Looking out over the destruction, I wonder to myself, “What have I done?” Granted, I can’t take full responsibility for it all. I had help in the oddest manner. I think back to how it all began…
“Hey! Give me a hand here.”
I was tempted to give the age old clap, but one look at the grizzled old man made me second guess that action. It wasn’t the cigar dangling from the corner of his mouth, tattoo across his bare chest, but the way he glared at me. It’s hard to describe what the look meant, but I recall that same look from my father – usually after doing something wrong.
“What do you need there, buddy?” I asked, weary of his response.
“What I need is someone who’s not afraid to use his back bone or get his hands dirty.”
I looked down at my hands. No one would’ve ever accused me of having dirty hands. I tried to hide my manicured hands, but the old-timer just stared.
I cleared my throat and stepped forward. “I suppose I could see what you need help with.” I knew my voice lacked authority, or even strength, but I had said it aloud.
“Afraid to commit?” He blew out a blue puff of cigar smoke. “I suppose that’s the problem with you kids these days.”
“Kid?” I thought crossly, “Who’s this old buzzard calling kid?”
Before I could voice my displeasure, the old man tossed something small at me. I caught it with a single hand, and when I opened my palm, a shiny coin was revealed.
“What’s this?” I asked, rubbing the coin between my fingers. I opened my mouth to inquire more, but my reflection in the gold stopped me. I could’ve been mistaken, but the coin featured a bust that looked mysteriously like the old man. It would have been years ago – he looked too old to fit on a coin – especially with his crazy wispy hair.
“Ahh…” he rasped, “you see it.”
“I see it, but I don’t know what it means…” I stammered, unafraid.”
“Keep it,” he declared. “I have plenty of those. It’s yours even if you decide not to help me.” He looked out to the sea. “I guess that’s the price of doing business these days.”
I detected the sadness in his voice, but wasn’t about to comment on it, lest I miss my opportunity. Instead, I said, “Lead the way.”
* * *
I’ve been helping you for six years now, James.”
“Aye, lad. It’s been a glorious six years at that.”
“Do you trust me?” I asked, trying not to let the frustration into my voice. I tried my most serious frown, but I hoped he saw the twinkle in my eye.
James dropped the net he was mending and walked the scant paces that separated us. It couldn’t’ve been many paces; the boat was only eighty feet long. He placed his arm around my shoulders and after a long drag on the cigar that seemed to be an extension of his face, he exhaled dual plumes from his nostrils. “I reckon I do trust you, Steve. Why do you ask?”
I walked toward the stern and stood next to a red door. I jerked my thumb over my shoulder and called out. “It’s this door!”
“What about it?”
“I’ve never been through it.”
“I don’t know if you’re ready for this door.” James had traversed the boat and stood next to me by the door.
“I assure you, I am,” I retorted.
“If you’re not,” James replied, “It’ll mean the end of us all.”
I scoffed and thrust out my chin. “I’m ready.”
James grabbed a key from around his neck. I thought he would do the unlocking with the key, but he simply placed his hand against the door. I felt rather than heard a low hum. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the other side of the door. There were steps leading down – too far to be contained within the boat.
I followed the steps down. I must’ve walked down nine or ten flights of steps before I came to the bottom – and another door.
I placed my hand against it as James had, and I felt the same hum.
I found myself on the other side of the door and at the top of a precipice.
Now I find myself at the beginning of the story. The destruction is all I can see. The destruction would be the end of the story, but in reality, it’s just the beginning.
Here’s the rest of my story…