“All the Way Home”

ALL THE WAY HOME

It wasn’t a shrine. Just a battered dresser in the corner of her junky pay-by-the-week hotel. Little chunks of limestone from Raccoon Lake, a pile of disconnected Lego bricks, a floppy stuffed orangutan that still—after four months—smelled like her son. A plain white candle in a clear glass votive. A picture of Nate in a cheap drugstore frame. Her six-year-old boy standing waist deep in autumn leaves, face upturned to the October sun, fists thrust skyward like a superhero on the verge of grasping his special powers.

Kris avoided looking at the picture as she came inside and shoved the crooked door closed behind her. Plastic bag in hand, she shuffled past the unmade bed and half-empty suitcase. There’d been a time, not much more than four months ago, when a bottle would have been stashed among the mismatched sheets or dirty clothes. But the vodka made it impossible to hear her son when she stared into the candle flame, when she let the dense weight of his absence crush every other thought. When she needed her heart to crack open just enough to let his whisper-faint voice come back to her.

Momma, he’d say softly. Not Mom or Mommy, but Momma. It had sounded so old-fashioned to Kris, as if Nate had taken in some previous-century soul.

Momma?  He’d say it even if she stood right in front of him, staring at him, and he’d refuse to say anything else until she said, Yes, baby?

I love you, Momma.

I love you, too, baby. I’ll love you all the way home.

Walking in the chill November air had started her nose running. She sniffed, then carefully opened the dresser’s top drawer. Blue and white socks, little-boy t-shirts, summer shorts—all the clothes he’d probably outgrown by now—and the birthday candles. Remnants of a normal life. Close to normal, anyway, until Kris had decided getting punched by her boyfriend wasn’t the sort of normal Nate should grow up knowing.

Kris rolled her lips between her teeth as she took out the numbers. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. (Poor 4 hadn’t made it into the bag on that frantic night of packing.)  Each candle had a dimple below the wick from the brief moments they’d burned before a breath saved them from the flame.

She lined up the candles, all Nate’s birthdays, along the dresser’s edge, then pulled the little bottle of apple juice from the bag. Nate liked cranberry juice best, but the no-name gas station around the corner didn’t carry anything that special. They didn’t carry cupcakes, either, only pre-packed cookies and a few doughnuts. “It’s probably stale,” the clerk had unhelpfully said about the single glazed doughnut Kris bought.

Tears seeped over her lashes as she took the last, most expensive, item from the bag. She pushed the new 7 candle into the doughnut.

Kris reached behind the picture of Nate and pulled out the plain green lighter she kept there. Touching it hurt, hurt as much as being alone in an anonymous room. But she deserved the hurt, the alone, the no-one-cares solitude. So she flicked the lighter. Her hand shook so badly, the flame went out before it touched the candle wick.

“Shit,” she whispered, then glanced to the photo as if Nate could hear her. Steadying her hand, she managed to connect flame to wick. Then the 7 burned on its own.

She sang for him. She got through two lines of “Happy Birthday” before her chest convulsed around the emptiness Nate had left behind. All she had now was the limestone, the Legos, the picture, the candle in a doughnut.

And the lighter, hot in her hand, that Nate had once begged to use all on his own. Of course Kris had said no. But he’d sulked and pouted, and there’d been so little to be happy about that Independence Day. So she’d put the lighter in his small hand, wrapped her hand around his, and together they’d lit a ninety-nine-cent fountain. At the first fizz of the wick, they’d dashed away, turning back just in time to see a geyser of red and gold and silver sparks push away the darkness. “I did it!” Nate had shouted. “Best day ever!”

It had been the best. Dan hadn’t been there to get drunk and mean, to swing his fists, to make fun of how much their son loved happy, gentle things.

Momma?

Her baby, her forever-baby, so near now the hurt clawed her guts open. Kris wrapped her arms around herself and hunched over, clutching the emptiness.

“Momma?”

“Yes, baby, yes,” she whispered to the memory, to the newborn who’d nursed at her breast, to the growing-up-fast boy who’d hugged her waist. She yearned for his warmth to return, wished she could re-live that last hug. If she’d held him just a little longer, held on just a little tighter, just once more—

“Momma!”

She jerked her head up so fast the room tilted and sparkled around the burning 7. And there, in the picture, was Nate.

“I heard you, Momma,” he said. He splashed his hands in the leaves, making them crackle with insistence. “I made you hear me, too.”

