A Horror Epic for These Troubled Times
Over 10 years in the making, The Greatest Show on Earth is Tres Crow's most personal story yet. It's epic scope and grand sweep of characters belies a thoughtful and provocative character-driven story that upsets the well-trodden landscape of Armageddon. The Greatest Show on Earth uses the end of the world as a backdrop for intertwining stories about the difficulty of being alive and the mania which defines our experiences.
Taking the form of a loosely-tied braid, the novel starts with a cast of seemingly disconnected characters—Josh Stone, a husband and father who blames himself for the loss of his only child; Katrina Freeman, a teenager whose dying mother leaves a horrifying legacy; and Chuck Gardner, a homeless alcoholic on the up—and slowly weaves their disparate lives tighter and tighter until they are terminally bound, forced to confront those things they’d spent their whole lives running from.
At once heartrending and joyous, novel and familiar, visceral and dreamy, The Greatest Show on Earth describes the human spirit in all its broken and beautiful glory. It's the cast of Ennet House from Infinite Jest placed in the apocalypse of Wendig's Wanderers" or Stephen King's The Stand. There are no heroes. There are no easy villains. There are only very flawed people, caught up in something much larger than themselves, trying to find meaning in a circus of unwitting performers and antagonistic carnival staff. The Greatest Show on Earth turns the end of all things into a celebratory vision of humanity’s greatest failure, but also our greatest victory.
The Greatest Show on Earth is set for digital release only in October, 2020.
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Read the First Chapter
Josh Stone stood and kissed his wife's forehead. Her skin and hair tasted familiar, alternately salty and earthy, like the ocean slamming against rocks. But slowly another note emerged, antiseptic, clinical, as though her very pores had finally begun to accept the harsh, neon light and sterilized walls of the hospital. It was a smell that was as foreign to her as it was obscene.
Every time he came to visit her, the smell was stronger, the hospital filling her, slowly replacing everything Josh remembered with a white-washed replica. A stand-in.
She smiled at him the way she always did now, a glowing veneer spread over an unfocused sadness. He patted her hand and tried to smile back.
"I'll see you next week." He said it like a sentence passed down; every week for three years. She covered his hand with her other one and nodded, her eyes growing distant as she sunk inside herself.
He pulled himself free, and turned to head out the door, one hand on the knob.
"Oh! Josh! Remind me next week to tell you about my plans for Darlene's party," she called cheerfully, but for Josh her voice was like forks through wet paper. "It's almost December already. Wow. I can't believe our little girl's going to be three. I better be out of here by then. Don't let me forget, Joshua. Promise?"
He couldn't look at her. His face was a frozen grin, humorless and terrifying. He took a moment to control his voice. After almost three years there was no going back.
“Sure, Lina. I'll remind you."
Then he opened the door and left the room. In the hallway his face collapsed, became unknowable, his skin taut over the sharp bones of his face. There were black pools under his eyes; He hadn't slept well for a very long time. He stuffed his hands in his pockets if only to hide their shaking, and drifted over to the nurses' stand.
"Hello, Mr. Stone. How's your wife feeling today?" asked the nurse cheerily, her tone indicating she had no idea what she was really asking. She was an automaton, programmed to ask the same questions, conditioned to express banal empathy.
"The same," said Josh. "Tell Dr. Richards she's still talking about the birthday party. Will you?"
"Yes, sir. Will you be back next week?"
He hesitated then said, "Always."
She offered him a smile, which he didn't return.
The late November air was bitterly cold, even for Michigan. The wind had been howling around the clock for weeks now, picking up steam across the great nothingness of Minnesota and Wisconsin before crossing Lake Michigan where it acquired the snow-wet bite that seemed especially reserved for West Michigan winters. Josh tightened his coat but the wind had fingers, and they prodded and poked, found the holes in his clothes and chilled him to his soul. His teeth clicked together. His eyes watered, if only to keep from freezing in his skull.
