Lost Among the Living is my first completed novel.
This is how it begins...
One can be scarred by looking directly at the sun, even if only by accident, so that one will never see anything else, ever again.
The same can be said of the truth.
Such is the way of the world.
This must be death.
The idea presents itself not as a sentence, evolving, but wholly formed. A certainty, as opposed to a realization.
The world isn’t moving. At all. The world is absolutely still even as he senses its motion. Even as everything still intends to move – the traffic on Market Street, the people walking-not-walking, oblivious to their lack of progress.
Even he. Even Alec. Weightless. Tipping-not-tipping, falling-not-falling, absolutely still, confounded by it all.
One thought manages to force its way through. The pain.
The pain in his shoulder is explosive. A bolt of pain, entering through the shoulder blade and rifling forward, out through the soft divot of flesh at the heart of the triangle between clavicle, cuff and pit.
Another: that man.
That weathered traveler on the far corner, standing there, watching him. Alec caught a glimpse of him, and lost him, and now wills his attention outward in search for him again. That man – bald, skin worn to smooth leather by the sun and years of walking into the wind. Desert boots. Canvas trousers. Linen shirt. Uniquely fully alive in the stillness of this motionless world.
The pain, the traveler, and everything else – his attention bounces off each individually like a drunken bullet in ricochet, like swimming in a circle under water, disoriented, searching for the way up.
Philadelphia and a June morning sun gushing gold down Market Street, its heat already shimmering the people who think they are going somewhere.
Still that pain, stopping his breath, stopping the world. In the space between heartbeats, everything is stopped for the pain. It is radiant, paralyzing his left arm, crippling his stride, turning his stomach, dizzying his head.
The imprint of the Traveler still calls after his attention. He only caught a fleeting glimpse – he’s not looking at that far corner anymore – he’s not even looking that way – and he has no power to turn his head, locked in stillness as everything is. But he knows that he is there. The Traveler. He feels him still.
Lost in this stillness, he’s not ready for the world to move again. Motionless, he’s not ready to be falling. Weightless, he’s forgotten that he weighs anything.
And so instead of falling to earth, the Earth, hinged as it is at his stumbling and worthless feet, springs up mercilessly, swinging up as if suddenly sprung loose, and the sidewalk crashes into Alec’s face.
He hears the bone of his brow thud the cement.
And the world is moving again.
And the Traveler is gone.
Only his shoulder continues heavy, though not with pain anymore. Anymore, he is anchored by the weight of after-pain.
And he wonders what the hell is happening to him.
His lungs do not know whether to inhale or exhale and so, in the paralysis of indecision, suffocate him and he is drowned by the asphyxiation. Someone kneeling over him, in front of him, in front of his face, shouting ever more distantly “Hey man! Come on, man! Look at me!”, But their voice overcome by the gushing hush of raging water in a pipe. He no longer knows what he sees.
He no longer sees, as his eyes, outwardly blind, turn inward to panic.
His blood pressure is plummeting and he sweats cold, dizzy and seasick.
He is on his back now. He doesn’t know how he got there, but there is blue sky in front of him and the earth behind him, cool, welcoming. The sky falls farther and farther away as the earth absorbs him, absorbs his weight, absorbs him weightless, absorbs him backwards into the dark.
There are arms under his shoulders, and nothing makes sense as his mind asphyxiates and his brain goes rummaging through memories for oxygen. He is weightless, carried down the swirling spiral of a staircase – iron and marble – slippery with dust and blood...
He was a boy, once. And his parents loved him.
He was a boy, once, in a Catholic school in Baltimore, standing at the end of a long hallway. At the other end, across miles of polished school tile floor, he sees the silhouette of the school’s principal, an enormous pear of a woman in nun’s habit, deliver a walloping to the backside of some nameless young fool caught out in bad behavior. The sun streaks through a window beyond them, illuminating the hallway in glare but for the black shape of the beating.
He watches, rapt in voyeurism, intoxicated by the act of seeing. The boy is struck by feelings he cannot possibly understand at his age and experience. Long before he has the words to articulate such knowledge, he is shaken by the certainty of vocation. Thou shalt not bear false witness, he knows. But thou must bear witness all the same.
He spirals down the stairs, upright balanced on teetering legs fluttering down the marble, racing to stay between him and gravity. There are bullets chasing him, trying to touch him, trying to press themselves into him, failing and snapping in impotent ragefulness, cracking the stone instead of the flesh in a shower of malevolence. He runs with the fall of the earth...
He was a boy, once, all grass stains and summer sweat, standing in his mother’s kitchen, flummoxed by paradox. Somehow a question presented itself to his young mind: how can two things possibly ever touch when the distance between them is evidently endless. He brings the question to his mother. He holds his hand twelve inches above the the kitchen counter, then six inches, then three, then one-and-a-half, showing at each point another point half-way closer to contact; at each distance, a half-distance, forever. Close always closer but never closed.
“Outside with you,” his mother swishes him out the back door with a wafting hand and an Irish lilt.
Life’s chapters unsequence.
He was a boy, often.
He was a man. He met her voice before he met her.
She is hidden under a spotlight in a room he cannot find. He is under a falling mist in the street outside, suddenly intoxicated by the throaty promise of her voice. A siren’s song, beckoning him to find her, to risk his ship for the prize of her moan.
And he does.
That first night they find they have but one soul between them, he and Emma, for better or for worse. They find they are inescapable of one another, caught now as they forever will be, each the other’s moon, pulling at each other’s tides like bedsheets shifting in the half-light of desire.
He is nearly to ground. One landing more. One flight more of stairs and marble and death falling after him into the light streaming through the doorway and its dust. One memory more before the fall is complete.
That enormous old country estate. That countryside manor. That massive stone house on the lush green lawn beneath a darkening, angry sky. That blade of sunshine, cutting through storm clouds, illuminating fear and fury. That muddy paste of blood and dirt.
He sees it all in a moment, spiraling down through the darkness and out into the light.
2. Something Like a Return to Something Like Normal
They tell him he is well. They just don’t seem to believe it…