I painted this while thinking about my next story. It is my impression of an image I saw on foodandtravel.mx.
I’m nursing a cold today. To relax, I painted my impression of Yosemite Valley using a photo by Perry Foutch.
George notices the sky and the ocean turning red as he cleans the grill grate. He leaves the task and straightens up as if he just decided firmly that the chore can wait. He turns his body toward the setting sun and stands with his arms crossed across his chest. He looks at the back of his wife’s head as she leans against the wall of the pool. Her brown hair shines and he admires the bun she used to tie it up so it does not get wet. He watches his ten-year-old girl jump into the deep end of the pool, swim back to the edge, climb out, and jump in again. He watches his five-year-old son sitting on the grass inflating a pool toy. The air leaves the toy almost as fast as he can blow it in. George takes a deep breath, notes his full stomach, and is glad he decided to rent a beach house instead of taking his family to a hotel for this vacation.
George looks out again at the sun, sky, and ocean. He takes in the colors of the sunset. The reds and their intensity shock him. He suddenly feels like something bad is going to happen. The change from peace to foreboding makes him feel unreasonable – a trait he does not like in people. He tries to force the feeling away by studying the seascape intently and making an effort to appreciate its colors.
As he stares at the distant sky, he believes he notices a flock of birds. However, the objects are flying too steadily to be birds. Their formation is too regular. He listens closely to help confirm a suspicion, but the ocean is too loud. However, it does not matter. The objects are moving so fast they have gotten close enough for him to see they are drones.
George uncrosses his arms and stands with his arms at his side and fists against his thighs. He looks at the drones with squinting eyes. His lips are small and compressed in anger. He wants privacy. He does not want photos or video of his family to show up on some television show or on the web. He turns and stomps across the deck, swings the door open, picks up his mobile, and pokes the password to unlock the screen. He tries to open a search engine to find the number for the local police, but an error message tells him he does not have communication services.
As George tries again, he can hear the drones clearly. He hears faint screams. He looks out at his family. They are looking in the direction of the drone swarm, but the screams are not coming from them. He goes to the door to ask everyone to come inside until the drones leave. As he opens the door and pokes his head outside, he sees a small drone make a deliberate suicidal crash into his wife’s head. As he runs out to her; a larger drone picks up his son, carries him up to a height above the two-story house, and drops him. He lands in the deep end of the pool just missing the concrete walkway surrounding it. George runs past his daughter, who is running into the house with her bleeding mother, and dives into the pool. His son’s fight to climb him to get air is a relief. He pulls him to the side of the pool and they both climb out. George picks up his son again and carries him across the deck and toward the door leading into the house. A drone makes a deliberate suicidal crash attempt, but only just misses and breaks apart against the outer wall of the house.
George takes his son to the master bedroom. His wife is in the bathroom looking into the mirror and treating the open wound on her head. He puts his son on the bed and looks him over. His son is crying, but he looks alright. George asks his daughter to get a towel for her little brother. She does not hear him because she is standing at the window looking out at a neighborhood under attack. It is twilight and difficult to see people, but the drones have lights on them. She says it looks like drones are hurting people. He can hear screams and yelling coming from the street.
As George opens his mouth to ask his daughter to step away from the window, she dives to the side. A drone crashes through the glass. George grabs a lamp. The room darkens when the lamp cord unplugs from the wall. He raises the heavy lamp above his head and bashes the drone into pieces. His wife pulls the kids into the hallway as he stands over the destroyed drone. He is breathing heavily after the effort and stares at the pieces on the ground feeling surprise, anger, and confusion. He hears doors slamming shut and leaves the room to join his family.
Everyone is sitting in the hallway in its decorative low illumination. George’s wife is holding their son who is sobbing. He asks his daughter if she is alright and if she has any glass in her feet from the broken window. She says she pulled out a small piece a minute ago and the cut is not too bad. She is being brave and he gives her a hug. He asks her if she has a phone with her. She does not. His wife volunteers that she does not have one either. He looks at her head and it has not stopped bleeding. He asks everyone to wait in the hall while he goes downstairs to call the police.
George runs downstairs. He spots his phone on the kitchen floor. He grabs it. The screen is shattered, but he is able to unlock it. He dials 9-1-1 and hits send. As it rings, he goes to the foyer and looks out of the house through the thick windows beside the door. There are drones in pieces all over the ground. He looks toward the sky. He sees no drone lights in the air. He continues to look around as far as the windows allow him to see. The phone continues to ring, but he drops the arm holding the phone away from his ear. He lets the phone slip out of his hands and slip to the ground. He thinks he sees people lying on the ground, but it is too dark outside to tell.
