• A. J. Hedges

HOUNDSTOOTHE 1.3 - The Space Rock

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

This episode is brought to you by my patrons, Adam, Amanda, Andy, Kimberly, Sam, and Vazgen.

The part of Walter is played by Aang.

HOUNDSTOOTHE, MI – KADATH PARK: Russell (The Night of the Lightning Storm)

Kadath Park echoed with the yells of boys and the hollow bounce of a basketball on concrete. It was a perfect autumn night, the skies clear, the air crisp and complex, and the park was turning from green to orange.

The basketball never stopped moving, a small globe whipping through the air, binding the boys together in both teamwork and opposition. Russell Darby’s heart leaped with each boom on concrete. He smelled his own sweat, the rubber of the ball, and a barbecue fire. A sudden drop in temperature swept over the park, but it was welcome – all of them were hot; they’d been playing hard, and Russell didn’t even shiver. It gave him a rush of clarity; he saw himself jumping; he felt how his muscles would ache when he did it.

Abel was fast. Russell was faster. They could hear his shoes, screeching against the concrete, before they saw where he was going. He cut across so fast Abel almost fell over, and Russell was undefended. His shot was ready.

Russell’s world stuttered into slow motion when he jumped; he was acutely aware of every detail, every sensation. His calf-muscles and hamstrings burned from pushing himself off the ground. The harsh white lights on the basketball court left disco-flashes behind his eyelids when he blinked. Droplets of sweat slipped down his face and back. He raked in a lungful of icy air as he pulled back his elbows and relaxed his grip, preparing to shoot –

He was moving backward. That was the first thing that registered. The basketball hoop, which had been without a net for as long as Russell remembered, was shrinking away. Next, he felt a burst of pain in his shoulder. Did I just get shot?

It seemed to enter his left shoulder and explode from his ribs on the right side. He hadn’t heard a gunshot, but what was it his uncle had always said? You never hear the one that gets you. Then, he was laying in the grass, unable to breathe.

He ran his hands over his chest, and thought for a moment his sweat was blood, but his fingers came back clean. This is what people mean when they say the wind got knocked out of them. Half of the guys were rushing towards him; the other half were staring at the horizon and pointing.

“Russell! Are you okay, man?”

Another one of his friends was yelling, “Look, look at it – “

And someone else said, “Did you see how far he fell?”

Russell winced and tried to sit up, but his lungs felt empty and strained. His shoulder throbbed. That’d be a big, ugly bruise later. His ribs hurt, too, but not on the side he’d landed on – the opposite side. Something hit me.

Abel rushed over.

“You okay, Russ?” He bent to help Russell stand.

Russell gripped his friend’s shoulder, but he couldn’t sit up, not yet.

“What was that?” Russell gasped.

“I don’t know,” Abel breathed. He looked scared. “There wasn’t anything there – “

“Do you guys see this?” Liam shouted. He pointed and Russell twisted, groaning, to follow his gaze.

Out of a perfectly clear sky, rainbow-colored lightning struck the earth.

Tesla coils. Live wires. Whiplash. A dozen more images of lightning and electricity whipped through Russell’s mind, but the pain in his body demanded attention and they faded to echo-visions when he closed his eyes, just like the court lights.

He couldn’t remember ever feeling pain like this – a deep, red, angry river coursing through him and crashing against his senses. Even though his friends surrounded him, and Abel was gripping his uninjured shoulder, Russell felt utterly alone with it.

Everyone was gathered near Russell now, but still staring at the lightning. Liam bent beside Abel, watching the horizon.

“Anything broken?” he asked.

The lightning faded and everyone tore their eyes from the distance and turned to Russell.

“I don’t know,” Russell said, through his teeth. His breath was coming back but inhaling too fast made his ribs ache.

“That was crazy, man,” Abel said. He gripped Russell’s shoulder a little harder.

He is scared, Russell thought. Whatever that was freaked him out.

“Yeah,” Russell muttered. He didn’t feel like sitting up yet, but he hated everyone standing over him like this. He bit his tongue to keep from crying out and pushed himself up, leaning on Abel.

“What happened?”

“It looked like something hit you,” Liam said. “But…”

“There was nothing there,” Abel finished.

“It wasn’t one of you?” Russell asked.

Abel shook his head.

The other guys watched as Russell pushed himself up, cradling his ribs.

“You good?”

“Yeah, yeah, I think I’m gonna head home. I bruised my ribs and shoulder, I think.” They felt broken, not bruised.

“Can you get home okay? Are you bleeding or anything?” Abel asked.

“Yep, I’m good.” Russell kept his face even and still.

Liam went to retrieve the ball and half-heartedly started bouncing it; the other guys turned back to the horizon, where the lightning had been. Russell gathered his stuff from the edge of the court, then headed across the park, walking as fast as he could stand. He glanced back once, to see if the guys were still watching him, and they weren’t. The group was breaking apart, heading in different directions, their eyes still on the horizon.

Russell felt like he was missing something. Normally, the only emotions that accompanied pain were a little bit of shame, and the drive to get back up and try again. He was sad and angry.

It’s just pain, Russell thought. But it wasn’t. There was something else, gnawing at him. Maybe it was the idea, the reality, that something invisible had hit him with enough force to make him fly twenty feet, and that he now had a physical sensation to corroborate its existence. Maybe it was the loneliness. He felt like he’d been left behind, like when Dad had left him at the pizza place and didn’t notice until Joe woke up and asked where Russell was.

Russell walked across the park, up the road, behind Lincoln’s Diner and through the alley to his home, baffled.

8 a.m., the next morning:

When Russell woke up, the first thing he saw was his brother’s empty twin bed, across from his. He frowned and sat up. The bed was made, and the same pile of loosely folded laundry was sitting on the edge from the night before.

Joe’s half of the room was always a little cluttered, but it was usually much worse in the mornings – he’d drop his clothes on the end of his bed, dump laundry on the floor. Even if it was clean. And there were always books all over the place because Joe unpacked his bag every night.

Russell had scarfed down a bowl of cereal when he got home the night before, taken some ibuprofen, and then stood in the shower for half an hour, letting hot water soak his aching body.

A purple and black bruise snaked across his ribs. It looked like a black vein of ink underneath his skin, like he’d been poisoned by one of the creatures out of Joe’s novels. When he fell into bed, he noticed that Joe wasn’t home, and tried to text him, but the network was out, and he was so tired….