“Nate!” She lurched to her feet, arms reaching for anything of her son she could catch. Her elbow bumped the dresser, the candle tilted out of the doughnut, the living picture rocked back and forth. Kris reached for the picture first, catching the frame, her thumb sinking into the photo. A cool breeze touched the raised lines of her fingerprint and she nearly felt the rough bark of the tree at the photo’s edge.

She had an instant to see the widening of his eyes, the reaching of his hands—”Momma, please come get me!”—before the candle tumbled to the floor, snuffed out by its own wax.

***

Four months after Nate had disappeared, no one was really looking for him anymore. Officially, Nate was an open case, but the local sheriff’s pity-patience had turned into the polite and professional shame of lost faith. No one had called in with worthwhile tips, no clues had led to other clues, and no one from the press had found the story compelling enough to ride. Nate was a pretty child, but was also the son of a mother with a shady past and zero future. Of a father who had a habit of disappearing after trading curses and punches with Kris, before the local cops checked his background for warrants. And it was, after all, Kris’s fault. I only left him in the car for five minutes…

But there was one person who’d never brushed her off. So Kris dug through her old purse until she came up with the slip of yellow paper that had ‘Old Bill’ written in engineer-square letters, then a phone number. Bill had given it to her the day the sheriff had decided there weren’t any new clues to find. His stiff and swollen-knuckled hand had tapped her shoulder, then he’d tipped his hat and said only, “Call whenever you want.”

She’d wanted to call twice before, but she didn’t want to now. There wasn’t another choice. So when Bill answered the phone this time, she said, “It’s Kris,” and couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Got coffee?” he asked, his Midwest accent softened with a drawl she couldn’t place. “Never mind. I’ll bring it.”

Kris stared at Nate—once more a budding superhero frozen in the picture—afraid that if she looked away for too long, she’d miss the moment he tilted his head, looked her direction, stretched out his arms for a hug. Called for her.

Nothing.

She didn’t think about tidying up until she heard Old Bill’s truck rattle up to the curb outside. He didn’t seem to care, saying nothing as he came inside with two paper cups of gas station coffee. At her nod, he made his way to the rickety table set by the room’s only window, and eased himself into one of two shabby chairs. The window blinds cast crooked lines over his gray-whiskered cheeks.

“So,” he said, then waited until she sat opposite him. He never looked directly at her, but the twitch of his eyebrows followed her movements, as if he practiced some age-old method of gentling skittish beasts. “Did you drink and have second thoughts, or is your mouth still watering for a taste?”

One sip of lukewarm, bitter coffee parched Kris’s tongue, but she took a second drink to stall a moment longer. “It’s my son’s birthday.”

“He’s eight?”

“Seven,” she corrected.

Bill shrugged. “Did you drink or not?”

“My son is still missing.”

“I know.” He spoke with even simplicity, as if agreeing ice was cold.

She stared at his profile. “This was a bad idea. You should leave.”

He rested his crossed arms on the table, still avoiding her gaze. “You got the lonelies. Or the guilts and shames. And you want to go over it again.”

She looked at the dresser, the candle-less doughnut. The picture that couldn’t have moved. Old Bill didn’t interrupt her silence, but she wished he would so she didn’t have to blurt out the words filling her mouth. She waited until the not-blurting became too painful, then said, “Why couldn’t you find him?”

“That’s why you called, then.”

She nodded once, hard.

“Kris, there has to come a day when—”

“I’m his mother, asshole, I don’t get that day.”

Bill took hold of his coffee, lifting his gaze at last. She played the silent one this time, running the green lighter through her fingers while he slurped coffee.

“You’re right,” he said, and looked away. “You’ll never forgive yourself. Anyone who says you will doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

“And you do?” She sniffled. “You let them give up on finding my son.”

“I’m no one official, Kris, and I can’t track a man on concrete,” he said as gently as he had the first time, the second, the third, every time she’d asked. “By the time the sheriff called me in, the man who took your boy—”

“Dan,” she said. “I know it was Dan, and so do you.”

He bowed his head in agreement. “He’d made it from Waveland to Parkersburg. Ten miles of cornfield and wooded patches, ending up at the state highway. There wasn’t a trail left for me to follow. I looked, Kris. I crawled up and down the shoulder of that highway, but I couldn’t find anything.”

Sometimes she wished she could hate him half as much as she hated herself. “I didn’t drink,” she said, looking at Nate’s picture. “I’m not drunk now, and I wasn’t when I called you earlier.”

