Table of Contents
A Rip in the Sky
The Anchor Light Bar - No. 1 in the Gus Tucker Series
Remembering Sean O’Brien
The Reality of Dreams
Gorkan of Mila’am
In His Bones
Where the Rivers Meet
Holy Law of Refraction and the Index Thereof
Histories of the World - No. 3 in the Gus Tucker Series
A RIP IN THE SKY
Abe Peterson, a kindly gentlemen in his early nineties-still bright of eye and keen of mind-has a hobby. That it pays a little doesn’t take it out of the casual pastime category. He follows the air shows around the country and volunteers his services as a greeter, explainer, and storyteller. He is uniquely qualified for this little task. See, Abe joined what was known as the Army Air Corps back in 1937. He changed uniforms to USAF blue when the new organization was established and stayed with it until they were forced to retire him, much against Abe’s will, in 1982. Since then, he’s been a permanent fixture at the shows. Just now he’s working the show in Wichitaw, Kansas. Come on, let’s join the crowd and see what’s going on.
"Hi there, folks," he says. "Welcome to the air show. Hope you have a really good time out here today. My name’s Abe Peterson and this beautiful red bird I’m standing next to is a P51-D." He pats the fuselage lovingly. "Well, let’s say it’s a very modified and special P51-D. It’s powered by a Packard built Rolls-Royce Merlin, sixty degree, V-twelve engine. The same engine that powered it during the Second World War, except it’s got a heck of a lot more horsepower today than it did back then."
He walks with an uncertain, bowlegged gate out to the wingtip and lays a brown spotted hand on it. "The wings on this baby have been clipped so’s the wingspan’s about the same as its length. They shorten the wings to speed up the roll rate-so’s it can duck around the pylons in a flash, like this, you see." He holds out his palm, snaps it from the horizontal to the vertical and makes a quick left turn with his hand to demonstrate the idea.
A young boy, powdered in freckles by the millions, his tousled red hair dancing in the hot wind, steps out of the crowd and approaches Abe. "Hey, mister, did you ever fly a plane like this one?" the lad says, his blue eyes flashing reflections of the azure sky above.
"I...huh? What’s that, son?"
"Did you ever fly a plane like this?"
"Did I ever fly a plane like this? You bet I did, but that was a long time ago. Now all they let me do is-"
"Did you wanna fly when you were a kid?"
"What? Did I want to fly when I was a kid? Nope, I can’t say that I ever wanted to fly when I was your age. It’s not because I didn’t want to, but rather because I didn’t know that I could not want to."
"Huh?" the boy says, his face contorted with confusion.
"I’m sorry, son. I don’t reckon you could understand what I just tried to tell you. It was simply that I didn’t know I had a choice. That is, not until Mr. Dietrich came along and ripped a big hole in the sky-a hole into which I happily fell. Now that, my boy, was a day, I’ll tell you. A day I most likely will never, ever forget."
"Who’s Mr. Dietrich?"
"What’s that, son?"
"Who’s Mr. Dietrich, an’ how’d he rip the sky?"
"Aha, you want me to tell you about Mr. Dietrich, do you? Well, son, that’s sort of a long story, but I suppose there’s no harm in taking the time to tell it." Abe leans down and whispers in the boy’s ear. "See, I’m so old that the only thing I can do now is stand out here and welcome folks to the show. I don’t mind that, though, because I get to follow the show circuit, stay close to my pets, and get paid a little something for doing it." Abe looks up from the boy to the crowd milling around.
"If you’ll excuse me folks, I’m going to take a little break and have a chat with my young friend here. Come on, son, let’s go over there where we can sit a spell under the wing of that C-45 while I tell you all-l-l about Mr. Dietrich and that wonderful day."
Abe lays his microphone down carefully on the wing and unhooks the red velvet covered rope surrounding the P-51. Smiling, he drapes an arm around the boy’s shoulder and guides him toward a couple of plastic lawn chairs in the shade under the wing of a twin-engined, silver bird.
"What’s your name, son?" Abe asks as he ducks under the wing.
"Um...Chuck, sir." the boy responds.
