A journal of narrative writing.
Flint Hills, Kansas
Page 3

Five seconds passed.



"Mr. Cornfield!" cried George Eastman.

Suddenly, a valve uncorked somewhere in the body and Jerry's entire frame filled with air in one wheezing rush. As he leaned involuntarily backward, his head struck the top of the rocking chair with force and he began coughing violently.

"Get..." There was more coughing. Jerry thrust his pipe stem in the direction of the yard, where the two metallic hulks rested. In between bursts, he sucked air and shouted, "Get out!" He hunched, hands on his knees, and shook.

George Eastman opened his eyes wide and took a step backward. He looked at the consumptive, deflated man before him and blinked. "Yes. Yes, sir. If that's what you want. Certainly." He held his handkerchief in his hand. As he spoke, he gestured with it. "Mr. Cornfield. I truly am sorry to have disturbed you. I'm leaving now." His short legs strode swiftly away from the ailing man until he reached the porch steps. At the top of these he stopped, one hand on the handrail; his mouth opened and he raised the cloth with one finger extended behind it. His face puckered. After a moment, he shook his head and slowly descended the creaking steps. At the bottom he turned to face Jerry. "I came to help, Mr. Cornfield. That's all. I hope you won't think poorly of me or those I represent. Please contact Ashford Projects if you ever have need of us in the future." He lifted his hat and then replaced it. "You have my card."

Jerry's coughing slowed, but he had no words. By the time George James Eastman had walked the length of the yard, the old man's rumbling chest had nearly subsided. His throat now merely made gargling sounds, struggling with resident phlegm that never made an appearance. He hacked several times, then spat saliva over the edge of the porch.

Without his glasses, to Jerry the linen outfit of the departing man was an oblong, yellowish blob. When the shape reached the road and turned to the right, it moved behind the great wall of machinery in the yard. Jerry cleared his throat and waited. He drank water from his glass and his respiratory system responded with avalanche-like sounds.

A bird settled on the top of one of the trucks as he watched. It lifted a wing, pecked at something beneath, then flapped in place furiously with both. Jerry blinked. For a few seconds, the bird sat still, and the old man breathed peacefully; he rocked his chair forward slightly. The creature flew off suddenly when two dull, bell-like sounds rang out, as if a couple of tiny rocks had been flicked at the metal.

Jerry waited, but the man from Ashford Projects, Limited never reappeared on the other side of the trucks. Had he walked off in line with the vehicles, toward the Flint Hills? Impossible. There was nothing out there. He must have parked his car nearby, surely. Jerry placed his spectacles on his nose, slowly walked the length of the porch, and tottered down the stairs. When he reached the two massive trucks, he looked out along the street in both directions but did not see Mr. Eastman. There were no cars parked anywhere. He peered over the top of his glasses and squinted into the distance at the visible portions of the small mountains. There was absolutely no sign of the yellow-clad black man. Jerry circled the trucks twice. He placed a hand on one of them for a moment, but quickly pulled back from the sun-heated metal.

"Hm," he muttered and went inside to lie down.

When he returned to the porch later that day, it was dusk. He had sunk into a deep, sonorous slumber, filled with dreams of himself as a younger man, wandering silent streets in a thick fog. Periodically, he would sight pairs of elephants, their rear ends waddling into the mist and around corners, but each time he neared them, they vanished. As soon as they were gone, another couple of the pachyderms would appear, and he would set off after them. Time after time, he would lose sight of them at the last moment, only to perceive another pair off to the side. He increased the speed of his pursuit, but to no avail. As his failures mounted, an unaccountable panic rose within him, as if his inability to catch up to the animals would cause him to die.

He had woken dripping and exhausted, as though he truly had been running for hours through a clouded, labyrinthine city, chasing the unattainable gray beasts. Achingly, he rose, convinced that he held one of their tails but found that it was only the torn corner of one of the quilts his wife had made many years ago.

His spectacles were still on his nose. With them, he momentarily scrutinized the backs of his hands, the green pathways beneath the parchment skin carrying vital fluids throughout his body. He held them up in the twilight from the open window and was suddenly thirsty; blinking, he remembered the water jug on the porch.

He shuffled to the screen door and pushed it. Insects chased each other through the cooling air in long, curving swoops. The cottonwood's leaves quietly hissed. Squinting against the bright, but waning light, Jerry shuffled along the squeaking boards, ignoring the mosquitoes that had taken an interest in his scalp. At the porch's end, he found himself standing in the spot where Mr. Eastman had surveyed the property several hours before. He leaned forward and rubbed his eyes.

Jerry Cornfield's heart skipped once, then dropped. His jaw opened and hung there, unhinged. His fingers tightened on the railing, and flaking paint dropped to the earth like heavy snowflakes.

The Flint Hills extended into the distance, unobstructed from left to right, as far as he could see. The green and gently rolling landscape stretched before him like a turbulent ocean frozen in a single moment of uninhibited beauty. Wildflowers flecked the hills like fading stars, and, in the dusk light, the bluestem tallgrass glowed upon each elevation as if barely suppressing the sublime and wordless knowledge that had swollen the earth. It was breathtaking.

The two trucks were gone. Deep, dark rectangles, nearly touching at their corners, remained impressed where the steel giants had once rested, their perimeters lined with tall, yellow vegetation. Jerry removed his spectacles and dropped them absently over the edge of the porch. His mouth moved up and down. His eyes widened and his legs wobbled.

"Oh!" he said, and sat on the floor like a child, head in his hands, crying quietly for his loss.