“That’s the best thing you can do for your—”

“He told me to come get him.”

“Kris.”

His hardened voice yanked her gaze from the picture. Bill leaned across the table, dull brown eyes staring at her. “You need to talk to someone other than me, someone who—”

“He talked to me,” she whispered around a sob. “He said he heard me, and he wants me to come get him, and I have to do it. I always told him I’ll love him all the way home and—”

“Kris, honey…”

She shoved back from the table, ignored the clatter of the chair and the splash of spilt coffee, and picked up the 7 candle from the dresser. Her hands shook as she tried to balance it atop the stale doughnut, tried to look and not-look at Nate’s picture, tried to explain what had happened as quickly as the words would spill out.

“Kris, you gotta calm—”

You gotta,” she snapped, and wrenched from his grasp the moment his fingers touched her sleeve. “You watch this, Old Bill, greatest tracker in the Midwest. Because you left my son out there with his piss-hearted father, and you think that’s just fine as long as his mother doesn’t drink anything but your shitty coffee.”

Bill raised his hands—truce—and stepped back, watching. She stared at him until anger stopped blurring her vision and she could see the pain lines running deep around his eyes and mouth. It didn’t help. Pain shared was pain doubled.

“He called for me,” she said at last, pointing to the picture, pleading for belief and forgiveness. “He needs me.”

Bill nodded slowly. “All right, Kris. I’ll watch. I’ll listen.”

“All right,” she echoed, then steadied the 7 in its doughnut holder. It took four tries before the lighter gave enough flame to light the candle. The flame shimmered off the limestone, glowed on the pale wood frame surrounding motionless Nate.

“I’m here, baby,” Kris whispered, then pressed her clasped hands to her lips. She remembered touching soft kisses to the top of his head when he was six, when he was two, when he was minutes old and still squalling at the indignity of birth. She remembered—

“Momma!”

She reached out, fingers splayed, not quite touching the picture, as Nate flung his arms out to her. “I’m right here, baby, right here.”

“Please, Momma, come get me. I’m cold now and Dad said—”

“Where, Nate. You have to tell me where.” Anywhere you are, I’ll find you, I’ll save you, I swear it.

“Where the rocks go plink-plonk and the trees—”

Nate went silent, still—not in his usual pose, but with his arms at his sides, hands motionless, wide gaze looking past Kris’s shoulder. She nearly told him not to worry, that it was only Old Bill listening in, before a shadow edged into the picture frame, reaching for Nate.

“Hurry, Momma,” Nate whispered, then looked directly at her. “Dad keeps getting mad.”

“Don’t touch my baby!” she screamed, and grabbed the picture as if her useless arms could protect her son from the man she’d crossed five states to escape.

***

Raccoon Lake. That’s where Nate must be. Had Dan (God, she hated to even think his name) tracked them down, seen them there, decided he’d take Nate instead of Kris?  Dan had never wanted Nate before. Why would he take her sweet little boy—

Don’t think, can’t think about it, shove away all the sick stories you’ve heard.

The first thing Kris heard Old Bill say, once she’d slid from hysteria back to coherence, was, “I’ll drive.”

Of course he’d drive. She’d sold her car to pay for the crappy hotel room, to live across the street from where Nate had last smiled for her. Where he’d begged her to look for cranberry juice just one more time, where he’d waved through the window just before she’d ducked into the store. She’d walked that street so many times, most people wouldn’t look at her anymore. She was a piece of the backdrop, like the overfilled ashtrays and cheap light-up signs with missing letters.

“Shouldn’t we call… someone?” she asked.

He shrugged as he opened the truck door for her. “We’ll take a look around first.”

“You’re saying no one would believe you.”

“I’m just Old Bill. Hell of a tracker, but prone to tip the bottle.” He slammed the door shut, then went around to the driver’s side. “Would you believe me?”

He didn’t list the reasons no one would believe her. She loved and hated him for that.

The drive to Raccoon Lake took more than an hour, most of it spent heading into the late afternoon sun. Old Bill’s pick-up sounded as if half its insides were about to come loose, and the other half already had. Kris held the picture in one hand and the lighter in the other. The memory of Nate’s voice thrummed in her blood like a second heart.

She explained about Dan as best she could, with half-sentences and clichéd descriptions that didn’t need details to be clear. Originality required too much consideration of the truth. When Kris finished her story, Bill quietly said, “I know that kind of man.” Not the puffed-chest bravado of a man eager to claim right of protection over a woman, but the wiser sadness of a man who recognized his past self.