He’d fallen asleep moments later, in spite of that gnawing feeling of missing something, and in spite of the pain.

Russell blinked and grabbed his glasses off the nightstand and went to the kitchen for some coffee. He paused at the kitchen door; he didn’t feel any pain in his ribs or shoulder. None at all. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a glass of orange juice and looking at her phone.

“Do you have service?” she asked. She looked up and frowned. “Hey honey. I thought you were Joe – is he not up yet?”

Russell stopped, his hand halfway to the cabinet where they kept the coffee. “What?”

“I haven’t seen him yet this morning,” Lillian said.

“His bed is made,” Russell said.

“He’s not here,” Lillian said.

“Are you sure?” Russell asked, walking back to their room. He grabbed his phone off the nightstand and unlocked it – he didn’t have service either. He glanced around the bedroom. He didn’t see Joe’s bag, phone, or glasses.

When he turned around, Lillian was in the doorway. Her hair was in a loose bun. “I’ll call –“ she looked down at her phone. “Damn it,” she snapped. “Do you have service?”

Russell shook his head. “His phone isn’t here,” he said.

“I’m going to see if I can use the phone next door. I think Evelyn has a landline,” Lillian said, walking back down the hallway. Russell heard her footsteps quicken as she got closer to the door, and then the door slam behind her.

He looked back down at his phone and touched his ribs. They felt fine.


When the Sheriff knocked on their door, Russell saw his mother visibly relax. She expected good news – somehow the appearance of Scarlett comforted her.

Russell stood in the hallway and started putting it together before the sheriff opened her mouth. Ever since his fall at the park, something had been eating at his consciousness. Like a piece of him was gone, erased, so thoroughly wiped out that he couldn’t even find the scars.

“Your son… we found him by the cell tower, Mrs. Darby.”

Russell saw spots – suddenly he felt light-headed, and all the words coming from the Sheriff’s mouth were muted, like he had cotton in his ears.

“It’s not ‘Darby’ anymore,” Lillian said.

Russell turned away from the door. He braced himself against the wall, touching his ribs. They still felt fine. He’d checked for the blue vein of bruises earlier, and they had disappeared.

He could hear the door squeaking as the Sheriff gently nudged it open, and his mother’s voice catch as she started to understand.

“We’re not sure what happened, Lillian,” Scarlett murmured. “But…” Scarlett trailed off and bit her lip. She took Lillian’s hands in hers, even though Lillian was pulling away.

“Joe is dead. He was out in the forest behind the library last night. It looks like he was struck by lightning.” Scarlett’s eyes flickered to Russell. For a brief moment, Russell saw her face crumble, but then his mother spoke again, and the Sheriff’s expression evened out.

She doesn’t have practice at this, Russell thought. No one dies in Houndstoothe. Not like… not like this.

“What are you saying?” Lillian sounded so angry.

Russell recognized it right away – it was Lillian’s mask. Anger was the easiest vehicle to the other side of whatever was currently befalling the family. Like when Dad left. She knew exactly what was happening. The comprehension on her face mirrored Russell’s, but she always opted for anger instead of grief.

It’s easier, Russell thought.

Russell sank to the floor. The lightning storm. He’d fallen out of the air when it hit. The cancerous loneliness, that ferocious pain – it made sense, now. He’d felt Joe die, in his body. It was grief, that was all, just stupid grief.

“Your son is dead, Lillian,” Scarlett said, gently. “Why don’t you sit down?”

“Scarlett, my son’s not dead,” Lillian said. “Look, Russell is right there, we’re just trying to find Joe, we don’t think he came home last night – “

“Sit down, Lillian,” Scarlett murmured, and she guided Russell’s mother inside.

Russell went to the bedroom and sat down on Joe’s bed.

5:00 p.m.

The whole day was a blur. Scarlett sat down with Russell and explained that a lightning storm had knocked out the cell tower – at least that was the working hypothesis – and that Joe had been on a walk when the lightning storm hit and had just been in the wrong place.

“I think he was just unlucky, Russell.”

Lillian was a mess. One minute crying, the next yelling. Screaming at Dad on the phone in the backyard – that was as far as she could go with their next door neighbor’s landline. The next she was begging Sheriff Granger for more information. Scarlett had been in and out all day, doing her best to answer questions. She was supposed to drop off Joe’s bag and clothes later.

At 4:30 p.m., Russell stood up from the couch.

“I’m going to Lincoln’s to get us something to eat,” he said.

“You can’t go out alone!” Lillian snapped.

“We need to eat, Mom.”

“No! You – I’ll go with you,” she said. She kept grabbing his shoulders, as if he was going to vaporize into thin air.

“Mom,” Russell said. He wanted to slap her. He put his fingers around her wrists and looked into her frightened, red eyes. She was heartbroken. Desperate for relief, of any kind. He gently pushed her away. “I need a second.” He sounded more grown up than he felt. He wanted to scream at her – he wanted to lose control, just like she was doing, but one of them had to keep it together.

And he wanted to know what really happened – it sounded so stupid.

Your brother was struck by lightning.

He wanted to ask Joe what really happened. Ask him why he was out in the forest by the cell tower in the first place. But then, he’d remember that he couldn’t ask his brother those things. He wanted Joe to calm Mom down. He was better at it than Russell. Joe could always talk her off the ledge.

Lillian took a deep breath and stood back. “All right,” she said. “All right.” She sank on to the couch, head in her hands.

“You need to call Grandma at some point,” he said quietly. Russell put a glass of water in front of her and then left.

Russell climbed into the car and caught a glimpse of himself in the rear view. His hair was a mess and he’d never put his contacts in.

I look more like Joe than myself today.

He shook his head and turned the key in the ignition. As he backed out of the driveway, he saw the Sheriff’s car coming back up the road, but he didn’t stop. He figured she’d cut him some slack for only driving with a permit, given the circumstances. He usually hated driving, but he was so desperate to be alone. Just for a second.

He headed for Lincoln’s, squeezing the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. He wanted to talk to Dad, but the damn cell tower was out, and he didn’t want Mom to listen in.

Russell parked on the side of the diner.

He took the keys out of the ignition and held them in his fingers, squeezing, letting the teeth dig into his palm. He drew in a shaky breath, as deep as he could.