"Chuck, is it? Well, all right, Chuck, you take that chair right there-grab a soda out of the ice chest, if you want-and we’ll get started."
Abe hauls the other chair a little farther into the shadow and sits down with some effort.
"Okay, now, where to begin? I guess I’ll start with the sky. You see, time was when the sky was just there. During the day it was a bright blue blanket that covered over everything and, when night settled in for its turn, why, all that blue turned to black, penetrated by needle-sharp points of light...so bright that they sort of stabbed at your eyes. Those points of light change their arrangement as time passes, but they always come back to the same place at the same time every year, just like I do. If you watch’em long enough you can tell what time of year it is, right down to the month, and some folks can even tell you the week-sometimes even the day.
"They always do that, the stars do. Even today, you just can’t see it happen as well as I could when I was a lad of your years. Too many people scared of the dark and other folk are putting up all kinds of lights these days so’s you can’t see the night like we could-especially here in the city.
"Anyways, about the sky. Once in a while, clouds would drift by and, sometimes, they’d take over for a time, but they were always temporary-just puffy, wet visitors passing through on their way to the east, usually. And there were times when the clouds were tinged sort of a dark, greenish-gray and their bottoms looked like a thick, boiling soup. That was a signal to find a good place-a solid place-to hide yourself because you could bet an angry funnel would drop out of that churning, unsettled ceiling and scour the ground clean wherever it touched. But through it all, there was the sky...biggest thing around, it was.
"There was simply nothing that could compete with the sky, Chuck. Oh, sure, a tree or a windmill could poke up into it. Birds, mainly crows where I lived, would fly through it, and buzzards would soar around in long, lazy circles in it, but they certainly weren’t any kind of competition. Yep, the sky was always there to fill your eyes, lest you were lying ’neath a big oak stuffed full of summer leaves that would hide most of it from you, but there weren’t many of those around.
"We had two big oaks out in our front yard. There was another tree, a scrawny little thing, out back of the house, but none of us could say what it was. All we could say about it was that it sure was no oak. Dad kept saying he was going to cut it down and stack its remains to dry so’s we could use it for fuel the following year, but he never did-but I’m getting away from my story, huh?
"Anyways, I was born and raised on a farm out in the middle of all that sky, Chuck, where the ground was as flat as flat can be-and the only thing between me and the sky was corn and oats and wheat. When we were between crops there was nothing but that big old sky from horizon to horizon in every direction. Nothing got in its way.
"It was on such a day, when there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, that I saw it. The corn stalks had all been cut down and plowed under and the new planting was still a few weeks away, when along came Mr. Dietrich. Now, before I tell you this, I want to you to know that there’s something very strange in my story, but every word of it’s true, I swear."
"Something strange? You gonna tell me what it is?"
"Nope, I’m not going to tell you what it is. I want you to think about it and look into it and next year, when I come back to this same spot, you can tell me what you found out and what you think it means, okay?"
"That ain’t fair."
"What? Sure it’s fair. Can’t have everybody do everything for you-can’t learn much that way, can you?
"Anyways, my folks went into town-a long way from home-early that morning for a meeting of some kind and my dad told me to open a few of the gates in the canal about noon to wet the ground a little for the second plowing. So, there I was, out there in the middle of all that sky and just about at the irrigation canal, which put me almost two miles from the house, when I heard this horrible grinding sound. Wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard-sounded almost like someone tearing a tablecloth in half, only a lot louder-and I haven’t heard anything like it since.
"Out there in the field there was nothing to make echoes, so I knew where the sound was coming from and I turned to look in that direction. Up there in all that blue there was what looked like a rip in the sky. The edges of it were all raggedy and wobbling ’round like a sheet of real thin plastic-you know, like the kind you wrap sandwiches in these days. Inside the tear it was blacker than night and out of it came something that I couldn’t see very well because it was still too far away. Then-the hole in the sky snapped shut and for a second the sky around where that tear had been rippled like water in a pond, sorta like when you drop a rock in it. Then there came a sound like thunder and the sky was back the way it was before all that happened, except for a little, shiny dot that flashed really bright once in a while."
"Were you scared?"