Chapter 1: The Liminality
Chapter 2: The Calling
Chapter 3: The Funeral
Chapter 4: Beaches
Chapter 5: Sonic
Chapter 6: Glow-worms
Chapter 7: Jobs
Chapter 8: Selective Doom
Chapter 9: Pool Fish
Chapter 10: Default Notice
Chapter 11: Complications
Chapter 12: The Tunnel
Chapter 13: Karla
Chapter 14: Probate
Chapter 15: County Lot
Chapter 16: Mule
Chapter 17: Hosed
Chapter 18: Luther
Chapter 19: Land of the Cleves
Chapter 20: Backslide
Chapter 21: Victoria
Chapter 22: Surfing
Chapter 23: The Pits
Chapter 24: Chinstrap
Chapter 25: Dulles
Chapter 26: Roma
Chapter 27: Vaticano
Chapter 28: Bells
Chapter 29: Occupy Roma
Chapter 30: Lockdown
Chapter 31: Luther’s Lair
Chapter 32: Marching
Chapter 33: Termini
Chapter 34: La Coccinelle
Chapter 35: Relations
Chapter 36: Detour
Chapter 37: Hypothermia
Chapter 38: Faeries and Ogres
Chapter 39: Rescue
Chapter 40: Bothy
Chapter 41: No. 6 Ardconnel Terrace
Chapter 42: Rejection
Chapter 43: Careening
Chapter 44: Searching
Chapter 45: Awakening
Chapter 46: One Ring
Chapter 47: Her Special Place
Chapter 48: The Mother
Chapter 49: Maelstrom
Chapter 50: The Upper Reaches
Chapter 51: Showdown
Copyright 2012 by A. Sparrow, All Rights Reserved
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Cover Image by FractalAngel-Stock
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
Albert Camus (Reflections on the Guillotine)
There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.
R. Buckminster Fuller
Chapter 1: The Liminality
Across the pond, a willow dances for me, branches twisting and swaying despite the absence of a breeze. The water’s stillness and sterility annoy me. Surface uncreased, depths devoid of fish or worms or even plankton, it may as well have been a pool of mercury.
I toss a pebble. Ripples expand and rebound off the shore, distorting the mirrored sky, cloudless yet grey. I toss another stone before the ripples can fade.
On a throne carved into the muddy bank, I wait for Karla, hopeful and calm, stable at my core. How much I’ve changed, in less than a year of coming to this place, as if all the neurons in my brain have been ripped apart and reconfigured. I’m only nineteen, but I feel ancient.
Stray sprigs of tamed root inch across the flats, tensing and releasing their spirals. One severed tendril pauses at my feet, sensing the presence of its master. Slowly, it curls and uncurls in time with my breath, reflecting my inner mood. I send it on its way with a glare.
Curious now, how my former foes await my beck and call like empathetic dogs. I used to think they were the nastiest things, before I learned how to domesticate them. So malleable and helpful, who knew these roots existed only to serve?
When I say ‘roots,’ I don’t mean those scraggly, dirty things that anchor trees and channel their life-giving nutrients. Sure many here resemble something you might dig up from under a maple tree, but that’s just one iteration of their boggling diversity. You’ll find roots here as fine as spider silk or as thick as tree trunks, those that glow or vibrate, hollow ones, some slick and translucent that pulse and gurgle from their inner flows. I wouldn’t be surprised if some carried electricity or blood.
They creep and climb and wind themselves into thick and ropy tangles. They can wriggle like manic nightcrawlers or lie inert as deadwood, all mossy and frayed like the moorings of some old boat forgotten in a bayou.
They’re sentient sometimes, scheming and conniving against us souls, working in concert with the Reapers. But I don’t think it’s voluntary. Reapers are Weavers, too. They just do their dirty work and get on with it. They don’t need to show off or brag.
To ‘weave’ a root is to possess it. Their diversity and mutability can be harnessed to any purpose imaginable. They’re the raw material of dreams. We can join them, split them, make them hard as steel or soft as mush. With a glance, I spread one out into a sheet as thin as paper. I fold it into a crane and add it to the pile beside me.
Karla taught me all the origami I know. After the tsunami in Japan, she had folded hundreds after hearing about some kind of fund-raising scheme for the victims, only to find that no one in her country knew what to do with a sack of paper cranes.
They’ll stay set for quite a while, once woven. But quite a while doesn’t mean forever. They tend to revert back to their native state in a month or so, or even sooner if you don’t feel strongly enough about what you’ve woven. So far, none of my cranes have dared unfold themselves.
You don’t go to Root, by the way. It comes to you. If you're unlucky enough to have your soul plunge off the deep end, the roots will come a fetching. You’ll know they’ve arrived from those fleeting blurs in your peripheral vision, those stray itches and random crawly sensations that brush or scrape against your limbs.
They’re attracted to depression of the deepest, darkest sort. They can sniff out the truly suicidal and I don't mean the dabblers. They’ll lurk and drag you down just when you think you couldn't possibly get any lower.