You have to take care of Mom. She’s going to need it more than ever. You can ask Dad to help with college and move her out of Houndstoothe with you.

College was still a few years away, and it wasn’t like Lillian was helpless – she had a job, and Clark hadn’t abandoned them financially. Maybe the two of them would swallow their pride and pull together for a little while, just to get through this.

Russell took another deep breath. A few tears slipped out, and realizing he couldn’t control them, he let them flow and stared at nothing out the window.

Joe, what the hell. Leaving me here.

After a few minutes, he climbed out of the car.

I’m here to get dinner and use the phone. That’s it. No more of this.

Under normal circumstances, Russell liked the diner. It was a good place to get burgers, but he’d always experienced it in a completely different way than Joe. Joe always went during the quieter hours, early in the morning or late at night, right before Lincoln closed up.

After Clark left – for good, it wasn’t like he’d ever been around that much - Joe was at Lincoln’s all the time. At first it irritated Russell. It seemed like Joe wanted to be anywhere but home, like he was giving up on their family just like Clark did, but he just wanted someone to talk to that wasn’t angry. And Lincoln never turned Joe away, which was more than their father had done.

Sometimes Russell went there with his friends. And he liked it there too, just not for the same reasons as Joe – Russell loved the bustle, loved that everyone in town knew his name.

But his heart sank at the sight of the full booths. Everyone was drinking tea. They were probably reading their stupid tea leaves.

They were probably asking questions about Joe. He considered turning back – no one had spotted him yet. But he and Lillian did need to eat, and he didn’t want to drive into the next county for McDonald’s.

He took a deep breath and opened the door.


It was the boy from her dream. Rosemary dropped her teaspoon and twisted in her chair.

“Oh my god. That’s Russell,” Agnes said.

Rosemary barely heard her. How is he here?

“Who’s Russell?” Bill asked.

“Joe Darby’s twin brother. God. I can’t even imagine how he’s handling this,” Agnes said. She held her teacup with both hands and watched the boy over the rim. After a moment she blew on her tea and steam dissipated over the table.

“How do you know these kids?” Bill asked. He reached for some sugar packets, tore the tops off, and dumped them in his teacup.

“I told you – in two weeks you’ll know everyone too,” Agnes said. “But Joe works… ah… worked… at the library. A few afternoons a week. God. Lillian must be heartbroken.”

Rosemary watched as the boy made his way through the crowd, gently nudging old ladies away after they hugged him, and stared as he leaned over the counter to talk to Lincoln. She dug her fingernails into her palm. Does he know me? Does he remember touching my hand?

“You okay?” Bill asked, nudging Rosemary’s arm.

Rosemary nodded and turned back to the table. “He just looks familiar,” she muttered, half to herself.

Her mind raced, matching up the details. Like memory. That game she and Bill used to play when she was little, turning over little cardboard pictures and then turning them back over, remembering where the first apple was when you found a second one.

His face and eyes were the same – at least at first glance. The glasses were different. Without thinking, Rosemary slipped her hand into her pocket, where the glasses from the first dream were. They had black half-frames, hornrims. Now he was wearing wayfarers – blocky tortoise-shell frames.

In the dream his hair was longer. Not quite a mullet, but almost. It was shaggy. Now his hair was shorter, cropped close on the sides, but long on top – in the dream he looked straight out of the eighties.

In the dream he wore navy high-top sneakers. Now he was wearing black athletic shoes.

Lincoln was waving him into the back. He was gone.


“What can I do for you, Russell?” Lincoln asked.

‘I…” Russell looked around. He knew that everybody talked to Lincoln, but that wasn’t why he was here. He was just here to get food and call his dad. “I… came to get dinner. For me and Mom.”

Lincoln’s eyes darted around the diner, then he lifted his hand and waved Russell behind the counter. “Okay,” he said. “Come with me.”

Russell followed Lincoln through the swinging door into the kitchen. A wave of hot, greasy air hit him. Burgers and fries were a staple dinner choice in Houndstoothe. It still smelled great, though.

“Did I just tell everyone we’re fine?” Russell mumbled.

“Sounded like it,” Lincoln said.

Russell leaned against the wall beside a hand-washing sink. He could still hear everyone out there, talking. Talking about Joe. Like they knew him.

“We’re not fine,” he whispered.

There were stainless steel countertops, a huge sink, already piled high with dishes, and a hot grill. Lincoln pulled a cookie sheet with three pies on it out of the oven, the fruit bubbling over the sides and sizzling in dark, purple puddles on the pan.

Lincoln pushed his sleeves up. “Burgers sound good?”

How does he run this kitchen by himself?

“Sure,” Russell said, sinking to the floor. “Thanks.” He stared at his knees. Get up. This isn’t what you do. This isn’t how you deal with this.

Lincoln grabbed some patties out of the fridge and threw them on the grill. He turned back around after a moment. “I’m sorry.”

Russell looked up. Lincoln was watching him, eyes dark, hands in pockets beneath his apron.

“This has to be a joke,” Russell whispered. “Joe’s not dead.”

“Bad joke,” Lincoln said, after a moment.

Russell looked down and wiped his eyes. “Do you have a phone I can use?”

Lincoln chuckled dryly. “Sure. I’ve had more requests for the phone today than pie. I think I have the last working landline in Houndstoothe.” He jerked his head at a door to Russell’s left. “In the office, right there. Calling your pop?”

Russell nodded. How does he know? Not that it mattered. Everybody knew that Lincoln knew everything.

“Door’s unlocked,” Lincoln said.

Russell pushed himself up and let himself into Lincoln’s office. The walls were green and there were pictures lining the left wall, in gold frames. Some of them were of men, some of women. The first one was a tin type, and the last one was a photograph that looked like it’d been taken sometime in the late nineties, based on the picture quality and the orange, digital-number date in the corner. Each picture was in front of a building that looked like the diner.

Russell collapsed in the desk chair and picked up the phone. He looked up his father’s number in his own phone first, realizing he didn’t have it memorized, then dialed and waited.

He thought about the day Dad left – Russell had called him then, too, but he hadn’t answered. Joe had come by the diner that night, while Russell walked around the house, picking up after Mom. She’d been so sad and angry. She destroyed everything in her path until the whole house was trashed. Thinking about it made Russell feel small – because they had been small, only nine. Maybe ten.