“Do you have any children?” she asked suddenly. Odd she’d never thought to ask before, but anything was better than talking about Dan for one more second.

“Two. My boy died in Iraq some years ago, and my daughter…” He rubbed the back of his hand against his chin and checked the rearview mirror. “Cindy was killed by a drunk driver.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said with reflexive sympathy. Then, “Is that what got you to sober up?”

“After a time.” He drew a deep breath, shook his head, then said softly, “I know a thing or two about forgiveness, Kris. I know why a parent doesn’t want it sometimes.”

“Because the right person can’t give it anymore,” she whispered, her thumb rubbing the lighter’s tiny gears.

Momma?

I’m coming, baby, I’m right here.

Half-blind from the sun, Kris missed the lake’s roadside sign. But Bill saw it, and eased the pick-up onto the narrow road. So late in the season, no one manned the park’s gate to collect an entrance fee.

“Don’t go pressing your face to the window,” Bill said as he drove the meandering curves toward the campground. “Don’t go yelling and pointing.”

Kris scrunched lower in the seat, her gaze jumping to every vacant picnic table and empty clearing. Few people were in sight. Most of the trees held nothing but dreary brown leaves, their tourist-calling golds and crimsons of autumn already shed. When Kris and Nate had been here, everything had been decked in an infinite palette of green. They’d tried to skip rocks over the lake, but had ended up just throwing them instead. Handfuls of gravel went plink-plink-plink. Larger stones went plonk. Nate had giggled about it for days.

When the first campground came into sight, Bill let the truck coast. An elderly couple sat outside an RV, bundled against the chill. They waved politely. Bill raised a hand in answer. Kris couldn’t stop shaking.

I’m scared, Momma…

Empty site after empty site. Then a purple dome tent, a man turning hot dogs on a grill. A pair of boys using fishing rods like sabers. Nate wouldn’t be that tall for a couple years yet.

Momma’s coming, Nate baby, I promise.

Promises. Nate had wanted to climb real mountains, feel the power of ocean waves, watch lemurs in Madagascar. Maybe next year, Kris had always said. Next year, we’ll see.

Liar. Dream-killer. Promising vacations when she sometimes couldn’t even afford more than an apple for dinner.

“Ohhh…kay.” Bill drew out the word, then drew it longer the second time. Kris curled her toes, locked her legs beneath the seat, lest she jump out of the truck and scream Nate’s name. The campground Bill stopped beside held an old canvas tent, the kind found at surplus stores rather than sporting goods shops. A beat-up ice chest lay on its side, lid open. The faded burgundy Pontiac sitting on the asphalt pad tilted to one side, its front tire flat.

Old Bill put the truck in park, but left the engine running. From under the seat, he pulled out a wide leather belt wrapped around a long, metal flashlight. “Stay put,” he said as he hitched the belt around his waist.

“My son needs—”

“I don’t need to be choosing which of you to protect.” He settled the flashlight at one hip and an empty holster at the other, then reached across Kris to open the glove compartment. The sight of the gun was terrifying, reassuring. “Might not even be the right place.”

“I call bullshit,” she muttered.

He slammed the glove compartment closed. “That’s your right.”

“I’m following you.”

“Kris—”

“Would you stay behind if you could’ve protected your daughter from that drunk driver?”

Everything about Bill stopped. No breath, no movement, not a blink. Just a dark stare, looking directly at Kris, but obviously seeing someone else. Somewhere, sometime, else. It had been his car, his drunk driving, she suddenly knew without a doubt. Kris wanted to snatch the words back, to ignore the wound she’d split open.

No. She wanted to hold her son.

“Give me two minutes,” he said at last, and looked away.

She nodded. Bill climbed out of the truck, leaving the door open, and walked toward the tent. He kept the gun in hand, tucked along his thigh, as he called out a cheery greeting. No one answered. Kris tried counting seconds, lost track somewhere between twenty-one and twenty-seven. Outside, Bill poked at the ice chest, checked inside the tent, studied the flat tire. When he popped open the trunk, she squeezed her eyes shut—

He isn’t in there, he can’t be in there.

—until she heard the trunk close. Then she peeked out the windshield to find Bill watching her, turning his hand in the air. She slid to the driver’s side and cut the engine. The silence gave her goosebumps. Her shivering worsened when Bill motioned her out of the truck. She took the lighter with her and left the picture behind. Her arms needed to be free to hold the real Nate.