George opens the front door and walks out to check on the figures he saw. It is quiet. He can hear the ocean behind him. He scans the torn up neighborhood. Other front doors are opening. More people, from other families on vacation, come out to survey the neighborhood. They look at each other with the same question written all over their faces, ‘What just happened?’
George hears sirens in the distance. Someone is getting help. He hears a vehicle approaching. Someone is coming to help them. A large military vehicle comes around the corner and illuminates the neighborhood with its bright lights. Its large tires crush the pieces of the drones on the street. Friendly soldiers march along with it. They check on people in the street. Medics run into homes. He suddenly feels like something bad is no longer going to happen. He does not try to change his sudden feeling of peace.
My world was cold. All of it. I left my home, against my family’s advice, to find a warmer place. They told me, ‘Louie, you’re not going to find anything.’ They were right if they were talking about a warmer place. I didn’t find it. I walked and walked, but it was winter everywhere. I did, however, find other things.
I don’t know where all the people went. I didn’t see as many people out there as all of the empty houses suggested there were once. Many of the houses were wonderful, but nobody could live in them. They were too far from other things needed to survive. The houses that were in good locations were in terrible shape for reasons known too long ago to matter to me. Anyway, I walked for days without seeing anyone.
One day months later, I was tired of walking and finding nothing. I stopped for a couple of hours to build a shelter with blocks of snow I cut out of the ground with my hunting knife. It was bitterly cold that day, so I made a small fire inside of the shelter in the evening to warm it up a little before going to sleep. The glow of the shelter in the dark night must have been inviting to someone looking at it from the outside.
The next morning, I woke up to either a boy or a young woman and a dog sleeping with me in my shelter. I could only tell it was a person because he or she was facing away from me. No matter, I was surprised to say the least. I learned why the person was not afraid to crawl into a shelter with someone: when I reached over to wake the person, the dog swiftly put himself between us and threatened me with a low growl. I reached for my knife, but I did not need it. The person, a boy, rolled over to face me and asked his dog, Charles, to stand down.
I asked the boy why he was in my shelter. He said he was cold and didn’t know how to build one for himself. He said that he and Charles had been following me for a few days. After watching me, they decided it would be safe to meet me. He said his name was Clarence.
After that, they stayed with me. Clarence, the boy, and Charles, the dog, were good hunters. The dog’s powerful sense of smell was especially helpful for finding our prey. One thing people learned to do since the world had gone cold was to share with each other. So, I ate better since the pair joined me in my travels. I showed the boy how to make shelters and shared a few other things I knew.
I didn’t count the days we spent walking together looking for that unknown warmer place, but it was a significant amount. We got to know each other well. The boy had to fend for himself for so long that he was too mature for his age. For that reason, I wasn’t like a father or a big brother to him despite the difference in our ages. So, we were friends.
One day, the three of us saw a shelter growing larger than we expected as we approached it. We got as close as we could to estimate that the shelter was large enough for 10 people. Most people in our world had been softened and made friendly by the never-ending winter, but not all. We had to be cautious. Even Charles had enough sense not to bark or run off.
We watched the shelter from a distance to see what we might be dealing with. We saw a couple of older men exit the shelter. Then, we saw a couple of older women. After a while, they were called in by a woman who seemed to suddenly spawn two miniature versions that ran away from her legs and had to be chased down. Seeing children was a good sign, but we couldn’t be hasty – especially after a man stepped out of the shelter to join the older men.
As Clarence and I discussed taking the long way around to avoid the shelter and being seen, we heard someone behind us ask; ‘Why are you watching us?’ We turned to find that the question came from a young girl about Clarence’s age who was armed with a spear that was pointed at us. The abilities of people who survived in this world were not to be underestimated, so we took the girl and her spear seriously. She took turns pointing the spear at us as our minds calculated whether fight or flight would be more likely to get us out of this situation. When I noticed Charles was not growling, I relaxed a little and asked the girl to take us to her father. She seemed relieved too and led us to the shelter, but she didn’t lower the spear.
The shelter belonged to a family group. The way their social system worked, I had to explain our situation to all of them. My task of explaining why we were watching them would have been simpler if the two children had not been pestering Charles the entire time I tried to speak. I think the family was more convinced that we were good people by Charles’s not biting the children than by any part of my explanation. They invited us to stay with them until we were ready to continue our journey.
After a couple of days, I decided to continue my search without Clarence. The family had watched quietly as Clarence and the girl, Olivia, hunted together. The young pair thought of nothing, but the task, and got along wonderfully as friends. Her father, however, looked sideways at me once in a way I could tell he was thinking about his family’s future. Another good hunter would add to the group’s safety and security. They were good people and I could not deny my friend basic and psychological needs for a good life.