Russell hated Clark for leaving. Sometimes Joe hated him too. Other times Russell didn’t care. His parents’ relationship wasn’t any of his business. Whether or not they got along didn’t affect him much. Except Russell became the adult after Clark left. He didn’t mean to. He just started doing all the things Clark did, like paying the electric bill, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, getting Joe up in the mornings – Russell stepped up. He even checked the bank statements to make sure everything looked okay.

The phone rang a few times before Clark picked up. “Hello?”


“Oh, Russell. Thank god. I’ve been trying to get hold of you. Your mother said something about the cell tower earlier? Is that a thing?”

“Yeah, we don’t have service,” Russell said. “You know, because the lightning storm knocked it out.” He almost said, ‘the lightning storm that killed Joe’ but bit it back just in time.

He bent, staring at the desk, then thought about hitting his head on it. He leaned forward until his forehead bumped the desktop and stayed there. At least he won’t mix us up anymore. The thought came unbidden and unwanted, out of the depths of Russell’s mind, but he didn’t challenge it. It’s true.

“I’m trying to get a plane ticket. I’m on my way, son, okay? Are you okay? Russ?”

Russell sighed. Clark’s greatest pitfall as a parent was how distracted he was all the time. So caught up with work. He always wanted to be busy, to be accomplishing. Sometimes Russell noticed himself doing the same thing and hated himself for it.

“Dad…” Russell trailed off. Joe can’t be dead, he thought.


Russell stayed on the desk. He was so close he could see the pattern of the wood. Looks like a thumbprint.

“I just need you to get here,” Russell said, finally.

He didn’t know how he’d imagined this talk going. Not like this, though.

“I’m trying. I think I can get there tomorrow. Maybe the next day,” Clark said.

“What? In two days?” Russell sat up. “His funeral’s probably going to be in three, right?”

“I’ll be there by then,” Clark said.

“You’re not even going to help us with this?” Russell whispered.

“That’s not what I said, Russell. I’m trying to get a flight tomorrow.” Clark sounded tired. He sounded okay. The steadiness in his voice made Russell sick.

Russell leaned on his hand. “Could you drive?” He reconsidered his words. “I mean, if you can’t get a flight tomorrow, can’t you drive?”

Russell took a deep breath. You’re okay, he reminded himself. “It’s okay,” he muttered. “Just get here when you can.”

“I’ll be there soon,” Clark said.

“Yeah,” Russell said. “Good. Be careful.”


“What?” Russell looked around the office again. He noticed a picture of Lincoln on the desk. He looked much younger. Maybe Russell’s age. He was standing with an older woman, maybe his mother. A big dog was jumping on them and they were laughing.

“Are you okay?” Clark asked.

I’ve never been asked that stupid question so many times in my life. He still didn’t know how to answer. “I’ll be fine,” he said. His voice cracked. He put his hand over his mouth, to catch any more traitorous feelings. “I’ll see you soon, Dad.”

Clark hesitated. “Okay. See you soon.”

Russell put the phone down.

No I’m not okay you bastard!” Russell pounded his fist on the desk and pushed away from it. He put his face in his hands and cried.

Joe what happened? What the fuck? How could you leave me here with our parents like this?

Lincoln nudged the door open. Russell straightened and wiped his face.

“Burgers are ready,” Lincoln said, holding up a paper bag. He set it on the desk. “I put some fries and stuff in there too. Should be enough to feed you for a day or two.” He paused. “Take some vitamins or something, though.”

“Thanks,” Russell said. He turned away and used the sleeve of his hoodie to wipe his nose. It smelled like Joe. He must’ve grabbed one of Joe’s sweatshirts by mistake that morning. The whole family thought it was funny to buy them matching clothes, so it happened a lot.

“Oh, god,” Russell whispered.

He felt Lincoln’s hand on his back. “You’re right, Russell,” Lincoln said. “You will be fine. It’s just going to take a long time.”

“No I won’t,” Russell muttered. “Not if he’s really dead.”

Lincoln squeezed his shoulder. “Not like before,” he said. “But it gets better.”

“This can’t be real,” Russell whispered. “What was he doing out there? How could he even get hit by lightning? What are the chances? Like one in a million? Jesus….”

Lincoln backed away and leaned against the wall, all the photographs of previous diner owners lined up behind him. He rubbed his chin. “Your brother came up here a lot,” he said. It almost sounded like he was talking to himself. He glanced up at Russell. “I’m going to tell you something Russell.”

Russell looked up. He’d always hated that phrase when adults used it on him – I’m going to tell you something – because it was always something that he didn’t want to hear. He heard a set of lines from the old town song in his mind, something everyone heard around campfires.

Go and fetch the Old Man Lincoln

And tell him when you find him

You’ve got a stone inside your heart

And listen when you tell him.

Supposedly the first Lincoln could see inside your soul and tell you exactly what you needed to hear. Especially when you didn’t want to hear it.

Russell had never really believed in such a thing, but Lincoln was watching him now, steadily, and he had a grim look that demanded attention.

Is he serious? He’s going to do this shit right now?

“You’re going to find yourself in a lot of dark places,” Lincoln said. His eyes glistened. “And you’re going to want to look for the light somewhere else. But somewhere else isn’t where you are. You’ll have to find it there.”

Lincoln walked out of the office. “You can go out the back door if you don’t want to wade through town gossip,” he said. “Grab some cokes from the fridge if you want.” He pushed the swinging door and stepped back out into the diner. It looked like another world out there.

Russell stood up and grabbed the bag of food and headed for the back door.


“Do you like Target?” Agnes asked. She felt stupid as soon as she said it. Target was like cats; everyone liked it, even if they pretended they didn’t.

But Rosemary didn’t pretend – she nodded. “Yeah.”

“Want to go with me? I have a few things I need to get and I told your Dad I’d get him some cheese nips.”

“Um…” Rosemary glanced around her room, then nodded. “Sure, I’ll go to Target.”

Agnes grinned. “Cool!” She turned and yelled down the hall. “Bill! We’re going to Target!”

“Get me some pickles too, please!” Bill called.

“Oka-ay,” Agnes yelled.

“And remember, cheezits, not cheese nips!” Bill added.

Agnes rolled her eyes and glanced back at Rosemary. “Are you ready?”

Rosemary leaned over the edge to grab her shoes. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

“I’ll be in the truck,” Agnes told her, then stopped by the kitchen for her purse and keys.

