Prologue

David hated the city. Actually hated it. While he’d lived in one for many years, actually enjoying his time there and appreciating its rich cultural diversity, he eventually grew to despise what it represented. How it had a tendency to suck the life force out of people, to push people to extremes, to make them do things they’d otherwise have no real desire to do.

His dislike of the city was actually tied more directly to his dislike of his previous job, but he’d managed to entwine it with everything the city, including his previous chore of traveling to and working in it every day, encompassed. Thus he was more than anxious to get the hell out of there—as fast as he could.

There was only one thing that would get him to venture back there again, and that was his daughter. He loved his daughter, but his ex-wife insisted on making his time with her as difficult as possible. She refused to meet on middle grounds, never once visiting his house, and always insisting he come all the way into the city to pick his daughter up from her school so that he would not imposition her. If he didn’t hate the city so much it might not be such a great imposition: he could always make a day of it, possibly taking in a play, or visit a coffee shop until Alice got off from school, but because of that vile hatred, he was forced to sit impatiently, waiting anxiously for his daughter to appear from the teaming crowds of students being released from her middle school.

Even though the sight and the love he felt when looking at her filled his mind with an easy peace, it wasn’t quite enough to keep him from grinding his teeth as he waited for her to finally reach his car. His SUV, another relic of his time spent in this soulless barren wasteland of man’s desires. Man, did he hate this city!

“Hey, Dad!” Alice chirped happily as she opened the door, tossed her book bag in and climbed in the back seat of the SUV. “You didn’t have to wait too long, did you?”

“Nah,” he lied, hurriedly shifting the SUV into gear even though his daughter hadn’t finished getting settled and fastened her seatbelt. “You know I’d do anything at all for you.” He hated lying like this to her, but then, what are little white lies, anyway? They’re the social glue of relationships, the things that the other person never sees or notices, and that eases the normal frictions of life. His lies wouldn’t impact her, and she’d be unlikely to ever notice them. He was just glad to see her again, since he got to see her so infrequently. Telling the same little white lie over and over again was just a small price to pay. Just like his having to visit the city every two weeks was. Twice every two weeks, actually, once to pick her up, and once to deliver her back to her mother’s.

David was already driving off, not giving either of them enough time to start on their normal pleasantries, as he’d attempt to discover what she’d been up to, while she’d dance around the answer, trying to distract him by asking about what he’d been up to in the country.

As he sped off, he almost ran into an old bearded man who suddenly crossed in front of him with little warning. The guy, wearing a dirty T-shirt and jeans, and bearing a scruffy thick white beard and long hair, had just appeared out of nowhere, not looking where he was going, staring off into the sky as if he had nothing better to do; like possibly looking where he was going.

David, his frustrations with the city finally getting the better of him, leaned on the horn, announcing his irritation with the world and at this one man in particular. It seems that some things you learn in the city you never outgrow, and mild road rage is one of them.

The old man, deep wrinkles etched on his face, glared at David even through his tinted windows. Turning and staring straight at him, he flipped him the bird, then made an unmistakable throat slitting motion across his own throat, then pointed into the sky, the same position in the sky he’d been staring in before. David, growing even more impatient and frustrated, simply flipped him off in return as he sped away from him.

“What was that about?” Alice asked from the back seat, as she watched the crazy old man disappear behind them.

“I have no idea. Some crazy old coot that’s been living in the city for too long. The bad air has probably rotted his brain,” David said, still venting some of his anger.

“But what was he trying to tell you?” she asked, as if she expected every deluded person she encountered on the street to have a perfectly sensible and well formulated explanation for their behavior.

“I have no idea. From the looks of it, he wanted me to fuck off and die, in that order,” David answered a bit more honestly than he’d intended.

“But what does the sky have to do with it?” Alice asked, innocently.

“I have no clue, dear. Sometimes you can’t expect crazy people to make sense.”

“Well, I’m not sure he was crazy,” she answered with a sense of certainty. “He looked more like an old movie version of God, or at least some prophet, marching off to his own mountain top.”

“Well, if he’s looking for a mountain top, he’s in the wrong place. And if he doesn’t stop staring at the sky like that, he’s likely to end up under someone’s truck, and somehow, I doubt that will spread much goodwill among mankind.”

However, instead of getting upset at her father’s anger, she merely giggled, always amused at how he managed to twist things around, and always looked at things with an odd nuanced eye. She knew he had his own view of the world, and often didn’t understand anyone who didn’t think the way that he did, but she knew his heart was in the right place.

“I don’t know. I don’t think he was being mean. I just think he was looking for something and just got mad, just like you did, when he couldn’t find it.”

David quickly glanced at her reflection in his rearview mirror, and her easy smile instantly melted his frustration, at least for a couple of moments. It wouldn’t truly melt until they were finally well away from the city. But still, it was nice being able to view the world in such simple terms. That was what he worked so hard trying to achieve, and was one of the things for which he’d always hated the city: the inability to sustain such a simplistic and optimistic view of the world.

They continued on out of the city without saying much else, as David concentrated on traffic, and Alice simply glanced out the window at all the sights and people around them, humming a happy song as they went.

Chapter 1 »