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Chris Deal

A Place of Stillness

The ice ran to all corners of the horizon, a frozen still life of the lake's ripples. The wind ripped at him, violent and unseen. He walked with a careless step. There was no give, the ice nearly a foot thick. The sun was high above but hidden by heavy dark clouds eager to smother the world of light. His hands burned with the cold and his feet had long since found the numbess that he walked in pursuit of.

When their boy died, the love of man and wife passed on as well. Chance spread a mutation through his being. Before the paperwork was finalized and eleven years of beautiful days fell away, Daniel noted the slow change was not one to hate but to apathy. Lynn stopped holding his hand as they sat silently on the couch. Daniel stopped kissing her shoulder as she slept. Lust held no flame to despair. It was inevitable, this end, and Daniel held no malice to Lynn. Nine months after they buried their boy their marriage was legally over. Daniel gave her the house. She helped him pack what he wanted and load the meager boxes into the trunk of his car. Winter had taken a turn then, the days grey and bitter. Clouds hovered low and threatened a downpour of thick, wet snow. The one good thing about his new apartment was Tom, an older neighbor who woke early and saw nothing else to occupy himself with but to shovel the shared lot. Daniel had not yet gotten used to the empty bed or quiet rooms. The television stayed on constantly, the volume turned to a low murmor. It was not what was playing that mattered, but illusion of activity.

His body had taken to waking early, and that day was nothing different. There were no obligations for him, no plans for the day, but the apartment felt like a cell, keeping him prisoner to the memory of what had been. The absence of his boy was written over the walls of each room. He would be two years gone soon. In the months after he moved out, Daniel took up smoking again, after he quit for the promise of her. He ate maybe a meal a day. His skin grew tight over the bone and meat. He went to work, to the library, to the liquor store. On the weekends if he bothered to leave the appartment at all, he took to the wilderness, the farmlands to the south, the lakes to the north, places void of man. It was not a hatred of humanity that set upon him but a disappointment of his place in it, having failed his boy and his wife. He could think of nothing of value he offered to the world beyond his mind, and that finally compelled him out.

From his apartment, he drove to the edge of the old city. Most of it was given to rot and ruin, but there were portions that held onto history and promise. He went past the boatyards, then through a brief industrial section of silos and empty field. He used to bring his boy this way, to get to the beach. It was a small park of dunes and sand, and at the edge was a crumbling concrete jetty that went a quarter mile into the water. At the edge a small automated lighthouse that had been overshadowed by a newer sentry a few hundred feet down the beach.

Daniel walked down the slick barrier where he taught his boy to fish during their brief time together. He went past the lighthouse and stepped down onto the rocks placed at the end. His first step onto the ice was bold, daring it to break. When it refused, he went on, further out. After fifteen minutes he stopped and turned around. The sky opened up and a slow onslaught of snow came upon him. The beach was gone, the lighthouse a mote of dust on his purview. He kept walking, a pilgrim to she'ol, until the world of his vision was a cloud-pocked sky and an ocean of ice, still but for the blowing wind. His breath froze in the stubble over his lip. The wind slowed and there was a break in the cloud cover.

When the abyss below refused to open wide its jaws and consume him whole, Daniel stood and followed his slowly fading path towards the shore.

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