But it's not so bad here, once you get past the Reapers. Some of us can weave a decent life out of the place. Life? Well, maybe that’s not the right word for it.
Subsistence? Persistence? Existence?
Though I do feel more alive in Root than I ever did in the world of my birth. My soul lives on here, happy, or at least hopeful, as I wait for my love to return.
Chapter 2: The Calling
Chances are, you’ll never meet anyone like me, and not just because I’m weird, and not because I’m dead. I’m James Moody. I have abilities you can’t even imagine, skills that serve me well in a place you’ll never go—if you’re lucky.
I’m going to tell you how I came to die, but not because I’m fishing for any sympathy. I don’t need any of that, not when I’ve got Root. Just because someone dies doesn’t make it a sad story. Death can be a good thing if it’s done right.
Root first came calling when both Mom and Dad were still alive. Those were simpler days, when my greatest angst revolved around figuring out how to spring loose to hang with the public school kids in downtown Ft. Pierce. I wasn’t happy cooped up at home. My parents weren’t horrible, but they were … parents. It didn’t help being an only child as it kept their focus entirely on me.
Being home-schooled like I was, Mom, the librarian, was convinced that Ft. Pierce High School was infested with junkies, heathens and cretins. She was absolutely right, of course, but what she
didn’t realize was that she had someone qualifying for at least two of those labels living under her own roof.
Getting out of the house I could manage; but getting one of the Ft. Pierce cliques to acknowledge my existence was a bit more challenging. I don’t know about your town, but around here, society gets ossified once you hit about fourteen.
It was even worse for me, because I was home-schooled. The old play groups worked fine when I was grade school age, but as the years went on I found I had less in common with the prodigies, religious nuts and wacko Libertarians that made the bulk of the home school crowd. Mom, you see, pulled me out of charter school because she was afraid they wouldn’t teach me enough evolution.
The direct approach that had worked with grade schoolers—acting goofy and sticking my nose into cliques of strangers on playgrounds—now only succeeded in drawing stares or ridicule. I kept at it because it was the only tactic I knew.
Sometimes it got my ass kicked. Sometimes it scored me drugs, including the time I ran into a gaggle of potheads who wouldn’t have cared if Muammar Qaddafi came to sit with them. By far the most significant outcome was the time I hooked up with Jenny Gallagher’s crowd—because Jenny was female, and she acknowledged my existence and that, my friends, was a rare combination in my world.
It was a Saturday in June and a bunch of them were loafing around behind the kiddie swings under an old weeping willow. I took a deep breath, walked up to them and went into my spiel.
“Anybody see my pet wombat?”
“I’m serious. My wombat got loose.”
“What the heck?” said this guy with a vacant scowl who was built like an offensive lineman. He outweighed me by about a hundred pounds.
“What the hell’s a wombat?” said a skinny guy who wore a knit cap, despite heat and humidity in the nineties.
“It’s a kangaroo-like thingie. A marsupial,” said this girl with cinnamon hair that flowed in the breeze, every strand dancing to its own rhythm. That was Jenny, of course. You could probably tell that from my purple prose. “Are you serious? You have a pet wombat?”
“Yeah. His name’s Marco.”
The others started scanning the willow branches. All except Jenny, who looked at me with her nose scrunched up.
“Wombats don’t climb trees,” she whispered. “Don’t they burrow?”
I just winked at her.
So that time, at least, my stupid little entrée worked. From that time on, Jenny’s friends let me hang out with them. I never said another word about my pet wombat, though Burke, the football player, would ask me about it in all seriousness a week later.
Not only had it broken the ice with a group of fellow humans my age that weren’t home-schooled prodigies or Jesus freaks, it had that rarest of creature, that most mythical of beasts—a girl who noticed me and was amused by my antics.
When some of the others tried to blow me off or ditch me, Jenny wouldn’t let them. She included me in their plans and conversations, treating me as if I had equal standing with the kids she went to class with every day. That basically forced the reluctant ones to acknowledge me. I still got ribbed a lot for being a mama’s boy, but Jenny would always jump in and defend me when things got too brutal. Is it no wonder I got stuck on her so fast?
My weeks came to revolve around hanging out with them every Friday night and Saturday. One night Jenny didn’t show. It perturbed the whole equilibrium. Without Jenny there, those kids turned nasty on me. I clunked around their periphery like a square wheel, parrying jibes, absorbing insults. I left early and lumbered home down in the dumps.
That night I was in such a fragile state, every little bit of friction with my parents ignited arguments. Over stupid stuff. Socks on the floor. The tone of my voice. And that sent me spiraling into a full-fledged funk.
I dreamt that night of being trapped in a jungle. Lianas tangled around my waist. Spider webs plastered my face. Little did I know then, that these were the first visitations of Root.
Things got clearer the following week when Jenny didn’t show for the second week in a row. No one could or would tell me why she wasn’t there.
“Maybe she moved,” said Burke, sporting a cruel grin.
I didn’t have her number. I didn’t even know her last name. I went home early, barricaded myself in my room and just stayed there for the rest of the weekend.