“Stay behind me,” he said. “Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. That tire’s been flat long enough for dirt to crust, and the coals are cold. But the tracks are fresh.”

Cold coals. Nate must be so hungry, so cold. She checked her back pockets, wishing she’d thought to bring a stick of beef jerky, a bag of pretzels, string cheese, even the stale doughnut. Nothing’s worse than being unable to feed your child when he’s hungry.

Almost nothing.

Bill stared, waiting for her to agree. She nodded, shaking tears onto her cheeks, and squeezed the lighter until her nails cut into her palm. Nate was close, close enough to feel within her blood, to smell on the breeze.

Be brave, baby, I’m coming.

I’m trying, Momma!

Me, too.

You’ll love me all the way home, I know it.

Such faith!  But she had always protected him. No matter how hard Dan came after her, she’d been able to stand between him and Nate until Dan lost interest in the boy. Protecting him was the one thing she had never, not once, failed to do. Until four months ago. But now… All the way home, my son, I swear. Momma’s gonna make sure no one hurts you again. Ever.

She followed Bill through the trees at the campground’s edge, around a rotting stump, down a steep ravine, through bushes that would have snagged Nate’s shoulders. Bill stopped now and then, sometimes pressing his cheek to the dirt to study whatever clues he found in the loam. He tried to explain about crests and disks and plates, but all she asked was, “Which way?” and Bill nodded toward the hill.

Momma…

“Ohhh…kay.”

Kris blinked to clear her vision, then squinted at the growing shadows. Twilight wasn’t far off. “What is it?”

“Your boy’s got nerve. Look here.”

She didn’t need to be Old Bill, best tracker in the Midwest, to read the intensity written in the dirt. Small feet, big feet, kicked up leaves and soil. Two pairs of tracks disappearing into the thicker woods.

I’m running, Momma, I’m going so fast!

Keep going, baby, don’t stop until—

Bill’s hand went over her mouth. “Don’t,” he said before she realized she’d drawn a breath to scream his name. “Don’t shout, don’t rush. Don’t say another word unless I say so.”

She nodded, panting with unvoiced panic. If they could just find Nate, if she could scoop him into her arms and run and run and run and never let him go again—

“Stop clicking, Kris.”

“Clicking?”

He took her hand and gently pulled her fingers from the lighter. She must have been clicking it over and over. Her thumb stung from the friction, blistered from the heat. Bill kept hold of her hand, his thick fingers more comforting than controlling, and led her into the brush. Near the crest he silently pointed to a convergence of tracks, the overlapping of big atop little. And at the top of the rise, the overlap disintegrated into churned up dirt and leaves. A few steps later, only one set of tracks remained. Large ones.

Momma, I can’t—  Momma, HELP ME!

Kris shoved past Bill and ran over the tracks, tripping downhill too quickly to check her balance. Her hip banged against tree roots as she fell, and momentum threw her down the ravine. She scrambled for purchase and ran again, bursting from the woods onto a ribbon of smooth mud that dipped into the lake. No one else in sight. No tracks in the mud but hers.

“Momma!”

A huge noise answered her son’s scream. A bang, a crack, a whiplash of sound she’d never heard before, yet recognized with certainty.

…plink-plonk…

“Nate!” she cried. Then that horrible noise happened again. “NATE!”

Only the echoes of the gunshots and screams answered, driving her back into the woods. Pumping legs, reaching arms, heaving chest, her thumb ripping over the lighter’s coarse gears. She shouted her son’s name—within and without—and couldn’t hear him answer. He must be there, he had to be there, just around the next turn, just behind the next tree, just ahead of her, always right there and forever out of reach—

She didn’t see Bill until it was too late to slow down. But he caught her and held her and tried to absorb her frenzy, tried to tell her not to look. But she had to look, had to see. Would see forever.

“I tried,” Bill was saying into her hair as she yelled and moaned and cursed him for holding her back. His shoulders were shaking, his voice rough and breaking. “I couldn’t run fast enough. I didn’t see the gun. I’m sorry, oh God, Kris, I’m sorry.”

Then she saw a big bruised-knuckled hand on the ground, fingers curled around a gun, near a tangle of dirty brown hair that glistened with wetness. Beside Dan’s body, a smaller hand rested slack atop the leaves. Mud-covered tennis shoes with Power Rangers on the sides. A bare and bruised arm that should have been protected by a jacket. Hair that should have been cut two months ago. A face that no longer looked like Nate. Would never look like Nate again.

Not the faintest whisper of her son’s voice.