Agnes started the truck and rolled down the driver’s side window, then turned the radio station to something she hoped was appealing to a fifteen-year-old and waited.

It was still hard to believe that Bill was a father, let alone the father of the person walking out of Agnes’s house. Rosemary looked like Bill and Kat in equal parts.

She had dark brown eyes like Kat’s, serious and bright, but her hair was lighter than her mother’s – Kat had brilliant blue-black hair and always looked like a princess out of a storybook to Agnes. Bill and Agnes had both inherited June’s dark-but-mousy-brown. Rosemary also had Kat’s nose – a cute, pointed shape, but she didn’t hold her head high and turn it up like Kat did. Her smile was Bill’s.

Slower than Bill’s, maybe, but it was genuine and sincere. Agnes wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen Kat smile, at least not sober. Sometimes when she did smile it seemed like a mask, a façade of catty politeness.

Rosemary had been so quiet since she and Bill arrived that it was hard to say who she was the most like. Agnes remembered Kat being beautiful, opinionated, and sometimes condescending. She was so goals-oriented that she had trouble relating to Agnes, who had always been a go-with-the-flow-type person – Bill was the planner, the list-maker, the one who listened to doctors.

Kat had been extremely smart, too, and charming. And she knew it.

Bill had quiet periods, he always had, but Agnes didn’t remember them being quite as isolated as Rosemary’s. It wasn’t as if parents were blueprints for their children, anyway – Agnes wasn’t anything like either of her and Bill’s parents. Agnes chewed on her lip and watched her niece walk from the front porch to the truck. She kept looking for any semblance of familiarity in her – which of her parents she looked like, whether there were any clues to her personality by way of Bill’s teen years.

Rosemary climbed into the truck. She had earbuds in.

Agnes bit her lip and backed out of the driveway.

I’m probably just the weird, incompetent relative that doesn’t have a real job and isn’t married yet, Agnes thought. Why would she want to talk to me?

After a few minutes of radio and awkward silence between the two of them, Agnes thought, I can’t do this – maybe I’ll ask her if she has a boyfriend – that’s big when you’re fifteen, right?

Instead, she said, “So, how are you doing? With the move and everything?”

“Great,” Rosemary said. “It’s great.”


Rosemary shrugged. “Yeah.” She glanced over at Agnes for the first time. “So… you work at the library?”

Agnes raised her eyebrows. This is good, she thought. A question is good.

“Yeah! Yeah, I work at the library. Gets bills paid. It’s fun. I mean, if you like cataloguing books and stuff.”

“Sounds cool,” Rosemary said.

“It is cool,” Agnes said.

Rosemary cleared her throat. “So that, um. That boy that died?”

Agnes looked over at her niece – she looked nervous, twisting her fingers together.

“Joe,” Agnes said. “He worked at the library part-time. Such a nice kid.”

Rosemary looked out the window. “That other kid at the diner was his twin?”

Agnes nodded. “Yeah. Russell. I hope he’s okay. I think he and Joe were pretty close. You’d never know they were twins if they didn’t look alike, though. Joe was pretty sensitive. He was really into reading, very smart, very artistic – Russell’s more into sports and things like that. Pretty stubborn. He took over a lot of responsibility when their Dad left.” Agnes flicked her blinker on and took the 41A Exit. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh,” Rosemary said. “I was kind of confused, at the diner. About why everyone was crowding him and stuff. I heard you say you knew him.”

Agnes nodded. “Oh.” She shrugged and glanced out the window. “It’s too bad. I think you and Joe would’ve gotten along.” She flicked her blinker again and turned into the Target parking lot. She cleared her throat. “Ready to spend some money?”

Rosemary was already climbing out of the truck.

Agnes sighed. She remembered being a teenager, and how easy it was for everyone around her to say the wrong things, after Mom died. Bill had been impossible to talk to, for a while.

The red walls of Target always smelled like coffee and a new car to Agnes. Not specifically a new car, but she was easily allured by the plastic, clean smell of new things, and Target seemed more affordable than the mall. She grabbed a basket out of habit and went immediately to the Starbucks beside the register.

“Want anything?” Agnes asked. “Pumpkin spice is back.”

Rosemary shook her head. “No thanks,” she said. “I’m just going to go pick up some stuff for school.”

“Oh – okay.” Agnes nodded. “See you in a little bit.” She waved and watched Rosemary slip away between the red aisles.


Bill sat on the twin bed in his old bedroom. He felt grimy; there was dirt on his clothes and skin. One second, all he could think about was moving his right arm. The next, all he could think about was the faintly glowing space rock in his closet.


There was nothing that filled Bill with paradox-feelings like a blank page. On the one hand, clean slate. No mistakes. Fresh snow. A world of possibilities, wide open to him, even inviting him in. On the other hand, misspelled words, tangents, paragraphs upon paragraphs of unnecessary descriptions, self-indulgent lists of color adjectives – the certainty of failure – it all loomed over him. A rain cloud of disappointment.

And then, on the other third hand, he couldn’t write because his right arm was in a sling.

Despite his best intentions, he’d never learned to write with his left hand. He switched to his laptop and watched the blinking cursor for a while. He could at least sort of type left-handed. I’ve always wanted to try dictating a book.

He turned on the dictate function and leaned back in his chair. Now that the little red circle indicated recording, he had absolutely no thoughts worth dictating.

“I could really go for some Oreos right now,” he mumbled.

Bill glanced at the kitchen and saying a list of things he could do instead of writing. The dishes were dirty.

“Dishes,” he said, experimentally.

Dishes appeared on his screen.

He could see a package of Oreos on the counter – he could eat those.

“Eat Oreos…”

He tapped the table with his left hand. The novelty of dictation had expired.

He stood up and went to the kitchen and wrestled with the Oreos, pinning the package against his body and slipping his hand inside. He dropped it back on the counter and put the prize in his mouth. He could watch TV, unpack his duffel bag, or clean out his bedroom closet.

Or I could go get the meteorite that almost killed us.

He considered that last one for a moment, then went looking for his shoes. I’ll go for a walk.

He left with his phone, which was still useless, but it made him feel better to carry it, his wallet, and a pocket notebook and pencil. He realized after het set foot out the door that he was playing a game in his mind; he was pretending that he would just walk around the block a few times, but really, he was going to walk to the lake. Specifically, the highway by the lake, where he’d crashed the jeep.