I planned to talk to everyone involved one at a time until there was agreement. First, I tried to speak to the father privately about taking in Clarence. Naturally, everyone gathered around us to hear what I had to say. Instead of the series of conversations I planned, we had a single open discussion. I expected Clarence to protest and erupt with strong adolescent feelings of betrayal and abandonment, but the look on his face said he hoped the family would accept him. They did.
The father asked me to stay out of kindness. I knew if I did, I would disrupt the harmony of the group. The next day, I left without Clarence. Out of everyone there, I believe my heart was the heaviest. After me, Charles may have been saddest to break up our trio. I would like to think that Charles grew to like me best and left with me for that reason. The truth is more likely that he was tired of the little kids pulling on his ears.
I painted this watercolor of an elementary school while thinking up the next bedtime story. In Magical realism, magic forms a part of ordinary life.
My youngest son was excited to go out for a walk with his two older brothers alone for the first time. I gave my boys the conditions of that Saturday afternoon’s freedom as they scrambled to put on their winter coats, boots, gloves, and hats. They were to stay together, be home before sunset, and stay away from the shed if for any reason they were still out in the woods after dark.
My middle child froze for a moment and then scanned his older brother’s face to see if he caught him being scared. He had not. My oldest boy was lacing his boots and, without looking up, agreed aloud with an OK whose pitch ascended on the O and descended on the K. My youngest son looked up to at me with apprehension and asked why they should stay away from the shed.
I had not told him the story before, so I told him while he bundled up. A long time ago, all of the land around us as far as we could see belonged to one family. The farmer intended to cultivate all of the land; but his wife died giving birth to their second daughter, Anna. The farmer had more to do with less help than he had planned, so he only used a small portion of the land for crops and the rest of it remained a forest.
One January, after a few years had passed and Anna was about preschool age, a warm front moved in and chased the freezing air away. It was beautiful outside that day. Mary, the oldest girl, and Anna had been kept inside of the house by freezing temperatures for more than a month already that winter. They expected to be trapped inside the house for many more cold months, so they were excited to get out of it. Mary prepared a picnic basket and Anna prepared her doll.
That afternoon, the girls left the house for their picnic without telling their father. They walked past the fields and into the woods to eat their dinner among the trees. Since the day was so warm, the top of the ground had thawed and become muddy. They did not want to set their blanket down on mud. Mary told Anna that they would picnic by the creek where they could lay their blanket over large flat stones.
The girls guessed at the general direction of the creek and hiked through the leaves and mud on the forest floor to it. They eventually found the creek, but the section of the creek at which they first arrived was not rocky or dry. So, they walked along the side of the creek until they found a good dry spot. They set up their blanket, had dinner, and played by the creek for a while.
Mary noticed that it was getting dark. She gathered up their belongings as Anna told her doll about the animals found near the creek. Once she packed everything, she grabbed her little sister’s hand and scanned the woods for a path. She did not see one. She pulled her sister along the shore of the creek hoping to find a path back into the woods, but did not find one. Holding her little sister’s hand harder than she intended, Mary walked briskly up and down the edge of the woods trying to find a familiar landmark. Everything was unfamiliar to her. The girls were lost.
As Mary thought hard about what they should do, the sun set. The temperature dropped. The beautiful day that had welcomed them outdoors was abandoning them there. The wind started to blow. Mary guessed at the general direction of their home, took Anna’s cold little hand, and led them into the woods.
It was darker in the woods than at the creek. The sun was gone. The temperature’s drop accelerated. Despite their brisk pace, Mary and Anna were cold. The wind bit at their exposed skin. They began to trip over roots and other things they could not see on the forest floor.
The girls found a shed and went inside to get shelter from the wind. Anna shivered violently and began to cry. Mary cried too, but kept quiet. Anna thought they were close to home because of the shed, but Mary did not recognize it. Anna became desperate and tried to leave to find the way home. Mary had to pull her back into the shed and hold her tightly so she could not get out again. When Anna calmed down, Mary gave her whatever spare clothes she had on to help keep her warm. Thinking only of Anna, Mary wrapped her in the picnic blanket and held her tightly to both keep her warm and keep her from leaving the shelter of the shed.
A search party found the girls the next morning. Anna needed medical attention, but survived. Mary did not make it.
The story about the girls, as everyone tells it, was based on the way the sheriff had reconstructed and documented what happened.
The people who lived near the shed learned more. They found out that Mary’s ghost haunted the shed. On windy days, the doors swung back and forth; but on windy nights, they closed tightly on their own. Children avoided walking by the shed when it was cold and dark. Mary grabbed those that did not as they walk by, pulled them in, and held them inside of it all night like she held Anna.
I painted this watercolor while thinking up the next bedtime story. It’s a little too happy for a scary story – even for a five-year-old.