Sunday 15 May 2022

Nine - Alpha - Short Story by Dennis Williamson


Nine - Alpha

- Short Story by Dennis Williamson

"Do you ever shut the fu-" Sam found himself muttering.

    "...and you know, for the six years I've been w-o-r-k-i-n-g this guard post, I have this-
eh, call it a 'r-i-t-u-a-l,' where I try to rea-ch back in-to the past, ya know, and, uh..."
Sam couldn't stand the way Officer Dean would always pause in mid-sentence.  It was the kind of pause that allowed for one to walk -not run- down to the breakroom, casually swipe the debit, and then return back to the lookout, a cold Coke in hand, with Deano none the wiser.  It was only 11:15 am and already Sam was parched.  But before he could stand, Deano had already hurried back from whatever corner of his head he'd retreated to and began right where he'd broken off.
   "...I c-o-mmune with some dis-em-bodi-ed soul who in life was in a profess-ion a lot like ours.  And you know where I us-ua-lly go to?"

Sam could only shrug.  He'd been employed with the company for only two months, and this was his seventh post assignment with Officer Dean Nicholson.  "Scrabble" Nicholson, as the other guards would call him, because of the manner in which he'd pronounce certain words; like he was pulling the letters, the syllables out of a crinkly brown paper bag in some board game.  It was also his thought "process."  He seemed to be working around an earlier head trauma.  Or, was it a mild type of autism?  In any case, Nicholson was ever up on high in watchtower 9-A, and the general assumption was that up there he was less likely to cause new hires to quit after the first week.  But woe unto anyone who had to pull a shift with him.  Any of the gated access points where traffic was heaviest, and every vehicle subject to inspection, would've been preferable to watchtower duty.  During morning roll call, invariably, a groan or sigh would be heard from whichever security officer was stuck with Nicholson on those days he was scheduled to man 9-A.  And, invariably, Deano worked his full forty a week, never taking advantage of vacation time.  So every officer could be sure of having to work with him at least one or two days out of the week.  Yet, he had no family; no wife and kids.  And given his travels were purely internal, 'ritual,' one really couldn't picture Officer Dean Nicholson fishing in Montana in October, or sitting by some pool in Fort Lauderdale in July.
   "No, Deano, where to?" Sam was the easily irritated type of guy, but that didn't mean he was devoid of some sympathy.
   "I go to that place in Sc-otland.  It's called Ha-dri-an's Wall.  Those Ro-mans built it, ya know?"
   " Yeah, I've heard of it.  I've even seen it on TV. "
   "Oh, b-ut did you ever see it wi-th the Ro-mans there?"
   " Oh, Jesus! "  At this point Sam was practically praying for another pause where Deano wouldn't see him steal off for the stairwell.  Not that Sam would register as a son of a bitch in his coworker 's eyes.  Maybe it was that Sam didn't want to see himself that way.  All his life, Sam Mooring had only made a living, but he'd never made it big.  It was something that bothered him, too.  Before he could even get out of the university with a bachelor's, he was forced to drop out and care for a single father who was on his way out of this world- just not fast enough.  Sam didn't hold that against him though, at least not until the summer of his passing.  His father had raised him from the time he was a runt until he was college boy.  Good fucking thing for him Sam was the only  "little bastard" ( his mother's own term of endearment for him) and his wife produced.   The mother?  Well, who the fuck was she?  Sam didn't have the chance to find out really because one morning, about a month shy of his fourth birthday, his Ma met with an act of God; in a word, suicide.  No sooner was her Catholic funeral over and done with than the advice came rolling in: "Please, you gotta put Sam up for adoption.  Take him to Catholic Charities.  The boy needs a family, foster brothers!" His old man didn't have the heart though.  All his adult life he'd only wanted a son.  A son he'd name Sam.  There were no foster siblings then, but there were babysitters at night; bullies on the playground in daylight.  When Sam took a minute to think about it, no wonder he went into security.  All his life he'd been guarded- by his father.  By a kindly old priest.  And, of course, he'd guarded himself.  Nobody got into him.  Eventually, even his Pop wasn't allowed into his innermost self.  In the years that followed his mother's untimely death, it was all he had to cherish.  It was from that safe place within ('the Jerusalem of my shadow ') Sam saw the pattern play out.  It was one where everything he wanted, every dream he spent hours  nurturing, was taken from him, and  given to others.  Given to them by God.  Finally, one Sunday while knelt in prayer, Sam couldn't help but say aloud during Mass, "Ya know, I ain't dreaming just to see You reap them for all those assholes out there.  Where's the fucking eucharist I'm due?  The bread, as in money; the wife I want; the six-figure job; ALL THAT?"  The priest and the parishioners couldn't help but overhear, and the sound of his footsteps right out the door for good was the last memory Sam had of church.  What he couldn't remember, was the last time he dreamt of success.  Of anything.  He made a vow after to tell God to go to hell- he would never allow Him to give a dream of his to another!  For that, God gave him a rosary of shit jobs and squalid apartments.  When he wasn't at home lining up empty beer bottles for roll call, he was in some scat task or another, and damn it if he wasn't in it with mystic misfits.  Misfits, alright.  Like Deano.
Deano's lips were still moving, but whatever he was saying Sam couldn't hear it.  It was a curious silence that occurred when Sam would sit motionless and let his ire take him by the hand. He'd walk back down the piss-stained and fissured pavement of his life.  He'd go back, seeing familiar faces in those stains.  They'd stare back at him, sometimes sympathetic; oftentimes in mockery.  He might become a stain himself, after jumping from watchtower 9-A.  Nine-Alpha.  It's when the thought crossed his mind that an unseen dog's barking chased it off.  How was that, though?  The security company he was currently employed with didn't use dogs.  So where the fuck was it?