The jeep had arrived in a dumpy tow-truck that morning. An older gentleman had climbed out -he looked greasy and dangerous to Bill, but Agnes greeted him warmly and thanked him.

While Bill wrote him a check, he commented, “You know, I’ve pulled a few vehicles off the shore in my time, and they’ve never been in as good o’ shape as your jeep. Usually that fall totals vehicles.”

“Is that right?” Bill asked.

“Yep. Your jeep is fine. Needs some window repairs, looks like a few parts got knocked loose – but that’s it.”

“Crazy,” Bill agreed, tearing the check out. It had taken him a long time to write it – who wrote checks anymore? He couldn’t remember how to fill out the ‘amount’ section – was it numerical or spelled out?

Bill glanced wistfully at the jeep as he walked by. He could probably manage to drive with just his left arm, but it’d be stupid if he wrecked it again, trying to drive back to the place he’d wrecked it in the first place. No; better that he get a walk in, anyway. He hadn’t gotten in any steps in weeks.

Maybe a walk through the neighborhood would help him remember Houndstoothe.

Agnes’s house was tucked into a cul-de-sac with other cute houses with beautiful yards. Bill wondered if everyone else was mooching off of their rich grandads, or if he and Agnes were the only ones. He saw a few older folks out and about, and thought he could remember younger versions, back when they were his age and also had teenagers. When they lived in Houndstoothe with Grandad, June was the young, pretty mom with two kids and a no-good baby daddy that didn’t pay child support.


Bill glanced around. Did someone just call me William?

He turned and saw Molly Ende, leaning over a picket fence with her beady little eyes glittering. She looked like a rat.

“Hello,” Bill said. He stopped in the middle of the street.

She smiled and Bill’s smile faltered as he shuffled through memories – Molly Ende, Molly Ende. Heather. First girlfriend. Molly is Heather Ende’s mom.

Bill pushed his smile into a grin and ambled over to the picket fence. “Molly!”

The older woman smiled and leaned over the fence. “I thought that was you, William! Agnes told me you were coming to visit.”

“Oh, live. I just moved here. With my kid.”

“You have children?” Molly blinked.

Bill smiled tightly. He remembered that stare very well, now that he was faced with it – how she had always been watching him when he was over for dinner, as if he could impregnate Heather just by holding her hand. He remembered that Molly's meatloaf was the absolute worst, but everyone told her it was the best. Bill had once jokingly told Kat that it was the first time he realized what gaslighting was, but Kat didn’t think it was funny.

Bill cleared his throat. “One daughter. Rosemary.”

“Oh, what a cute name. How old is she?”

“Fifteen,” Bill said.

“Dangerous age for girls,” Molly clicked her tongue against her teeth. “And your wife moved here with you?”

Bill grinned wider to mask the moan of frustration in the back of his throat.

“Molly,” he said. “Just a treat to see you, honest, but I’ve gotta run. Trying to get in my steps.”

“Be sure to come by and see Heather when she visits next month,” Molly called. “You were always one of her best friends!”

“Until she dumped my ass,” Bill muttered under his breath. He waved. “Good to see you, Molly!”

Bill sighed and looked at the houses and small business as he walked by, memories flickering in the back of his mind. Bill looked up and realized he’d found the main highway, the one that led to the lake. He was heading the right direction. In his mind, he imagined Houndstoothe as a childhood home, not the place he and Agnes grew up. But really they had grown up here. They didn’t leave till Bill was 17, when Mom got sick and Grandad begged her to move to Illinois so she’d be closer to Chicago doctors.

Maybe he remembered Houndstoothe better than he thought. And it seemed to remember him, too.


It’ll be gone. Someone will have moved it – maybe NASA has a tracker and sent an intern to pick it up so they can study it.

But the meteorite was still sitting in the middle of the highway.

Maybe no one else has come into town since yesterday. God, this place is so small.

Maybe the mechanic was scared to touch it – maybe he didn’t care. Maybe Bill was the only one that could see it.

That doesn’t make any sense. Rosemary saw it.

Maybe Bill was the only one that was so obsessed with it he’d walk two miles to the lake in secret to find it again.

In daylight, the meteorite had such a bright reflection that it hurt Bill’s eyes. He felt the same strange feeling inside – nervousness – no – excitement.

The meteorite had cracked the pavement, and it sat there, glimmering like a movie prop.

Bill’s heart started to beat fast – he didn’t remember noticing his heartbeat outside of fear in a long time. I should start meditating, he thought. Count heartbeats.

The meteorite was the size of a small tire, and had the same basic round shape of a rock, though the surface was chiseled like a messy polyhedral die.

Bill tried to count the colors – they reminded him of the sea, probably because of how smooth and milky the shimmer was, like a pearl. He saw pale pink, which made him think of Rosemary’s first room, the nursery, where he became so well-acquainted with the witching hours between 12 and 4 a.m. That was where he wrote all the short stories for a book that was never published. He wrote it for Rosemary, but she’d never seen any of it.

He was going to call it Rescue Me, Princess. All the stories were about a little girl that conquered dragons, went on space adventures, and rescued her friends from evil daycare workers. The last story had been about a father that was rescued by his daughter, the princess, and it was the titular story. He’d never finished it. He got a deal for his novel and had to finish it while Rosemary was teething. Then she started sleeping through the night again.

He saw pale blue, gold, silver, lilac, a soft green – each conjuring a clear moment in his life. The first winter wind with snow in it, on a ghostly Chicago morning. He and Kat had signed the divorce papers that day, and had agreed that Rosemary would spend Christmas with Kat.

The clink of wedding rings in his pocket, the day he and Kat were married.

Bill bent in front of the meteorite, rubbing his chin. I’m probably not supposed to touch it. It’s a space rock, after all.

Bill wished he had an ugly rock to replace it with, or at least a bag of sand. He threw his left arm around it, bending his knees, and grunted. It wasn’t as heavy as he expected. Actually, it wasn’t heavy at all.

“You’re my space rock now,” Bill said.

He frowned and started walking back home.


Even though the meteorite wasn’t very heavy, Bill’s left arm ached by the time he made it back to the house. When he reached the door, he fumbled and managed to get it open without putting down the meteorite. He didn’t really want to put it down. Holding it, he imagined – surely it wasn’t real – that there was an almost sentient energy coming from it, and it filled his mind with images of himself dressed as a science officer from Star Trek.