I barely knew her. She wasn’t even my girlfriend. Yet I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.
I pondered ways to break out of my funk. If Jenny never came back, there was no way I could go on living with my parents. My mom, especially, was driving me insane with her freaking chemistry lessons. I don’t know how she thought she could get by teaching me something that was so far over her own head.
I considered moving to Ohio where my Uncle Ed had made me a standing offer for a landscaping job. Emancipation was another idea. I could basically disown or divorce my parents and go off on my own. Some of the other options were more extreme and permanent. Things were getting crowded in my head, and I wanted out.
At night, I’d creep downstairs after mom and dad went to bed, raid the liquor cabinet and scarf some of my mom’s pain killers. Not that I was a junkie or anything. I was just looking to nudge my mood somewhere more tolerable than the status quo. By that time, I had tried just about everything but heroin, but never long enough to get hooked, except for maybe alcohol a little bit. There was always plenty of wine and whiskey in the house.
So I was there all drowsy and wallowing on the sofa. Some crappy movie was on, full of spies or criminals careening in cars, taking pot shots at each other. And then this stuff came creeping into my consciousness, slithering into the space between waking and sleep. For a time, I felt stuck between two worlds, mingling the audio of those mindless movies with these under-the-forest sensations: a musty smell like the mold growing inside a rotten log. Bristly, snaky things scraping their bellies across my legs.
All of these ‘hallucinations’ started happening about a month before the embolism claimed my dad, an event that made them a hundred times worse. Hard to believe that it’s already been over a year now. There I was, a seventeen year old wanna-be rebel seeking emancipation from his parents. Turned out, my dad beat me to it.
One windy Saturday morning, as lightning flashed against a bank of dark clouds, he collapsed on the sidewalk while fetching the mail, crumpling like a puppet with his strings cut. I watched it all happen while I was moping on the front stoop. I ran up and started CPR, the breathing part and all, pressing my mouth against his onion breath and gritty five o’clock shadow. A neighbor called 911. He was already gone for good before I even reached him.
On the day of dad’s wake and in the weeks that followed, I took to lying in the cab of his F150, popping whatever pills I could scrounge from the medicine cabinet. Sometimes I would find mom already sitting there.
That interior of his truck retained the distilled essence of everything that had been the man named Roy Moody: traces of tobacco smoke from the time before he quit; the spearmint chewing gum he had used to compensate; with undertones of rancid French fries, stale farts and rubbed off aftershave. Being there, you could close your eyes and imagine him sitting next to you.
That’s how that dang truck ended up becoming a sort of shrine, never driven, devoted only to meditation about the enigma that had been Roy—devoted father and angry beast packed into 5 feet seven inches and one hundred forty pounds of wire and bone and sinew.
I didn’t know how I was going to manage without him. Though he was sometimes the enforcer, particularly when he lost his temper, he was more often a buffer between me and mom. Without him, we only scraped on each other’s nerves.
On the day of his funeral I went there and laid across the seat, letting my body go numb until I felt nothing, not an itch or quiver or daydream to let me know I was alive. I let the heaviness flow over me like a mercury bath.
This numb feeling soon becam
e my new normal. It got so I didn’t have to steal mom’s Oxycontin to conjure it. I greeted it like a friend. I didn’t feel right without it.
But there came a time that another sensation began to intrude, a feeling like rough twine coiling around my neck and wrists, reaching out of the seat, wrapping around, hauling me down. My eyes would flash open and there would be nothing there. Close my eyes and the feeling would return.
For a while I blamed these crawly sensations on the crystal meth I had played around with a couple months back. That had been just a lark. It felt dangerous, like taunting a mean dog, but it never set its teeth in me the way it had ripped into some of my acquaintances—fifteen pounds underweight with teeth like seventy year old vagrants.
Another night in the pickup I was really far gone and one of them things tightened up against my ankle and wouldn’t let go. A persistent bugger, this one—even my wide open gaze couldn’t make it go away. I could actually see this gnarly root stripped of bark, snaking along the scuffed black leather of my combat boot.
I pulled at it with his hand and still it clung. I pulled out my Buck hunting knife and hacked away.
The loop loosened, bleeding white sap. I yanked my foot free and stumbled out of the cab of the truck, only to see other roots poking up out of the concrete floor of the garage, wiggling like worms, bending their tips at me like little periscopes. I screamed and ran into the house, slamming the door behind me, pounding up the stairs to my room. I dove into bed and pulled up the covers, swearing I’d go see a doc about this before dad’s insurance ran out.
I didn’t know it then, but being upstairs and cozy in my bed didn’t make one bit of difference in terms of security. Like I said, one doesn’t go to Root, it comes to you, wherever you keep your soul.
Why do they call it ‘Root?’ Well, that’s pretty obvious, though not everybody gives it that name. Some here call it ‘Limen’ or the ‘The Liminality.’ Don’t ask me what means. Karla explained it to me once, but I forget what she said. You can look it up if you want. I’m sure it’s in some dictionary.