He'd made the decision to walk the mile from his small house on Grand Avenue to the hospital when the sun was still up—it was one of the few benefits of living in a small town; he could walk most everywhere—but now that night had fallen hard and the wind was high, he regretted the decision. He breathed in deep and the smell of winter choked him. It was brassy, lonely, strangely comforting. It was a smell he’d never known before moving here. The air in Detroit never quite achieved the same metal-tack tang, the same longing, the same sense of impending death or ending of things. At first he’d hated it, but like most things it began to suit him, like junk piling up in a back room that soon just becomes part of the scenery.
He turned onto Grand and headed up the long, steady hill that lead to his small, two bedroom cottage, and beyond that, to the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. The wind tumbled down the hill and flapped his coat behind him. He stuffed his hands deeper into his pockets, braced himself. He walked faster. He was only a few blocks away from his house.
At the top of the hill he could see the last bend in the road, as Grand Avenue turned into Harbor and hugged the lakeshore for a short while before tracing the line of the Grand River back to downtown. Through the trees he could see the moon reflected on the glass of the frozen lake, and despite the chill he stopped for a moment and watched the pale mirage on the ice. It glimmered like air over black top. There were no stars in the sky. The moon hung lonely there, surrounded on all sides by emptiness. It occurred to Josh that maybe he and the moon both could use some company this night. He decided to go down to the beach, winter be damned. The beach seemed as good a place to do this as any. The cold would probably help.
It had been his idea to move to Grand Haven. The place had been like a dream to him, something he remembered from long ago, a scene from a movie, a lyric from a forgotten song. Lina was pregnant with Darlene and each passing day Detroit seemed larger and yet more desolate, like a withering skeleton with opened arms. The logistics were simple: Lina had already decided to quit her teller job at the bank and Josh worked from home, fixing code on shitty corporate software, they had equity in their house, etc.
He’d visited Grand Haven once, when he was ten. It had been the last (and only) family trip before his dad had left his mom for Carol and then spent the better part of the next decade losing shitty jobs and drinking himself into a liver-bursting stupor. But that one weekend in Grand Haven had stuck with Josh, burnished in his memory with the sort of honeyed glow reserved for favorite songs and first blowjobs. The beach, the riverfront, the ribbon of boardwalk that ran lock and step with the river before stabbing into Lake Michigan, all of it, vibrated in his mind. He carried that memory with him into adulthood, the mostly bullshit idea that there existed someplace magical in this world where you could walk somewhere that wasn’t a liquor store, where you could stand next to a lake that seemed big enough to be an ocean, and feel the breeze off the water and smell fish on the air.
He’d never actually been back, but those memories were the first things that came to his mind when their neighbor wound up shot in the stomach and bleeding on their front stoop, and he’d held the guy, bathed in alternating red and blue police lights, and his neighbor’s blood seeping through his t-shirt. He made up his mind quickly. The only fatherly thing he could do, the only thing that was really in his control, was to get the hell out of that place and make sure his daughter grew up never knowing a damn thing about the sting of fists and the metallic tang of blood or the way gunshots sound funny and exhilarating like firecrackers, until the screaming starts.
Lina’d put up more of a fight than he’d expected. Her family and friends were in Detroit. She’d never been anywhere else. It seemed stupid to her to move to some uppity lake town where they didn’t know anybody just because Josh had some glowing memory of eating a ¥-damn corndog when he was ten.
They fought for nearly four months, but then one night, late, three in the morning, Darlene kicked for the first time, and the imprint of her tiny foot pushing against the inside of Lina’s womb had a profound effect on her. Lina was not unmaternal, but she came to accept motherhood more gradually than the pregnancy magazines and the books she’d rented from the library made seem natural. Over the course of her first two trimesters Josh’s obsession with leaving their home, and the mounting pressure of her own apparent maternal ambivalence weighed heavily on her. She worried that she was a monster, that within her was a black abyss which had no room for a child. She was certain that she lacked something elemental with which all mothers were born, but which she was inexplicably missing. She began to worry that truly loving someone other than herself was something that she would never be able to accomplish. She was being tested and she was failing miserably.
But when Darlene planted her tiny foot sharp into Lina’s side everything changed. It was like waking up. It was like someone had been slowly turning down the lights and Lina hadn’t even realized how deeply in the dark she was until right then, when the lights were turned back on. She’d laid there in the bed, pressing back against the little person growing inside of her, and there was a moment when Darlene’s foot pressed even harder against her fingers, and Lina, she’d closed her eyes and felt the spark she’d been missing all that time, starting small, then consuming her in a passion she couldn’t control. She shook with it. She cried with it.