Hope I’m not a red shirt.

On the other hand, not putting it down resulted in bumping his sling several times, and that didn’t feel good, so when he reached his room, he knelt on the floor and used his thighs to let it roll into a corner of his closet.

Bill sat back against his bed and stared at it. Was he imagining the glow? That’s definitely a halo. If this were a movie, it’d be a perfect opportunity for lens flare.

He watched it for a few minutes, still feeling warm and fuzzy about it, but also hungry, so he ventured out of his room and went to the kitchen for a snack. He retrieved the package of Oreos, some questionable milk, and some ibuprofen for his arm, then went back, carrying the Oreos in his teeth and juggling everything else as well as he could with his arm pinned to his side. He still spilled the milk.

This is the life. Milk and cookies with over-the-counter pain meds.

He thought wistfully of the last of his stash he’d smoked the other night – he’d have to ask Agnes where to get weed around here.

The bed in Bill’s old room was twin-size, and too short. Even sitting up, his ankles dangled off the end. He settled back against the pillows and ripped open the Oreos, looking around his old room.

There was an old lava lamp sitting on the floor, covered in dust, and a new floor lamp that Agnes must’ve brought in recently.

There was a stack of old “spell” books from his mother – books about plant life, weather patterns, rhyming techniques – old fashioned spell work. The sorts of things “real” witches did. Bill remembered reading them. He’d felt absolutely ridiculous, and even gotten in trouble at school for bringing satanic texts into the classroom. That’d pissed off June, of course.

But he read every stupid page. A lot of it had made its way into his first novel, Boys Aren’t Witches, a story about a little boy from a witch family, growing up in the eighties, trying to be cool. In the book, boys just didn’t get witch powers, but the protagonist got some against all odds at the end.

Bill closed his eyes. He hadn’t had a chance to talk to Rosemary anymore about pushing. What else could he say? This is normal – for Blaires – and it’s really cool that you got it because I didn’t. That wouldn’t help.

There were also Star Wars posters all over the room, a Nirvana poster, a poster for The Mask, and a record collection messily stacked on top of a broken record player. Bill had been certain he could figure out how to “fix” it.

He closed his eyes again. He’d mentioned painting Rosemary’s room, but now he wondered about this room – the walls weren’t plastered with flowery wallpaper, but the paint was stained, chipped, and flat. Being in his old room made him feel eight years old again.

“Who are you?”

Bill’s head snapped up, and he found himself staring at a young boy. He was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt, his Star Wars shirt, stained with Kool-Aid and torn in the middle so it looked like he had been stabbed. That had been his favorite thing about the shirt, back when it fit. Before June made him throw it out. The kid also had his mismatched socks, and unkempt curls.

“Who are you?” Bill asked, stupidly.

“Billy. This is my room.”

“No way. This is my room,” Bill said.

“It’s not,” the kid said. He wiped his nose and hopped up on the bed.

Bill scooted away, uneasy. He didn’t think he should be talking to his younger self – and they probably shouldn’t come in contact physically, either.

Billy pointed. “That’s my special poster of The Mask. See? Jim Carrey signed it.”

Bill snorted and covered his mouth.


“No, he didn’t,” he laughed. “Grandad lied.”

“Get out of my room,” Billy said, crossing his arms.

“No! This is my room!” Bill grabbed the pillow he’d been leaning on and hugged it so the child in front of him couldn’t reach it.

The little boy across from him frowned. “Who are you?”

“I’m you. From the future.”

“Like in Back to the Future?”

“No. Like in my concussed head. Get out of here, man.”

The boy turned, eyes wide. “Dad!”

Bill’s heart dropped to his stomach. Billy opened his mouth, wide, and screamed, “Dad!

“Dad?” Rosemary asked, poking her head in.

Bill looked up. He was still hugging his pillow. He put it down.

“Why are you yelling in here?” Rosemary asked.

“I wasn’t. Um. Just talking to myself.”

Rosemary frowned. “Okay. Well – here.” She tossed him a box of Cheese Nips and prepared to throw a jar of pickles.

“No, no, no, I can’t catch that – NO!”

Rosemary tossed it anyway and it landed near Bill’s feet, on the mattress. She raised her eyebrows and backed out.

Bill let go of his pillow and tore open the box. There was no sign of Billy. Stop it, Bill. You have a concussion. You’re hallucinating. He put a cracker in his mouth and wrinkled his nose.

He shouted, to no one, “Cheese Nips and Cheez-Its are not the same! Not even close!”

Bill made a face, turned another cracker over in his hand, and ate it anyway. One battle at a time, Bill.

He glanced over at his closet and saw the white cat with lamp-like eyes sitting on the meteorite, staring at him.

Bill threw a Cheese Nip at it, experimentally. The cat squinted at him, then hopped off the meteorite and sauntered out of the room.

“Hey, Walter,” Agnes said, passing Bill’s room.

“Don’t call me Walter,” Bill called.

Agnes poked her head in and pointed to the cat, which was no weaving between her ankles and rubbing its face on her knees. “I was talking to Walter,” she said, pointing at him.

Bill threw a Cheese Nip at her.

Agnes glared and slipped back into the hall. Walter gave Bill one last, hollow look, then followed her.


Joe heard a high, steady ringing, like a tuning fork, accompanied by the soft tinkling of bells and chimes. He’d been dreaming about something cosmic and beautiful – lightning from space, colors like a Crayola box, raining down on his body. It hurt, but there was another sensation too, like each bolt was a jet of freezing water, and it made him feel awake and alive.


He couldn’t remember the last time he’d taken a breath and realized that he wasn’t breathing – for a moment he panicked, trying to remember how to do it, realizing all at once that his eyes weren’t open and he wasn’t lying down – he wasn’t sure where he was. Everything was dark. He gasped but no relief came – but he didn’t need it, not like… not like he was supposed to. He kept the in-and-out motions of his lungs going, just the same.

In his mind, he saw stars, at first simple five-point cutouts, and they were soft and liquid-looking like a scrap of watercolored paper. He felt physically connected to the stars, like they were attached to points of his body, puppeting him across space and time. He watched as the stars folded on themselves. Imploding stars….

He heard shuffling paper. Paper stars, folding up. And then they looked like real stars, pinpricks of light in a vast velvet darkness.

It wasn’t a void darkness – more like an oil slick, dark rainbow colors marbling across the ink-black sky.

