Killing Wyatt Edwards

 

By Karen Sundback

 

The fog, thickening into a white curtain, opened a doorway into a world without images, a whiteout without any cold or snow. Everything was silenced in this ghostly world: the raucous birds, even the crunching of gravel beneath our feet. Gone was the familiar tang of marine air, replaced by clean wet mist.

I knew this trail, ran it whenever I could. We should reach the bend in the trail in eight minutes, but it was hidden in the fog. Was it there or was it gone? It could have been destroyed; catastrophes happened all the time. I knew too well. With this fog, how could anything be sure?

My once promising future was much the same—as uncertain as running in the fog.

“Those birds. What are they?” Misha asked without breaking stride. Only he seemed able to pierce my brittle funk moods. 

The sun pushed at the despondent sky to swirl away the stubborn clouds. The blanket of fog reluctantly lifted and the world awakened. On our left, the mist opened a window of glory, showing us that across the slough, a squadron of brilliantly white pelicans covered the entire north bank.

“Pelicans.” I told my friend. We stopped on the levee to watch a formation in flight. The sky embraced them after a long night’s separation. Each bird proudly stuck out its chest and held its wings out to let the heavens carry it to its morning feast. Then, as if in silent agreement, they all pointed their beaks to the same spot in the brackish pond, released their wings from their divine hold, and cut the morning water.

Awestruck I whispered, “They’re heroic looking, aren’t they? Every time my dad saw white pelicans fly, he used to say, ‘God bless Eddy.’ Uncle Eddy piloted helicopters in the war and died there. God bless you, Uncle Eddy.”

As if my words had awoken it, one bird yawned and looked for the hunting party. Seeing its friends busily gorging themselves, the pelican ran quickly, its wings flapping awkwardly and its feet bouncing comically off the water. It bore an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Eddy.

Such a good memory. Ones such as this one didn’t come to me anymore, except when I was with Misha. He seems to dry the muddy running trails, attract my birds, and vanquish my troubling thoughts. This was why he was my friend.

We ended our run at Shoreline Café. The nearby lake sparkling like hope. The café bustled with customers huddled inside, enjoying the warmth. We sat outside alone, our only company—a sparrow, perched on the back of an empty chair at our table. From his breakfast, Misha selected three grains of brown rice and laid them on the table. She snatched them and flew under the table, where she fed them to her awaiting mate—he so old that his brown feathers lay ragged and dull. The years of protecting his territory for her and their chicks wore heavily upon him. I looked away. Relationship were so easy for birds, not so for me.

Misha dug into his burrito and spoke enthusiastically about his week—jabbing his fork into the air to make a point, then waving it back and forth to negate some statement. He was like a monologue maestro, directing the words to all the right places. He kneaded and swirled his phrases, until his most mundane week of coding became a time of wonder. When he was done, I smiled at him and thanked him for his performance by getting us both a second cup of coffee.

When I returned, I announced. “I want to kill Wyatt Edwards.”

Wyatt Edwards was our former boss. Misha and I had met at Softserve Software Development, a startup destined to change life as we know it. Our goal was to develop the industry’s finest firewalls. So, while Wyatt Edwards—our president, CEO, and greatest luminary in the world of programming—locked himself behind his office door, the rest of us employees fought our cyber games to temper and strengthen our software. We were programming for greatness.

In the end however, we fell short. Here in the Valley, it happens. Everyone has scars from falling short. Only the ones Wyatt gave me cut deeper.

He haunted me, creating the Unfortunately-Great-Wyatt-Edwards-Ghost Effect. It made me realize that anyone could beat me, rape me, or do worse. I didn’t use the elevator at my new job because I didn’t want to be alone with another person. At night, every noise sounded like a potential perpetrator.

Wyatt’s ghost had to go.

Misha put down his fork and seemed to be judging the seriousness of my statement. “You don’t work for Wyatt anymore. His company’s bankrupt. Kaput. He’s ruined. How can he be a threat to you?”

With an exaggerated effort, I moved my chair from his and looked away.

He heaved a sigh. “Okay. Let’s kill Wyatt.”

After disappearing inside the café, he reappeared with a handful of paper napkins and a ballpoint pen.

With pen in hand, he asked, “So! How do we start?”

“Fentanyl,” I responded decisively.

“Ah! An excellent choice.”

He bent over a napkin and began to draw, hunching over his work so that I couldn’t see it. I inched closer, but he scooted away. I knew he was luring me towards him, but I couldn’t help myself, I was curious. Against my better judgement, I found myself sitting close to him, so close I could feel his body heat.

With practiced skill, he drew strong confident lines.

Impressed I asked, “You’ve taken art lessons?”

“My mother taught me,” he answered, still focusing on his work—his leg seemed to lean unconsciously against mine.

On the napkin, a man appeared, his body contorted in an unnatural position, his face twisted into a grimace like a Greek tragedy mask. Misha had brought to life Wyatt Edwards—the man who had lost his company and whose life lay in ruins. I didn’t care how Wyatt dealt with his pain. I planned to kill mine here and now.

Studying Misha’s work, I decided, “He’s not dead.”

“No? How shall we kill him further?”

“An arrow through his mouth, so he can’t lie. An arrow through his ears, so he can’t twist the truth he hears. An arrow through his eye, so he can’t distort the truth he sees. He can keep the other eye.”

Misha labored over the brown paper napkin as he drew the lines just so. His whole body seemed focused on his work. Nonetheless, as though it had a mind of its own, his left arm covered my right hand and gently pulled it towards him. I firmly retrieved my hand, laid it on my lap and moved my leg from his.

When Misha finished, his product looked punctured and prickly and grim. I felt ashamed and needed it gone.

“Now we need to get rid of him, but do so in a responsible manner,” I said with all the self-righteousness that I could muster.

“No, we don’t want to be irresponsible in killing Wyatt Edwards.”

“Shall we feed him to the fish? The rainbow trout in the High Sierras are starving. It would be a blessing to give these fish new hope.”

“Yes! A capital idea. Let’s give hope to starving fish.”

And with that pronouncement, on the napkin, Wyatt’s body soon lay on the bottom of a lake. The water plants cushioned him, stroked away the hard lines on his face and hid his ugly wounds, so that he seemed to be resting in eternal serenity. Spotted fish surrounded him, keeping him company. The heavens seemed glorified in prayer. The craggy horizon appeared locked in a faithful watch. The surrounding boulders gave homage in their own majestic way. It took my breath away and I felt at peace.

Misha held my hand tenderly, like I was a wounded bird. He softly stroked my thumb as if trying to calm me. He moved his body towards mine as one would in trying to reach another that had been cold and hungry and broken for far too long.

When he looked up from his narrative napkin, his face was so close to mine that his breath warmed my cheek, his eyes shone dark, shadowed with grey or blue or green, I couldn’t tell which. He searched my face looking for what, I don’t know. The human within?

His gaze locked onto my lips. And I saw him anew.

 


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