Josh slept through the whole thing, but the next morning he woke to a wife who inexplicably was more willing to move than the one with which he’d fallen asleep. She made him promise that if she agreed to move and she didn’t like it, he wouldn’t argue, they’d just move back. He agreed.
Selling their 2-bedroom rat hole in Ferndale was about a million times easier than they’d expected, but after moving costs and the real estate agent’s fees there wasn’t enough to put toward a proper down payment on a new house. Josh was insistent they live near the beach, no matter whether they had to rent or live in a shack. In the back of his head he had a vague memory of riding a rented bike full-tilt into the sand and his forward momentum just pitching him into the warm-sheet goodness of the beach and him just lying there and looking up at the sky and the clouds and the endless expanse of the lake, and feeling his toes and his fingers and delighting in them the way only ten year-olds can delight in themselves. And he remembered there’d been a light, brighter than the sun, and there’d been a brilliant flash of white, a feeling so good he couldn’t shake it. This memory possessed him, convinced him that the move would be wasted if they couldn’t find a way to get within walking distance of the beach.
Within weeks they found the perfect place, a small cottage with wooden shingles and a faded pink door less than 200 yards from the beach. They shouldn’t have been able to afford it, but the owner was so desperate to get it off his books before his divorce was final that he was willing to do a lease-purchase and put all of Josh and Lina’s rent toward the down payment. Josh ran the numbers; within a year they would be able to buy the place with a mortgage they could actually afford. They jumped.
Lina was seven months pregnant the day they put the key in that faded pink door, and stepped into a dream come true.
Josh slid the key into the now green door, and shoved with his shoulder. The door stuck as always. He shoved harder. The door screeched open, vibrating on its hinges until it clacked against the wall. He stepped across the darkened threshold and fumbled for the light, and then there were lights and he was walking into the living room, taking off his coat and laying it on the back of a couch that was so covered in layers of clothes and papers and beer cans that there was no space left for sitting. The whole house was like this, garbage strewn everywhere like the skin of some giant snake. His hip bumped a nightstand and more beer cans clattered. He crossed into the kitchen and had to step over a stack of newspapers that nearly rose up to his crotch.
He passed dirty dishes, covered in mold and fruit flies, vying for space in the sink and on the counters and kitchen table. He climbed over more newspaper towers and then he was walking upstairs to the bedrooms. The top of the stairs ended in a thin hallway with three doors opening off of it, two across from each other, Josh’s bedroom and the nursery, and one at the end, a bathroom. He went to the third, and switched on the light. He winced as he always did when the Home Depot sconces on the bathroom walls revealed the granite countertop and well-matched tiles, and the well-matched shower curtain, the indelible Lina-ness of the place. It was the only place in the house that couldn’t be neglected enough to get rid of her. She persisted in the tiles and the toilet and the shower curtain and the faucet.
It had all been her idea, the bathroom, every bit of it, and she’d been so proud of it when she’d finished. She’d insisted that no place could feel like home without a proper bathroom. She’d even installed the faucets and sconces herself, and all of this when she was eight and a half months pregnant. Now the whole thing just gave Josh the willies. Most days he felt like taking a sledge hammer to it, except it was the only bathroom in the house. So, he didn’t.
He went to the sink. It was unavoidable looking at himself in the mirror and once he did he found the hollowed-out image of his own face horribly fascinating. His eyes had been blue once, but now they were just the color of soapy water. His cheek bones were too sharp; his nose, a smokestack rising from the bean field plateau of his forehead. He rubbed his face and the cold of the night lingered there, in his skin. It wouldn’t come off no matter how much he rubbed. He tried on a smile, just to see how it looked on him. It looked false. Of course it did.
He turned his reflection aside and reached into the medicine cabinet that hid behind the mirror. There was a small, orange prescription bottle on one of the shelves. The label said there was Vicodin in the bottle, and he grabbed the bottle and he opened it. There were a lot of pills left. They’d been prescribed by Josh’s doctor a year ago when he’d fallen down drunk and sprained his ankle. He hadn’t used many of them because his ankle hadn’t hurt nearly as bad as he’d let on and also because alcohol was as good for the pain as the pills.