He imagined a giant needle pricking the skin of the universe, and light bubbling up from the broken surface. Light and shapes and awareness flooded Joe’s senses – his eyes were open now.

He was in the forest. Just like before, but it was much colder. In the sky, he could see the clear shapes of planets – they were close enough to make out the rings of Saturn and the tempestuous orange sands of Mars, swirling. He blinked. I must be dreaming, he thought. I’m not really awake.

He pushed himself up and turned in a slow circle, till he fixed his eyes on the great white orb in the distance, glowing silver and white – it was the moon. But it couldn’t be the moon, it couldn’t be that close – the proximity would ruin the Earth.

Joe blinked and turned again – now the air was filled with floating lights, glitter and twinkle lights and distant lightbulbs. He felt the tug on his senses – invisible wires tied to his eyebrows, elbows, knees, shoulders – when he looked up, he saw points of light that corresponded to each physical sensation. I am a constellation.

He heard hoofbeats and whirled. Emerging from the forest, he saw a man on a black horse. The beast’s chest was transparent, and Joe could see a mechanical heart inside it, wired into the creature’s body. One of her eyes had an unsettling red glow. The man wore a long black coat, a black cowboy hat, and black motorcycle boots with red laces.

“What on this green planet are you doin, thinkin’ so loud?” the man demanded. “You might attract the Zoogs.”

“What?” Joe whispered.

The man leaned forward in his saddle, leather creaking. “You ain’t in Michigan anymore, kid.” He paused and glanced around. “At least, not Michigan proper. You’re caught in a realm of thought – probably your own and a few impressions from others.”

“I’m dreaming,” Joe said.

“Sorta.” The man swung down from his horse and glanced up at the arrangement of stars circling Joe’s body. “And you’re dead,” he said, raising his eyebrows. He whistled. “My lord, it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of you folks get stuck in here.”

“I’d like to wake up now,” Joe said, loudly. “Russell! Wake me up now!”

“Your big brother can’t save you out here, boy,” The rider said. He dropped the reins and leaned against a tree, pushing his hat up so that curls spilled out over his forehead.

“He’s not my big brother,” Joe said. “We’re twins.”

“But he was born first,” the rider said. He grinned again. Sometimes when he spoke, he had a squeaky, carefully curated Texas accent, but it was only every other sentence or so – anything that he added to his previous statement had less of a drawl. Like half of what he said was scripted.

Joe rubbed his face and backed away. “I’ve gotta get out of this,” he said, mostly to himself. “I’ve gotta wake up.”

“You’re awake,” said the rider. “You’re awaken, in fact.”

He leaned forward and reached into his back pocket. He pulled out a package of cigarettes – the box was red, and when he pulled out the first cigarette, Joe saw that it wasn’t a cigarette at all, but a translucent, gummy slug-shape, writhing between his fingers. Joe could hear a high-pitched squeal coming from it.

“What kind of cigarettes are those?” Joe whispered.

“This here’s bubblegum,” he said, and put a whole stick in his mouth and started chewing.

Joe swallowed. “What do I call you?”

“I don’t come when called. I just go where I’m supposed to be.”

Joe glanced at the horse. She was grazing, but she glanced up at him when he turned to her, fixing him with her mechanical red eye. “What’s your horse’s name?”

“How polite,” the Rider drawled. “That’s Widow.”

Joe backed away. “What is happening to me?”

“To dust you return?” the Rider glanced up at Joe’s constellation. “You know you’re made of stardust, don’tcha?”

Joe looked down at his hands. He was the same as he ever was – not suddenly made of glitter and silver and light, as he imagined stardust to be.

“And,” the Rider went on, “You exist outside of time, for now.”

“You just said I was dead,” Joe said. He sighed and sat down in the grass. Maybe he’d wake up soon if he was just patient.

The Rider paused a moment and looked around the forest. “I did say that,” he said. He popped the gum in his mouth. “But you’re from Houndstoothe.”

“What does that have to do with it?” Joe twisted around – maybe he if he walked back to the library, he’d be able to shake himself from all this. But he didn’t see a library.

He saw a girl.

She wore a purple t-shirt and yellow-checked vans. She stood in an aisle of bright yellow boxes – Crayola boxes – and it looked like she was in a Target. Joe watched as she brushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear, and then froze. She turned slowly and met his eyes.

She watched him for a moment. Joe could hear the Rider talking, but not what he was saying – this girl was watching him so intently.

“Joe,” she said, after a moment.

“Yeah,” Joe said. He swallowed. “How did you know?”

She started fumbling frantically with the box in her hands – a box of crayons. She didn’t take her eyes off him, though. She finally got the box open, and crayons spilled out on the floor – no, it was the forest floor, leaves and dirt and twigs – and she was on her knees, trying to retrieve them all.

Joe pushed himself up and walked toward her. She looked up at him.

“You have your glasses,” she whispered.

“Who are you?” Joe asked. He bent so that they were squatting in front of each other. Behind Joe, the forest rustled, the stars floating above his body gently tugged at his senses, and he could hear Widow stamping her hooves. Behind the girl, the forest bled into Target aisles. Joe saw a Target employee pass by, a phosphorescent light flicker overhead – or maybe it was a branch waving in front of it.

She said something, but Joe couldn’t hear her. She glanced down at the crayons in her hands, then pressed three into Joe’s palm.

Then, suddenly, she was ripped away. They were both slipping backwards from one another, and the Target aisle and the Crayola boxes and phosphorescent lights were gone.

Joe reached up to adjust his glasses. I’ll wake up soon, he thought.

But if the girl came back – he wouldn’t have minded staying asleep longer.

He heard a loud, sizzling crack and whirled around. Widow reared and backed away from the writhing current of electricity in the center of the clearing.

“Oh,” the Rider said. He looked sorry. “Hell.” He raised his eyebrows and looked at Joe. “You remember what I told you, now! Follow the – “ but he was cut off by another bolt of lightning, and suddenly Joe remembered – Ophelia in the woods, the lightning that stayed, the lightning that struck him –

And it started all over again.

“Help me!”


Another big THANK YOU to my patrons and all the friends that are cheering me on as I write these episodes. As previously stated, the part of Walter is played by our very own Aang. He does not like having his picture taken, so it's hard to capture his lamp-like eyes, but instead here's a picture of his perfect nose.

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