slammed into him, but backed off again, listening instead of tryin’ ta gobble his soul. I edged toward Andy and Ack, makin’ sure they were okay. Andy was still clutching his chest, but he nodded, so all three of us sat there starin’ at Danny talk to a ghost. She finally nodded, then looked at me expectantly. “She’s noddin’, Danny. Whatever you’re doin’, keep it up.”
“I’m taking her home.”
“You’re what?” Ack and Andy drowned me out, shouting louder and louder about all the reasons that was a dumb damn idea. I started out agreeing with ’em, but I was the one who could see the ghost. The more they shouted, the angrier she got. She got smaller, crouching, and I could just about see her gettin’ ready to uncoil and jump on us all.
I reached out an’ slapped my hands over Andy and Ack’s mouths. “Shut up. Shut up. It’s more’n that, ain’t it, Danny. She’s gonna let us go as long as we shut the hell up. She needs to get home more than she wants revenge.”
“Almost more. What I didn’t translate was she was saving me for last, Muldoon. Because I betrayed Korea. She didn’t care that I was born in America.”
“Oh no.” I got to my feet, hopin’ the tortoise was feelin’ up to a real fight. “You ain’t goin’ off to sacrifice yourself for us. Trust me, buddy, I know sacrifices are bad magic.”
“I’m not sacrificing anything. She didn’t care that I was born in America. But if she was nodding, she understands what I told her. If she has family left, grandchildren, I’ll bring them back here. I’ll say that they’re mine, from during the war. North Korea’s a hard place to live, Muldoon. Her family will have more opportunities here.”
“That line woulda worked a lot better back before DNA and paternity tests were possible, Danny-boy.”
My old friend, the one whose heart scars I didn’t know a damned thing about, gave me a pained smile. “That’s not going to be a problem.”
I almost didn’t get it. Then Ack breathed, “Son of a bitch,” and it all came tumblin’ down.
“Her name was Lee Sun Soo.” Danny watched the place where the ghost stood, but he was lookin’ at a memory. “We had been together more than a year. A year, but not many days. I only saw her when I could slip away at the end of an assignment. But it was enough, until her soldier brother came home on leave. He heard me teaching her English, before we knew he had arrived. Someone higher up realized my cover was blown before I even knew it. They snatched me out and bombed her village. So many people died. I thought Sun Soo was one of them. I thought our daughter was one of them.”
I shoulda known. I shoulda known, because Jo’d run into ghosts a time or two, an’ they always had some kinda strong emotional connection that kept ’em going, usually to people. I shoulda known it wasn’t the whole unit, even if it coulda been. I said, “Damn, Danny,” ’cause there wasn’t much else to say.
“I’ll see you guys next year.” Dan came back, shook each of our hands, then walked back to Lee Sun Soo.
He couldn’t see it, maybe, but I could: smoky black tears on her face, and her hand tucked into his elbow as they walked away together, fifty years too late.
Me an’ Andy an’ Ack sat there on the sidewalk for a hell of a long time, not one of us quite willin’ to look at the others. After a while the sun came up, and a while after that a cop came along to tell us to get our drunk old asses off the street. We got up, dusted ourselves off, and headed for the nearest diner.
“Well, shit,” Andy finally said, over bacon and eggs. “I guess maybe I’d better tell you about Brer Rabbit and Big Man-Eater, then.”