Elevens (2001)

(Excerpt from the novel Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad)

 

“You count the money. I’ll count the blood.” Daniel pushes the open case of dollars toward Jesús who in turn opens a large cooler releasing a cloud of mist. The cooler is tied to a dolly. Daniel’s gloves lift blocks of dry ice, revealing pint bags labeled O negative, A negative, A positive, B positive, etc. All will be consumed during a single meeting of Fiona’s extended family. The O negative is for her.

“All good.” Daniel replaces the ice and shuts the lid. “Let’s do this again sometime.”

“You got it.” Jesús shakes hands and nods toward the twin-engine plane fronting a skyline of red rock formations. “Baron, huh? What’s it cruise, 200 knots?”

“I’m not a pilot.” Daniel grins. “I just hire them.” He tilts the dolly back while Jesús opens the door. “I need a steady source for O negative. What can you get me every other week?”

Jesús shrugs. “80 or 90 pints. Maybe 100.”

“Get me 100 and I’ll pay 200 bucks a bag.” Daniel pushes his cargo into the morning sun. “See you in two weeks?”

“You got it. I’ll have 100 for you.”

Outside, today’s pilot – Bud — opens the baggage door. When Daniel unstraps the cooler, each grabs a handle and lifts. Bud groans. “This feels heavier than what we agreed.”

“131.5 pounds, like I told you.” Daniel grunts through his teeth.

Bud puts his end into the cabin. “Same as my daughter who flew with me yesterday. Course, she’s at the age where she’d kill me for telling. You got kids?”

“None that I weighed recently.” Daniel looks at his watch. “It’s after six. Let’s go.”

Bud starts the engines. “Sedona traffic, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha taking off runway Two-One, left turnout.”

That you, Elevens? It’s Boxcar on your six. Where you headed?

“Goin’ to Chicago with all that money I won last night.” He turns onto the taxiway.

Me too.”

“Uh, I recall you leavin’ more than you came with.”

“I meant Chicago. And I was doin’ all right until you dropped triple Jacks. I’m staying at the downtown Hilton. Sure would love a chance to get my five hundred dollars back.”

“Game on!” A smile creeps across Bud’s face. “Of course, we could bet that five hundred on a race to Chi-Town.”

“Hmm. Where you stopping for fuel?”

“Garden City, Kansas.” Bud enters the runway. “Wanna make it double or nothin’?”

“That’a Texas-sized 10-4.”

Bud opens the throttle and the engines roar in stereo. Seconds later they’re airborne, white wings disappearing into a cerulean panorama. He looks in the mirror at Boxcar’s Mooney lifting off. “So, Mr. Strange, what’re we haulin’ today?”

Daniel is so entranced by the Mars-red surface he almost forgets his “business” name, Robert Strange. “Uh, lab samples. Tissue. Can’t say much beyond that.”

“Long as it ain’t stem cells – or clonin’.” Bud shakes his head. “So sick of people playin’ God when they should be worshipping Him. You a church-goer?”

“It’s been a while. I might come back.”

“Don’t wait too long. Never know when Judgement Day will arrive.”

“So why do they call you Elevens?”

“My lucky number. Born November 11. On my eleventh birthday I went to church for the first time and got moved by the Holy Spirit. At twenty-two, I became a father for the first time. And at the age of thirty-three, after wandering in the desert so to speak, I came back to Jesus. Yessir, born again.” He pauses. “Of course, you heard about my last winning hand.”

“Three Jacks.”

“Which was the eleventh hand of the game.” His right hand goes up. “God as my witness, I kid you not.”

Daniel wrinkles his forehead. “I’m trying to remember the significance of eleven in the Bible. All I remember are twelves.”

“Right, the number of apostles, and the age Jesus was when he questioned scholars in the temple. Plus, twelve sons of Jacob who formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Yep, the good book likes an even dozen. But eleven is connected to the main event for people in my church – hold on.” Bud listens to frequency traffic for several seconds. “Chatter on the east coast. Reports of a plane crashing into a skyscraper.” He shakes his head. “Where were we?”

“Eleven in the Bible.”

“Right. Eleven appears less often in scripture but when it does, it usually signifies judgement. Take the Book of Genesis. In Chapter 11, mind you, mankind rebels against God and builds the tower of Babel. God responds by confusing their language – literally, they start babbling, and the result is chaos.” He pauses to listen again. “The apostle John had eleven visions in connection with the final judgement. And the Gospel of John tells of eleven promises God makes to mankind, beginning with everlasting life if you believe in Christ and ending with a call to obey Jesus. My takeaway: Eleven is a sign to get right with the Lord before Judgement Day.” Listening again. “For the sake of completeness, I’ll note that our savior was 33 when he was crucified.” He presses a headphone tight against his left ear. “Another plane hit the World Trade Center – South Tower this time – and now they’re saying both were airliners. Looks like an attack of some sort.”

“Let me hear.”

Bud switches to an AM channel and they listen silently for several minutes. The news gets worse as reports come in about another airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Even the distance of two time zones can’t deaden the reality that the nation is under attack. There’s confusion about a fourth plane which, at first, was headed for the White House but now lies burning on the ground in Pennsylvania. Aboard each plane, the hijackers shouted “Allāhu akbar” – 11 letters spelling “God is greatest” — as they used boxcutters to slit crewmembers’ throats. Now the media is sharing voice messages from those trapped in the burning towers. Daniel keeps swallowing to quell the emotions rising in his throat. Bud just lets his moans, groans, and tears flow unchecked. He improvises a prayer:

“Dear Lord, it’s Elevens here, your perennial sinner. I know we haven’t spoken directly about my little gamblin’ problem, but I’d like to make sure we’re square. If this is your Final Judgement, please have some mercy and take this flawed but well-meaning servant to sit by your side. If, however, this is a trial you’ve set for us, I’m ready to show my devotion by givin’ up cards. Just, please, give me a sign. Show me the way.” He turns to Daniel. “If you need help prayin’ – maybe you forgot some of the words – I can help.”

“I’m sure my fate has already been decided.”

Bud looks forward. “And Lord, let’s not forget our quiet friend here, Mr. Strange. He may be a mystery, but I’m guessin’ his intentions are just as noble as mine. That, I believe, makes him worthy of your protection. Amen.”

Albuquerque Center to all aircraft: All flights are to immediately land at the nearest facility. This is a nationwide order from the FAA. Repeat: Land immediately.

“Ask for a sign, receive one.” Bud clears his throat. “Albuquerque Center, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha. Message received. Over.” He spreads a chart across the control wheel. “No long runways in front of us, so we’ll have to turn around.”

“No.” Daniel holds a pistol in his right hand. “Keep going.”

“You out of your mind? I’ll lose my license – and my livelihood.” Bud’s eyes land briefly on the gun. “Careful with that trigger. We’ll both die if you pull it.”

“I’m not pulling anything so long as you keep flying.”

Bud sighs. “Mr. Strange, you’re makin’ a big mistake. And it’s a hell of a thing to do, dragging me into whatever scheme you got going on.” He glances back. “I’m guessin’ that’s not lab samples, is it? What are you into, drugs?”

“The less you know, the safer we both are.”

“Sounds like you’re in deep.” Bud softens his voice. “Look, man, it’s not too late. I’ll testify in your favor if you just give me the gun and let me follow orders.”

“We’re all obeying someone, Bud. Just get us to Garden City.”

“And then what? You can’t take off. All flights are grounded!”

“Let me worry about that.”

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, Albuquerque Center. Turn around now and land at Sedona. That is an order.

Daniel pushes the gun closer. “Don’t acknowledge.”

Bud exhales and puts both hands on the wheel. After several seconds, he shakes his head. “The Lord is testing me today. With signs I do not like.”

“When we land,” Daniel adjusts his tone, “I’ll pay your second installment early, and we’ll part ways. The world has no time right now for this little problem between us.”

“Problem? You hijack my plane and call it a ‘little problem’? That is a breach of trust, my friend, and comes at a time when my very identity is shaken to its core.”

“Identity?”

“Eleven has always been my number — whether it’s cards, horses, or life events. Then this morning happened. I woke up and said, ‘It’s the 11th of September, gonna be a good day.’ But clearly, it’s not. It’s a shitty day for everyone – possibly the worst in our nation’s history. That’s one sign.” He points at the gun. “Next, I’m held up by a Colt M1911. And now,” he punches his door, “111 miles from Sedona, we get intercepted.”

“What?”

“LOOK OUT YOUR GODDAMN WINDOW.”

Daniel’s jaw drops when he sees an F-16 with its flaps open and gear down, slowing into formation. Its pilot raises a hand, finger pointed down.

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is Captain “Spike” Ripley of the United States Air Force. I’m in visual contact and will shoot you down if you fail to comply with the following order: Land immediately. Repeat: Land immediately.

“There’s nowhere.” Bud is sweating. “NOWHERE TO FUCKING LAND!”

Daniel snatches the chart. “There’s a private strip on a mesa up ahead.”

“What’s the heading?”

“25 miles straight ahead.”

“Length?”

“What the mesa?”

“RUNWAY.”

“2,900 feet.”

Bud snatches it back. “Shit, that mesa looks half the size of Sedona. It’ll be like landing on an aircraft carrier – which I’ve never done before.”

Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is your final warning. Land immediately.

Bud’s voice cracks. “Don’t shoot, Captain! Gimme two seconds.” He switches on the landing lights, decelerates, and snaps his fingers at Daniel. “Airport elevation.”

“What?”

“FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL.”

“4,700.”

Bud clears his throat. “This is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, descending. God bless you, sir, and God bless the United States of America.” He glances over. “I’m assuming there’s no tower at this little outpost we’re shootin’ for.”

“Correct.”

“Well, brace yourself, because crosswinds are gonna be a problem.” He scowls when he notices the gun again. “Put that away.”

“Are you calm now?”

“Fuck you.”

Daniel complies and settles into his seat as the runway comes into view, sitting atop a block of crimson stone. The approach is fairly calm until a quarter mile out, when a gust knocks them off target. Bud’s knuckles are white as he raises the nose and straightens out against the crosswind. Back on track, he finally lowers the wheels, adjusting for the extra resistance which now appears to come from everywhere. At 500 yards, the plane shakes violently while Bud struggles to stay on target. At 200 yards, he pulls back on the wheel, keeping the nose up, while gunning the engine to stay above the rim. At 50 yards, a giant gust pushes the plane below the runway. Bud yanks back again and accelerates sharply as the rocky face grows bigger. Nearly above the rim, Daniel sees another plane above them.

“Shit, that you Elevens? I’m on top of you.”

“THE FUCK, BOXCAR. ABORT LANDING.”

“Pulling up.”

Too late. The Baron’s wheels catch the rim and collapse, causing them to skid diagonally across the runway. They knock aside a parked helicopter, then hit another plane before smacking into a hangar. As he slowly regains consciousness, Daniel hears a gurgling sound. Turning his head, he sees Bud’s eyes staring down at a long piece of metal in his throat. The gurgling slows to intermittent choking before Bud finally goes silent. Next, Daniel turns to the right and sees his arm hanging out the window, bent the wrong way. A piece of bone sticks out through his bicep.

***

“Daniel.” A familiar voice, but not the one he hoped for. His eyes open to see Søren Fillenius leaning over him, eyes piercing the narcotic haze. He snaps his fingers and waves his hand in front of Daniel’s face.

“Stop it.”

“There he is.” The hand withdraws. “That must be powerful stuff they gave you.”

Daniel looks at the tubes hooked up to his left arm. “Where’s Fiona?”

“Really? I come to your rescue, and she’s all you think about?” He shakes his head. “She’s not coming.”

“Rescue? Bullshit. You’re here for the cargo.”

“I did salvage some A positive. The rest will go to waste because the elders canceled the meeting. I suppose you’ll blame the pilot for our having to reschedule.”

“Waste? Take the O negative to Fiona.”

Søren looks indignant. “I’m not your mule – or hers.”

“You piece of shit. I nearly killed myself to deliver that.”

“Well well, the truth comes out.” Søren’s face comes closer. “I’ve got some truth of my own to share.” Two icy hands grab Daniel’s face and turn it to the right. “Look at what’s left of you and tell me you’re still useful.”

Daniel’s breathing accelerates when he sees the stump wrapped in bandages. “That’s up to Fiona…”

“She and I have already spoken.” Canines appear as Søren’s voice changes to a snarl. “I’m to estimate your value and decide whether you stay employed or remain here. Permanently.”

“I have a new source.” Daniel struggles to speak. “100 bags of O negative every two weeks. That, plus Atlanta and Cleveland, and Fiona is set.”

“Where is this new source?”

“Sedona. All we have to do is hire a new pilot.”

“All the planes are grounded.”

“For just a few days. The economy would collapse.”

“100 bags of O neg, huh?” Søren regards him carefully. “Add 100 of A positive to each flight and I’ll let you live.”

Daniel’s vision fades as the drugs take hold again. A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads throughout his body, and the pain that was rallying begins to recede. At this point, he could care less if Søren brought him home or drained him dry. He wonders if heaven feels this good, and kind of wishes he could slip away forever. Would Elevens be there? His prayer for protection should carry weight, right? With St. Peter or whoever guards the gates? If, however, he must stay here it better be with a steady supply of this shit. The label on the drip bag was hazy but it might’ve said Dilaudid. Maybe Jesús could add a few bags of this, too. Get rid of the bad dreams. Allow him to forget everything.

The shadows gather again. Søren’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an old phonograph. Soon, all Daniel can hear is his own shallow breathing. Sure ain’t hell, that’s for certain…

###

A Dedication To Rust

They ran down the old railroad like children after the ringing of the last school bell, arms wide and smiles broad. The young man twined his arm about the woman’s own, she a month his senior, skin milky neath the ambered summer light. In mirthful exuberance, they passed beside a long line of chainlink fencing, overgrown by ground ivy, brilliant blue like seawater tinged with blood and paused in the thistle to observe a young deer which starred at them, ears straight and haunches primed, transfixed by terror.

Forward-facing eyes, the indelible mark of the predator.

The woman took a step forward, silently as possible, and crunched a branch beneath her old and crinkled tennis shoes whereupon the cervidae flew for the treeline as if its life depended upon it and vanished therein. They laughed, filled with the joy of their comraderie and the effortless sway they held over all that skittered and furrowed in the snaking green ambit surrounding.

The pair then turned their attention to the north where stood a small oil refinery, abandoned and covered over with rust and crows that crouched on thrones of steel and turned up in great whorls, cawing unto the clouds as if to prime their fellows of the newcomers arrival. The wayfaring duo skirted the edge of the fence. The woman following the man’s lead. After a pace he ejaculated a “ah-ha!” and found an area of the fence which gave way to his prying and calloused hands.

“Through here, Reggie.”

Reggie tied back her long, red hair, frizzy with the humidity, and adjusted her belted sun-washed jeans and bent neath her companion and slipped through the metallic aperture whereupon the fence-holder deftly followed. They trekked across a lumpy tumulus of patchy brown-green and hard with the clay underneath. The air smelled of iron and decaying vegetal matter. Reggie paused and took in the scene with great curiosity.

“You find the most interesting places, Harmon.”

Harmon nodded skyward – something he did in place of smiling – and arced out to the leftern area of the refinery yard where stood two massive storage tanks, side by side, like massive stovepipes, silent fluting to the blood-orange sky. Both of the tanks were ringed by black, creaking staircases, bolted to the frame. As Reggie looked to the right, at the main facility, Harmon pranced up the stairs and stopped midway, some twenty feet off the ground, paused and turned to his traveling companion.

“Coming?”

“You sure its safe?”

“Not entirely, but its bolted sturdy.”

He slammed his left foot down forcefully upon the stairwell, causing reverberations to clatter throughout. It barely moved.

“See.”

“That isn’t very reassuring.”

“You can only win as much as you wager.”

She shook her head and hesitantly climbed the stair, making muted gasps with every metallic creak and groan. At length they emerged upon the top of the tank where the wind grew in intensity and their footsteps sounded with booming steel echos. Harmon spread his powerful, sinewy arms, his lithe, well-scarred frame braced against the wind, as if he were drawing down some eldritch power from the welkin.

“A beautiful view on a beautiful day.” He said matter-of-factly, taking a seat upon the massive iron drum.

“With a beautiful woman?”

He turned to her, his expression opaque.

“Indeed.”

She frowned briefly and forced a more pleasant expression and moved to stand directly beside the man.

“I’m getting dizzy up here.”

He gestured for her to sit. When she did they listened to the wind singing through the trees and fall to guttural clattering as it passed between the massive, metal structures of the industrial facility. Harmon placed his hand upon the rusted metal surface of the oil tank, palms down, caressing the ruddy gray surface, speaking low as he did so.

“This facility was built over fifty years ago; its older than I am and older than my father lived to be and it may very well stand long after I fall. Such resilience, born of ingenuity, is impressive. It is as much a comfort to me to see this mighty creation as it is vexing to see it so deplorably abandoned, overgrown and ill-kept. Thinking this, I consider my novel, not as it is now, but as it might be in the future. Will it end up like this facility? Mouldering away on some shelf, my after-image shuttered from all the world?”

Reggie listened attentively, not entirely following. It was a rare occurrence to hear him speak at such length, rare indeed to hear him say anything other than “Indeed” or “Yes” or “No,” his three favorite words. She could think of no one more taciturn and aloof than Harmon Kessel. She had known him slight for four years and in that space, every time they’d met it were as though he were exercising great force of will to stay his feet; as if he were but half-listening, ready to elope off with his ideas to some shutter place like as that which they now occupied. Yet here, now, she thought, he seemed fully present. Open. Vulnerable, even.

“I think you’re worrying too much.”

“It isn’t worry. There is some concern in it, but in casting my mind forward in time, I wish to be as descriptive as possible and eschew all should’s and ought’s. Once you know the former, the latter becomes readily apparent.”

Reggie scrunched up her brow, but nodded and pretended she understood his monologue. She wondered half-seriously if he were mad. Her friends said he was. That he’d gone insane after Lyla left him. Even if it were true she could understand it; they had been together since high-school. A decade. Ten years of dedication destroyed in the blink of an eye. And for what?

Harmon turned to the woman, his strange, green eyes searching the pale blue of her own. Forest to sea. There were never any half-measures in his attention; it was either given or withdrawn; always in totality. To some that was off-putting but Reggie only found it endearing.

“Won’t she be angry you and I went out together?” She figured he wouldn’t know that she knew things were over between Lyla and himself.

“You’re smart enough to know there is no point in asking a question when you already know the answer.”

Fear swift-welled in her bosom.

“What do you mean?”

His eyes narrowed slightly but other than that his face remained unexpressive.

“You don’t know? She went to college. Apparently a requirement of continued attendance is to cut all of her ties. Career apparently took precedence to the man who had just bought a house for her.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not entirely sure and I’m reasonably confident she doesn’t really know either. All I know is that she has ceased to love me.”

“You two aren’t together anymore?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“How could it not?”

“I mean talking about it.”

Reggie was silent a moment. She wasn’t sure how to respond, nor whether it were wise to do so. She did not wish to upset Harmon yet desperately wanted to know more. She was only aware that they were not together anymore. She’d heard as much from her friends who had attended classes with Lyla, but she didn’t know the details. She slowly reached out and caressed his hand and took it in her own whereupon he glanced down at her limb as if it were some alien lifeform and methodically and coldly withdrew.

“Talk to me.”

“Why do you think I brought you here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you think I brought you here to put the moves on you?”

“I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I just… I really like you, Harmon.”

“I appreciate that.”

She drew closer, prompting Harmon to tense.

“Don’t you like me.”

“Course I do. Just not that way.”

“Well what way do you like me?”

“Let’s talk about something else.”

Reggie’s fist clench like as her jaw as a rage boiled over within her breast.

“She doesn’t fucking love you, Harmon. You just said so yourself.”

“I know it.”

“So why do you act like I’m a fucking leper?”

Harmon sighed and then turned to the delicate redhead who sat upon the oil drum on the edge of tears and spoke with great deliberation.

“Love is not something which should be dispensed with simply because it is one-sided.”


 

[Excerpted from my forthcoming novella, The Silence & The Howl.]

On Typeface: Size, Selection & Distraction Mitigation

In any new writing project font type and size are key and the aim and medium of the project must be judiciously taken into consideration. Other than the obvious rule: avoid crazy and/or unreadable/difficult-to-read fonts, there are a couple of guidelines which, if followed will make one’s project move along more fluidly.

Firstly, fonts become standardized for a reason and that reason is generally that those which become widely used do so because of their readability and aesthetic dimensions (later, convention will gird them from change or modulation). The most popular fonts are those that have remained the easiest to create and which bring the most readability to their attendant texts. Some of the most popular fonts include:

  • Garamond (Claude Garamond, 1530)
  • Baskerville (John Baskerville, 1757)
  • Didot (Firmin Didot, 1784-1811)
  • Bodoni (Giambattista Bodoni, 1790)
  • Akzidenz Grotesk (Brethold Type Foundry, 1896)
  • News Gothic (Morris Fuller Benton, 1908)
  • Times (Stanley Morison, 1931)
  • Helvetic (Max Miedinger, 1957)
  • Sabon (Jan Tschichold, 1966)
  • Minion (Rober Slimbach, 1990)
  • Myriad (Robert Slimbach, Carol Twombly, Christopher Slye and Fred Brady, 1992)
  • Georgia (Matthew Carter, 1993)
  • Mrs Eaves (Zuzana Licko, 1996)
  • Gotham (Hoefler and Frere-Jones, 2000)

If one is writing a print work (such as a short story collection or novel) then the font type needs to be one which can be printed without losing clarity in relation to size and the size needs to be relative to the size of the page (accounting for bleed). This is generally not something which one will need to worry about if one is working with a competent and established publisher (as they will typically do this work for you), but it is quite important to understand if one wishes to engage in wholly independent self-publishing (where one will not only write the book, but design it, print it and market it as well).

If one is writing a text for the internet then multiplatform dispensation needs to be considered, for instance: how will the font look on desktop as opposed to mobile phones and tablets? How will the font “hold up” on different screens with different resolutions?

Note that these decisions should be made only after the writing project is completed, not during. The reason for this (general) rule is that it is disadvantageous to juggle typefaces in the middle of the writing process (regardless of the content of the project) given that in doing so one’s attention will be regularly split between the narrative under-construction and the peculiarities of the font and how they match or are found to be discontinuous with the themes or style of the project. That being said, it is best to pick one font and commit to it throughout the entirety of the text-work so as to mitigate aesthetic distractions, renovating the design of the text and making it internet “friendly,” (or offline program “friendly”) only after it is complete whereupon a considerable amount of time will have been saved.

Dactyl’s Lullaby

You’ll see him at night, when the moon shines its beam

Tall, gaunt, inviting, his face so serene

Oh, he’ll whisper so sweetly, kindly words shall inspire

The fickle, black beating of hearts grim desire

No eyes to his face, all the better to see

The wretched behavings of those such as thee

Burnoose’s fell strides, his hands shall embrace

The wicked, then dragged to a most fearful place

So listen up all; whores, brigands and rakes

Tread not in night when the eyeless man wakes

So tuck up to bed and shutter the moon

And pray that He leaves you to rest in your gloom