He could never see the dog.  Not for the life of him.  One thing he could see now: a second mouth on Deano.  Or so it appeared to Sam.  It was Cheshire slash right along Deano's throat.  The same slash he'd seen on a multitude of gullets, and from which he'd always derived solace.  There was a reconciliation in that redness, with himself.  Almost since the day he'd left the comfortable sanctuary of the university libraries for the coffee and flatulence -scented offices of managers and shift supervisors, nothing of the world ever really made any sense.  There was sense in the volumes of Gibbon and Byron, but not on sales floors, photo labs, or, more recently, in guard shacks.  All he knew was that there'd once been a door open to him, as wide as an Atlas printed in 1919 that he so admired; a door that was later slammed shut in his face.  He knew who to blame, and His name was on the tongues of all those Sunday worshippers whose gossip and innuendos resumed the following Monday at work.  That's when the silence began, and the spectacle of deep wounds that were his alone to find comfort in, like so many of the old books before.  Other things made sense as well.  Like the dust kicked up by hob nailed sandals of Roman soldiers at the Crucifixion.  Cherry blossoms, where the  abominations of his youthful nightmares would gather to eat stolen chocolate, they made sense.  And so did ice picks and rope.  And the... lightning.  He recalled the time when the aged prelate of his childhood parish told him that "lightning was God's signature."
   "I may not cradle dreams," he heard himself saying -no, praying -"but that does not mean the lightning can write me off.   May the lightning that inscribed me never kiss me. "
   Pause.  Deano had turned his back to Sam.  The wind gusts which had been particularly strong all morning tousled his already wavy hair, and it was then that Sam caught sight of something.  It was undeniably a Lichtenberg.  God's signature was on Dean's scalp.  It was also in his voice.  The "ligh-tning." The word from his fellow officer's lips replaced the barking, and Sam immediately started gritting his teeth.  'To you.  It was to you. '

Seven years ago, Sam had, against his resolution, succumbed to the fumes of fancy one last time.  Home from a Christmas evening shift, he'd settled onto his bed with the box of sundry mementos he'd carried with him from one address to another.  They were the tangible proof that his existence was, hypothetically, something to speak of.  Sifting through the musky cardboard box was his ritual, and he did whenever he seemed to be in doubt about his life: had he indeed been born, or was he angelic fabrication?  Among the items was the worn copy of the bible that his mother's priest, himself equally worn, had given him shortly after her burial.  He opened it at random, as only laymen do, and found he was in 1 Samuel... no, he realized in that moment.  It couldn't have been random.  He focused on the faded print and read of the Sorceress of Endor; of her raising the prophet Samuel from the dead.  'Perhaps not born, but summoned,' he mused.  He immediately thought of the parents, and the priest, now all gathered unto the same God who'd stolen every single hope of his and given them to others less deserving.  It didn't take long before Sam had the reverie in swaddling and laying in its manger.  He would find a way to talk to the dead, such as he had seen in so many TV documentaries.  When a man, he mused, lives only for the next shift, with never another soul to slap him on the back and acknowledge him as "friend," then dialogue with the dead is only- natural?  Natural, or unnatural, as a devout apostate what was the fucking difference?  And it took him those seven years to at last call it quits, as he'd quit a litany of shitty, dead end jobs.  Sam Mooring, he concluded, was a dead end.

   Here, up on high; up on high Nine-Alpha, was confronted with the long elusive truth of his existence: he was an author -a ghost writer - under whose work God affixed his signature with each storm that sent Sam down the circuit of his rosary.  It was clearly affixed to the skull of Deano Nicholson.  'The place on his skull.  Friends, Romans...Golgotha, I've come home!'

   How high was watchtower 9-A?  It had to have been far more than three times Sam's height, and he was six foot one.  It was high enough, and he would have to hurry.  Hurry, before Deano turned around and made to stop him.  Hurry, as the silence was retreating and Deano's voice slowly could be heard by Sam's ears again. 
   "I j-ust spoke to one w-ho said he st-ood on Gil-bo-a when Sam-u-..."
   "Shut the fuck up, Deano! " Sam at last shouted.  Loud enough to draw attention from some of the officers below, as they witnessed Sam -Officer Sam Mooring - climbing over the guardrail of watchtower 9-A.  It didn't take ten seconds before the shouts from that industrial valley went up.  The panic, and the perfunctory pleas.  The silence had now completely deserted Sam, but it didn't matter.  The wind gusts were still strong, and they drowned out those who were about to bear witness from their posts.  They would see not so much a plunge, but a summoning.   Sam smiled at the sound of barking.  He knew he was heading back to where the hell hounds were.  Back to the pit of the dispossessed, where the lightning would not deign to kiss.  Dispossessed by kings and empires; really, dispossessed by God.  That was where Sam belonged.  No need for dreams and ambitious there.  One only needed the gift of the dead man's song.  Sam knew he had that.  And Sam would have sung as he took his fall -his exit- through the nine orbits to a new beginning, were it not robbed from him by the easterly winds that carried off.  It would be the last thing God robbed him of.  Besides, as Sam realized before the cradle of ground zero, he was still parched. 'Is there a vending machine down in Judecca?'

Dennis Williamson (also writing and published under the pseudonym Dennis Villelmi) is co-editor and interviewer for the webzine The Bees Are Dead.  His poems have appeared in such publications as DEAD SNAKES, Peeking Cat Poetry, Duane's Poe Tree, and Horror Sleaze Trash.  Mr. Williamson lives in the mountains of the American South.

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