Short Story Excerpt From 'Nothing Will Be Impossible'
The following excerpt comes from my new short story about an indie musician's surreal encounter with a fisherman on a mountain trail. You can download the full story from Amazon.com, BN.com, or Apple's iBookstore.
Justin still wore the James Blake tour t-shirt and linen cargo shorts he'd put on more than 24 hours before. Dark synth soundscapes and buzzing guitars washed over him while his old Honda Pilot bounced along a back road. Z, as he sometimes called the dog, sat on the passenger seat beside him, keeping his head close to the air conditioner vent, cold air tugging at the dog's ears.
Justin took another sip from the straw of his iced latte, which was already half-empty. His phone was vibrating, but he didn’t hear it.
Justin slowed to pass a tanned, bearded man limping along the road with a fishing pole and a tackle box. He wore camouflage pants and a green t-shirt with round sweat marks. The man turned and lifted the arm carrying the tackle box, attempting a slight wave. Justin guessed the man was heading for the lake, which was about a mile away, as the crow flies.
When peering back through the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of the man’s face, though, all Justin saw on the road behind him was a swirling cloud of dust. He slowed and turned his head backwards to see if the man was in a blind spot. He wasn't. Perhaps he took a path through the woods, Justin thought as he rounded a corner and the lake came into view below them.
Zeus whined as Luci had said he would when they got close.
"Ready for a hike, buddy?"
Zeus responded by letting his mouth hang open and his long pink tongue slide out like a ramp.
After parking in a dirt lot, Justin dug around in the back seat for Zeus’s poop bags and the old pair of sneakers he saved for outdoor excursions. His phone vibrated again. Grasping the roll of bags, he stuffed it in his pocket and reached for his phone. He had already swiped the screen to answer when it registered in his mind who was on the other end of the line.
"Justin, this is Miss Donna. I was hoping to catch you this morning. I heard you playing your music, and went to knock on your door, but I think you had just left."
Justin sighed and started to speak: "I--"
"I’ve found another renter for your room -- my room," the woman continued, cutting him off. "You know, since you are nearly three months behind on your payments, I just need to go with someone else. I’m sorry – I hope you understand."
Zeus tugged at the leash Justin had looped around his leg while he tightened the laces on his old Puma sneakers.
"I’m sorry, Miss Donna. It's just been a tough time for me financially. As soon as my new record gets out there, I’m sure I will be able to catch up really fast, like in a month’s time. I—"
"I’m sorry, Justin. I know, you're working hard on your music, and I hate to do this to you, but I’m on my own, and I need the income. I wish I could keep you here. I once tried to be an illustrator. Wasn't very good at it, but I tried for a while. I know it's tough. But, anyway, I'm hurting financially, too."
"I'm sorry, Miss Donnna. I didn't realize..."
"...Can you possibly, uh, move your things out by next weekend?"
"I… Yes, OK," he replied and quickly hung up, kicking at the ground with his free leg.
Zeus, startled by Justin's outburst and still tethered to him, suddenly sat down and laid his head on his front paws.
Justin sighed, slipped his phone back in his pocket and finished lacing up his shoes. Moments later, Zeus was dragging him toward the entrance to the trail.
* * *
Justin was neither a serious runner, nor a hiker, but he liked finding quiet spots outdoors to sit and think. It was one of the few ways he could ease coming anxiety attacks without medication.
"Slow down, boy," he said to Zeus as they descended a steep trail alongside a stream that fed into the lake.
Justin started to reach for the container of pills he kept in his back pocket. But before he could pull it out, the dog made another energetic rush towards the stream below, causing the leash to slip from his grasp.
Giving up on the pills for the moment, Justin took off after the dog, who was about 20 yards ahead and making a beeline for the water.
Justin sighed and slowed to a walk, watching as Zeus splashed around in the water and looked back up at him, as if inviting Justin to join him.
"I know, I know, Z, you’re just getting back at me for cooping you up all night. Go ahead and play around."
Justin stepped into the water, unhooked the leash from Zeus’s collar, and then found a giant tree root to sit on. He watched as the golden retriever pulled a water-logged stick from the stream.
Zeus brought it to Justin and proudly dropped it at his feet before twisting his body in a massive shake that sent tiny water droplets flying, each alight with reflected sunlight.
The moment, which Luci must have seen a hundred times on her walks with Zeus, took Justin's breath away. Almost immediately, in his mind, he began trying to translate the scene into a song, weighing instrumentation, chords, and rhythm. The way the dog unfurled water droplets from his coat reminded him of the sparklers he used to light on July Fourth on his family's cul-de-sac. His grandfather, still years from wasting away in the nursing home watching Wheel of Fortune every weeknight, would warn him not to burn his hands.
As anxious as he now felt about his living situation, Justin recognized the moment for what it was: pure beauty. Would the song he was constructing be long or short? He allowed his mind to wander to the one thing that calmed him, kept him sane: music. The song would be short, in a major key, he decided, a little brighter than the tracks he'd just finished.
Justin’s mind unwound and eased away from the anxiety that had begun to engulf him.