Josh shook out one, two, three pills onto his palm and looked at them for a moment. He looked into his own gray eyes in the mirror and realized exactly where he was for the first time in his life. He’d thought he could escape his dad’s drinking, and his mom’s fucking around, and the bleeding neighbor on his ¥-damn front yard by coming to this tiny town on the edge of the world, but all that stuff had followed him here. It had been inside him the whole time, just waiting to come out. In the mirror his face looked drawn and thin from the effort of squeezing blood from a stone.
He threw all three pills into his mouth and filled his palm with water from the faucet, threw the water in his mouth too, and swallowed the whole mess down. The pills stuck in his throat and he coughed, once, filled his hand with more water and swallowed hard. He closed the bottle and put it in his pocket. He headed back downstairs.
The door to the nursery was open, and he couldn’t help but look as he passed. Moonlight coming through the one window set the room on fire with pale blue flames, illuminated the yellow painted walls, the pink drapery, the shelves covered in stuffed animals, the empty crib. He took a small step into the room. It was the only uncluttered place in the whole house, clean as a museum exhibit, dust coating everything, everything in its right place. He looked at the crib and his chest spasmed and a small sound escaped him. He pressed his hand tightly around the bottle of Vicodin in his pocket. This was the furthest he’d set foot in here for almost three years. The skin of his face drew tight against his skull as he grinned like a wolf.
“Three years,” he said to the darkness and that spasm in his chest choked everything out of him. His escaping breath almost sounded like a laugh.
He retreated down to the kitchen, digging at his eyes as if to shut out some vision. He tripped on one of the piles of newspapers and sent the stack fluttering over the linoleum and under the table. He cursed aloud. He made no attempt to replace the papers. He walked to the refrigerator where an unopened bottle of scotch stood on top amongst the rabble of half-eaten potato chip bags and boxes of Girl Scout cookies. He grabbed the bottle, tested it in his hand, felt the pleasing weight of it.
He’d bought the bottle special for the occasion. He wasn’t much of a liquor guy, but yesterday he’d gone down to Laketown Liquors and asked Billy what was the best bottle of scotch he had in the place. Billy’d scanned the shelves behind him and pulled a thin tube out of a long line of them, and handed the tube to Josh.
“Talisker, 10 year. Good fucking scotch, man,” he’d said. It had been pricey too, but Josh bought it anyway.
He walked back into the living room and put his coat on and buttoned it tight, placing the bottle in one of the inside pockets, where it bulged like a third arm. He rummaged in the front hall closet and pulled out a scarf his mom had given him when he was fourteen. It was silver and blue, the Detroit Lions, perpetual losers. He’d been a huge fan of the Lions when he was a teenager, when he’d thought he was going to be a professional football star. He’d thought a lot of things when he was a teenager.
He wrapped the scarf around his neck and tucked the loose ends into his coat the way his mom had taught him, and opened the front door, pausing as he remembered something. He went back into the kitchen and grabbed the one page note he’d written out the night before as he’d finished a twelve pack of Pabst and his eyes had blurred from a veil of tears and drink. He stuffed the note in his pocket and headed out the front door into the howling winter wind. He didn’t bother locking the front door; he wasn’t coming back anyway.
Darlene was born a week early, but was otherwise a perfectly healthy 7-lb baby girl. Lina was in labor for fourteen hours and despite the near-constant prodding of the doctor and nurses, she eschewed any painkiller beside Tylenol and gritted her teeth and screamed when she was in pain and panted when she wasn’t. Eventually she was always in pain and the contractions came long and hard and she screeched like she was being torn in two and Josh stood impotently by her side, holding her hand and one of her legs up, and sweating, wishing he could be more help, feeling vestigial next to the confident utility of the hospital staff. No amount of breathing classes or labor reenactments could have prepared him for the neon-light-pacing-hallway boredom of labor, or the feeling of being swept up in some great rush of humanity as his first child came out of his wife and laid on the table below her and looked into the world and screamed at what she saw.
And Darlene had screamed. The only time Josh’s mom called him after he’d moved to Grand Haven, she’d been drunk and had told him slurry stories about her own labor with him, and about how he’d had to be smacked three or four times before he’d say a peep, and even then his voice had been weak and milky, like a cat meowing in the distance. But Darlene had come out of her mother screeching like the wind and her eyes wide, and black as beetles, and her arms splayed out and fingers working the air like dough. She didn’t quiet until the nurses placed her in Josh’s arms, and then it was like a lamp being switched off, her mouth closed and she looked up into his eyes and he fell in love with her. And that was what it was like, one moment he was walking along perfectly fine, and then the next the very ground he walked on just disappeared and he was plunged headlong into the obsession that was Darlene. He’d held her like that, looking down into her perfect, alien, squashed face and she’d yawned and his chest had hitched with sobs his body wasn’t equipped to handle, and eventually he had to give her to her mother. It was the most selfless thing he ever did.
But that first embrace established something hard and palpable, and over the next few weeks, after Lina and Josh had taken their new daughter home and sat up the whole first night for fear they’d miss something, looking at their tiny, best Christmas/Birthday/Valentines gift all wrapped in one, it became clear that Darlene only had eyes for her daddy. Sure she spent hours suckling at her mother’s breasts, but as soon as the milk ran dry she would bark and moan until finally Josh would grab her up and lay her on his lap, or cuddle her close, or set her in some pillows next to him on the couch so she could watch him as he existed. Just existed. It was the terrifying and intoxicating all at once, being the center of someone’s universe.
Josh didn’t head back out to the street, but instead followed the wooded pathway to the beach that ran around from the side of his house. It was pitch black, but he knew the way by heart. He’d followed it almost every night since they’d moved here, down to the lake, and the ceaseless rolling of the surf. It calmed him, reminded him why he’d come here, even now after all that’d happened. Reminded him that there were bigger things than himself, if only until he fell asleep or his ass got so sore that he had to go back inside.
The sounds of the woods were amplified in the blackness: owls hooting, snow flopping from branches, the wind shivering the tops of the trees, a solitary screech of a hawk. His footsteps made crunching noises as his feet penetrated the thin scrim of ice atop the nearly foot of snow. His breath was ragged. Already he could feel the Vicodin slowing down his thoughts, making it harder to focus on where he was going, or what he was doing. He closed his eyes and lights bloomed there behind his eyelids. His breath was rushing in his ears.
He heard something else in the woods, footsteps, like an echo of his own. He opened his eyes and looked toward the source of the sound. He saw a shape in between the trees, tall, black, with skeletal fingers or branches or antlers rising up and into the undergrowth of the trees. Two glistening eyes watched him. He heard the grunting of hot breath on the frozen air. His own breath froze in his throat as he looked away and hurried his steps and told himself that he wasn’t really seeing any of this.
But he’d seen the eyes before; they were nothing new.
Then the trees broke and he was standing at the top of a tall, wooden staircase, looking out at the beach and the solitary moon in its inky perch. He followed the stairs down to the beach and found a place close to the edge of the frozen water, which had grown, day after day of cold water licking at the shore, piling up one thin layer at a time until the edge of the water looked like seven foot waves frozen in mid break. He set himself down gingerly on the rock hard sand and snow and ice, pulling his knees up to his chest, and pulling the bottle of scotch out of his coat.
His fingers buzzed from the Vicodin. They were clumsy as he fumbled with the foil and cork top. The cork popped out and he spilled a little scotch on his jacket sleeve. He slurped at his sleeve and the first burning taste dribbled down his throat. He coughed then put the bottle to his lips and he swallowed. He coughed some more. The liquor tore at him and lit little flames in his esophagus and then his stomach and then his whole body, setting his fingertips aflame so that he felt like he was sitting next to a roaring bonfire, on the inside.
The pills and liquor worked on him quickly, making his head swim, making his extremities into puffs of vapor, wispy at the ends of his body, flapping in the wind. He was aware that it was freezing outside but remotely, as though he were being read a story of someone in the cold, while sitting somewhere warm and wrapped in a blanket. He took another swallow of scotch, and lay back on the gentle incline of the beach.
The moon glowed, howling its silent, permanent rage to the earth. Ice crystals in the air made the moonlight into a halo and Josh tried to remember what that meant. Lina had told him once, what it meant when the moon had a halo, but his thoughts were disconnected and they came in and went out as regularly as the waves in the long, frozen distance.
He closed his eyes and he could still see the moon, or some other light in the darkness. It shimmered and beckoned. His breathing shallowed. He took another swallow of whiskey and sighed, his body buzzing, as electric as an egg timer, ticking and ticking. He said something maudlin, like “goodbye world” or “turn out the light” and he could feel himself falling asleep, that familiar dropping into the quicksand of his subconscious, like a buzzing body mold of earth and he fought against it because this had to work. This wasn’t some cry for help or attempt to reconcile or some other psychobabble bullshit; this was the real deal. It had to work. He was done with all this; he was looking for the exit sign in the buzz, not another door.
He tried to sit up but couldn’t. He was as trapped as a mammoth in ice, but his wispy, vapor arms, made as they were of fluidity and kinesis, could still move through the air and so he brought the bottle of scotch to his lips again and forced himself to take a deep swallow, and then several more swallows until he was coughing and choking and spitting scotch out onto his face and down his cheeks and in his ears, his hair. Scotch dripped onto the snow like amber piss lines.
“It’s supposed to be good luck,” he said to the darkness, and it was true. That was what Lina had told him about halos around the moon. He chuckled and the laughter came back to him as if from halfway down the beach.
He drank more scotch and there was no more burn, just liquid fire and the somber lick of the waves against ice, 100 yards away, the sound of lightning sticks forever turned over and over, washing over him. He drank again and held the bottle up to the moon. The scotch looked black in the moonlight. Half of it was gone. Josh set the bottle aside and it thunked against the frozen sand and ice, and he reached in his pocket, pulled out the bottle of pills. He shook out two more pills and sat up, his wounded equilibrium taking him around in large vicious circles. He stared at the pills in his cupped hands for a long moment, his mind tracing loops of incoherence, fingering and losing and fingering and losing the thought that it wasn’t exactly too late, but if he took these last pills and finished that bottle of liquor, it probably would be, and if there was a fork in the road, this was it, and if he wanted to turn back, he still might have time, and etc and etc and etc.
And he saw how blue his fingers looked in the moonlight and that brought a whole other razor-wire string of thoughts to his head, the very thoughts he’d come out here to forget, forever. He thought of Darlene’s tiny, blue, curled fingers, and that snapped his wandering mind into horrible focus, and his own blue hands started to shake. The pills jittered. He shook his head against the memories, but it didn’t help. He tossed the pills to the back of his throat and swallowed. The pills left little snail-trails of bitter saliva-slime down his throat which he tried to wash away with a draught of scotch, but which stayed until long after his mind had wandered far away off this beach into some nightmare he couldn’t articulate and which left him cold even as he bled and flamed out. This was the bonfire he needed to jump through before he could reach the end, the final labyrinth, the end. The end.
He chugged the liquor; his stomach revolted, but he fought for the chance to bathe in that bonfire. Her little blue fingers, curled like the sad talons of a tiny bird. He finished the bottle and looked up into the moon and he made faces at the moon’s rage.
“Fuck you!” Josh yelled. “Fuckin fuck fuck…fuck.”
And there was a certain jazz to it, a rhythm that beat with his pulse and tapped out a heart-monitor hopelessness, of parents sitting next to hospital gurneys and sobbing their fucking heads off and clutching bed sheets and praying still for that one mistake to be taken back even though the evidence lay there wrapped in low thread-count cotton and neon lights and helpless, trite doctor platitudes. “There was really nothing you could do…” Of parents, who’d wrapped up every card they had in their children and laid it all out there on the table and then the House had just snatched up the cards and taken the boat, the dog, the mini-van, and the kids too. Of parents who watched powerless as the whole table went bye-bye and they were left standing on the edge of an impossible abyss so deep and sad and black that they felt compelled to take one step and then another and then another.
“There was really nothing you could do…”
Lina hadn’t even made it to the hospital before she just sprinted to the edge of the abyss and flung herself in. She didn’t even look back to see if Josh was following her; she just went bye-bye. And now every day for her was as if nothing happened, a whole string of Fridays with a never-ending lot of Saturdays to look forward to. She’d never have to worry about finding Darlene cold and blue on the living room floor because Darlene went on and on and on for her. Josh had waited patiently for three years at the edge, looking into the blackness, waving his hands out in hopes that one day Lina would reach back and come home, but she wasn’t going to. He knew that now. And now tonight he had his own date with the abyss.
He finished the bottle of scotch and the moon dribbled like so much white marshmallow cream splattered on a big ole’ s’mores. It wobbled in the glaze of tears over his eyes, and finally he closed his eyes and felt himself dropping, dropping, dropping, tiptoeing to the edge of the abyss. It didn’t stare at him; it ignored him. He called and heard his own voice echoed back, as it had sounded on that day, “Oh fuck, fuck, no…” and his whole body clenched to hear those words so clear. Those words, spluttered, spat out onto the floor next to his daughter, vomited. He hadn’t even been awake really when he’d said them, but he remembered them so clearly. “Oh fuck, fuck, no…”
The abyss widened and there was vertigo and it gripped his vision and his heart with that tantalizing, coaxing voice that all jumpers feel eventually, “Jump, jump, come in and sit down, please.” He took a step forward, and gravel skittered over the edge and out of view, and part of him was aware even now the absurdity of this mental construction. He knew he was dying, and in the end he’d created a cliff and a wide expanse to symbolize it. He laughed and laughed and laughed at his own unimaginativeness, and his voice echoed back to him, “Oh fuck, fuck, no…”
He stopped laughing.
Another step and there was only one more left. One left. The end of the construction. The end. He didn’t think, for once, he just put one foot in front of the other and kissed the darkness.
Josh opened his eyes and he felt strong, large hands lifting him up into a seated position. The alcohol and pills pulled at him, coaxed him, tempted him to just lie back and ignore the hands and the voice. Come back to bed; come back to bed.
The voice was calm and powerful, like the wash of waves, and for a moment Josh thought he was hearing voices in the lake. Come back to bed. He went limp and tried to lean back but the hands held him firm.
“Y’oshu’a, it’s time to wake up.”
And Josh had this random good memory from second grade of his mom calling to him from the foot of the stairs and the smell of bacon and eggs and morning and light winter snowfall. He lifted his head and reached up and felt his mussed up, second-grade hair.
“That’s it. Come back. Wake up.”
Josh opened his eyes for the second time, for the real time, and he looked out at the lake and the frozen waves and the sand and ice and the moon sunk low in the sky and part of him was immediately, horribly certain he was in hell. It was exactly like the place he’d just left.
A flash of white shimmered on the edge of his vision, something brilliant and gilded and present in a way that made everything else feel like an afterthought. He followed the shimmer and saw one, brilliant white wing spread out into the winter wind, catching feathers, vibrating, ghostly. He looked into Michael’s eyes as the angel bent over him and cradled him, and he shook his head, “No, no, please…”
Michael smiled, “Yes, Y’oshu’a. It’s time. The dream is over.”
The Table of Contents
Part One: Freaks, Geeks, and Punks
Chapter One: Josh Stone Takes His Medicine
Chapter Two: Chuck Gardner Meets an Old Friend
Chapter Three: Katrina Freeman Kisses Her Mother Goodbye
Chapter Four: Chuck Gardner Sees Some Crazy Shit
Chapter Five: Katrina Freeman Also Sees Some Crazy Shit
Chapter Six: Josh Stone Gets His Rest
Intermission One: Marty Stedman Opens the Mail
Intermission Two: Tommy Portula Gets His Punk
Intermission Three: Gabriel’s Dream Number One
Part Two: The Midway
Chapter One: The Barker
Chapter Two: The Tilt-A-Whirl
Chapter Three: The Hall of Mirrors
Chapter Four: The Tunnel of Love
Chapter Five: The Fire Eater
Chapter Six: The Human Oak
Intermission Four: Alex Finds Her Angel
Part Three: The Greatest Show on Earth
Chapter One: The First Ring
Chapter Two: The Second Ring
Chapter Three: The Third Rin
Epilogue: Gabriel’s Dream Number Two