***

It became a little shrine in the corner of her studio apartment, the Legos and the limestone and the framed picture. An open grief that didn’t hide from the pain. So many people tried to tell her it wasn’t her fault. They were wrong, but Kris didn’t blame them for wanting to believe otherwise. She saw the fear in their eyes, the terror they were a heartbreak away from knowing exactly how she felt. Maybe they thought it would be easier to bear if they believed themselves powerless to stop it.

Kris knew better. She and Bill learned together. Helping her land a job and an affordable apartment was his way of making amends. Staying sober and sane was hers. She wouldn’t have Nate blamed—even in death—for her falling apart. Her life would be lived for him. That was a mother’s duty. A mother’s blessing.

And tonight, she had something else to do for him. One through seven (minus four), the number-candles formed a smile beneath the photo of Nate standing in the leaves. Kris put a cupcake in the nose-place, and arranged the loose limestone and Legos into lopsided eyes. Then she nudged a brand new candle—an 8—into the cupcake’s bright yellow frosting. The green lighter, scratched and faded and dirty, was warm when she picked it up. With steady hands, she flicked the lighter again and again. There wasn’t much fuel left. At last, the spark resolved into a squat, uncertain flame.

The candle wick took the flame and helped it grow tall and bright. Kris sang for her son, the entire birthday song, even though her voice wavered. Even when the Nate in the picture lowered his arms and looked out at her. His smile shattered her heart, then put all the pieces back together in different, stronger places.

“Momma?”

“Yes, baby?”

“I’m happy, Momma.”

“That’s good,” she whispered, arms holding tight to the memory of Nate’s hugs. “I’m so proud of you.”

His smile stretched wider and he tilted his head to a dare-me-to-do-it cant. “Watch what I can do!”

Arms thrust overhead, he leapt from the leaves into the air, a streak of life against a motionless landscape. He landed on both feet, caught his balance, then waved at her. She waved back, then clapped her hands in praise because she didn’t trust her voice. Nate grinned anew, clasped his arms to his chest, then opened his arms wide to throw her a hug.

“I love you, Momma. I’ll love you all the way home this time.”

“All the way home,” she answered. “You tell me when.”

“I promise, Momma.”

One last wave, then he jumped again. And again and again, higher and higher, until a final leap carried him beyond the picture’s edge and into the eternally clear October sky.

END

Where Did That Story Come From?

 Writers are asked, all the time, how or why certain stories come to be. Sometimes the writer does indeed have a certain drive, a sense of purpose, a desire to make a personal belief into an entertaining piece of fiction. But most often, stories just… happen. An overheard snippet of conversation, an oft-overlooked display at a museum, the simple act of wondering why certain facts are what they are—that’s all it takes to set a cascade of ideas in motion. The what-ifs mix it up with the writer’s views and longings and hopes and fears. When enough pieces match up, the writer has a story.

“All the Way Home” was different: someone else told me what the story had to include.

In 2005, I placed first in the quarterly Writers of the Future competition, and was invited to attend a week-long workshop in Los Angeles that was taught by KD Wentworth and Tim Powers. Near the end of the week, we were given twenty-four hours to write a complete short story. That story had to contain three elements: a random topic we’d researched, a character based on a random stranger we met on the streets outside the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Hollywood, and a prop handed to us by Tim Powers. My topic was tracking game—the skill used by Old Bill—and my stranger was a guy with squinty little eyes and a scowl—the image of Dan. And my prop, set before me by Tim, was an old green lighter.

When you’re under pressure, you tend to write what you know best, and what you feel most strongly. That week was the first time I’d been away from my son for more than a couple of days. I missed him. It didn’t take much to push me into imagining how I might feel if I hadn’t seen him for months. And while I wrote the last scenes in the wee morning hours, sitting in the workshop room with other students also trying to finish by the deadline, I started to cry. “What did you do?” one of the students joked. “Kill a kid or something?”

I bawled as the pages printed out.

Since then, “All the Way Home” has achieved an odd distinction among my short stories: It is the one most often complimented by editors, and most often rejected by those same editors.

ALL THE WAY HOME. Copyright 2012 by Blair MacGregor. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form. This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

4 thoughts on ““All the Way Home””

    1. Thank you.

      I still have trouble reading it myself, and I doubt I’d have been able to hit the raw emotion if I hadn’t been so utterly exhausted when I wrote the first draft.

Surrender Your Words!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Actively Wondering

%d bloggers like this: