by Brooks Kohler
Looking down through the milky haze of summer humidity, you could see the Mill Creek Valley of Illinois. The tops of green trees appeared as pluming shrubs and the roofs of homes appeared as gray spikes. Out for miles, at eye level, were low-hanging clouds that caused shadows to blotch the land below.
May turned to me, her blue eyes sort of red with tears, her skin clammy with sweat, “I’m gonna miss this place,” she said.
We had grown up in the valley. May was my neighbor and best friend. At fourteen, we tied a rope off Cooper Creek bridge where we squealed with joy as the tips of our toes sliced the murky water on a good swing. At seventeen, I cradled May in my arms as she moaned over her dog Coochie, who had been killed by a fast-moving hopper hauling grain down Highway 127. At nineteen, she held my head over the toilet when I swore I would never again drink anything labeled Schnapps, and at twenty, I told her I was thrilled she had been accepted into UCLA when in fact, it was tearing me apart.
A soft breeze whirled around us, and for a moment, my earthy smell mixed with her sweet aroma of honey soap. I turned to May. She smiled and placed her head against my shoulder.
For a long time, everyone thought we were dating. It was common for people to ask, and on more than one occasion, it had caused problems. May attracted boys, and the boys she attracted did not always understand the close connection she and I shared.
One night, at a keg party following a football game, a future frat boy drunk on cheap beer put his hand on May, causing her to run to me. The result was I limped away with a black eye, aching rib, and a dozen dirty shoe prints after his friends ganged up on me and stomped me like a rag doll in a soybean field. From that point on, May and I tried to distance ourselves from the rumors. But in a small town where your life is on display like a fashion show in a storefront, no rumor worth spreading is easy to evade. Anytime we were together, comments were made, and she, thinking it was cute to have fun with spies, sometimes gave me a kiss to keep people on their toes. But the kiss, no matter how strategic, always left a tingle that faded to a sting when on the way home May would whisper, “We really had them going, didn’t we?”
Daydreaming on a memory, I felt myself wake when May placed her hand atop my head and tapped her fingers. It was something she did when she was nervous and forming a thought. All the times she had done so before seemed only a habit to overlook as annoying, but with every touch of a tap, I felt my heart beat with a punch.
“I’m not sure how to say this, Royce,” said May. “I’m not going to college.”
“Not going?” I asked. “But we filled out the paper work. You got accepted into UCLA.”
“I’m going home,” said May.
Thinking she meant her farmhouse, I zeroed in on her, dumbfounded, then became amazed when she pointed to the sky. I started to speak, but my induced laughter scattered the words.
“I’m not joking!” she exclaimed.
With her hand still atop my head, a hot bolt of energy shot down my spine and slammed into my tail bone. Wide-eyed in nail biting pain, I froze in place, unable scream.
Paralyzed, I watched as she stood and moved to a place in front of me. After taking a moment to tuck her bangs behind her ears, she stood straight like a rocket. With her arms to her side, she very calmly said, “Goodbye, Royce. It was fun.”
A low but building hum began to fill the silent country air. The earth and scenery began to vibrate into a white, aqua blur. Locked in my posture, I watched in horror as May began to fade out.
Helpless, with only my tears to show my terrified reaction, I was forced to see her gently become less and less visible until, finally, there was nothing where she had been except the backdrop of sky.
Writhing in silent pain, I wanted to shout, “No!!!” But my mouth would not open. My teeth were clinched like a trap. Suffering this torment, as the hum grew louder and the burn in my back was peaking, I began to feel the end of life as my transcending experience suddenly ceased and released me.
Pivoting on my rump, my brain temporarily lobotomized into a daze of unconsciousness, a powerful flood of emotions overwhelmed me. For only a few, dizzy seconds, I remained upright, but succumbed to a heavy pant. Saliva spewing, a coughing fit slammed my cheek to the crisp, grassy ground.
Feature Image: CC0 Creative Commons by Spirit111 via Pixabay