Chapter 1:

In that lonely cottage, a telephone rings

It’s a long road to Los Angeles

Snow falls on a small picturesque house isolated in the middle of the woods. The lights are on, smoke coming out of its chimney, and with it, a sense of warmth can be felt. Accompanying this warmth, as the snowflakes glitter in the air, a comfy feeling comes to you.Bookmark here

It is an ever so adorable sight, to be sure, and it also has a lingering sense of nostalgia to it. That doesn’t mean, though, that it can stand as a colossal drop of water falls, flooding everything. Bookmark here

Yes, with a blink of an eye, it all disappeared.Bookmark here

With my thumb, I try to clean away what fell on the small picture of that house, but even then I can’t get back in there.Bookmark here

It has been tarnished beyond repair. Bookmark here

With a sigh, I toss the picture aside and watch as the vapor that came out of my mouth dissipates. Unfortunately, different from what the picture might lead one to think though, right now I feel the cold send chills down my spine as the wooden walls, full of holes, fail to offer any barrier in the slightest. In the same vein, the trees surrounding this house have no leaves in them, making me feel as if I was on Halloween instead of nearing Christmas.Bookmark here

I wonder if that’s the reason this picture nevers leaves my mind. At the very least, I would much prefer it if it were. Bookmark here

Maybe I should put it in the drawer where I keep all the other pictures, letters and postcards my father ever sent me, and just like I’ve done with them, never take it out of there again.Bookmark here

I’m sure mum would like me to do this.Bookmark here

I open it and do as I said. Then, not before giving a second look at everything in the drawer, I close it once more.Bookmark here

They are all beautiful.Bookmark here

This picture is one my father sent us when he was in this cottage for the first time, right after mum had inherited it. When he did this, it was accompanied by a letter—the only one from before my parents broke up and divorced. Just as many other things though, mum burnt the letter when she discovered his infidelity.Bookmark here

To this day, I still remember her saying that I was only allowed to keep this picture because it didn’t show him and portrayed our new home, instead of the old apartment in Los Angeles where we lived with him.Bookmark here

It makes me think if one day she would ever force me to put it in this drawer like I just did, were she still alive.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I sigh once again. One year, and this still feels unpleasant.Bookmark here

With a little difficulty, I reach for the crutch and slowly stand up. Now from above, I can’t avoid letting a smile creep in my face as I get a better view from it all. Bookmark here

Pictures, pictures and more pictures. Steep hills, massive rivers, exuberant trees and lifeless deserts: they are all over the table. At the top left, is a photo of the statue of Christ the Redeemer, from Brazil, right next to it, the Eiffel Tower, then, the Big Ben, succeeded by the Statue of Liberty and the Great Wall of China. At the top right, natural wonders, starting with the Nile and the Ganges Delta, then the Amazon rainforest, accompanied by the Sahara desert and a personal favorite of mine: a beautiful picture of the Himalayas with the Everest at its center.Bookmark here

Then, at the lower right, among the total of thirty on the entire desk, is the only four pictures of places I’ve actually ever been: one I took a long time ago, still as a child, when we lived in Los Angeles, and three are of this miniscule, two thousand inhabitants’ city—if it could even be called one—where since I was ten I lived with my mother, though now I do so alone. Bookmark here

It’s a place far removed from everything, but mum taught me to resign myself to living here. Well, at least it has a pretty nice bavarian village aesthetic.Bookmark here

But as if driven by magnetism, my eyes naturally gravitate back to all those previous photos.Bookmark here

Photos of all those places I’ve never been, pictures I always remembered in my dreams. Maybe with enough effort, most people would be able to reach them in my place, but alas, there’s only so far a man can walk with a missing limb.Bookmark here

More important than that though, inside that drawer, lies an even more expansive sea of possibilities, worlds more vivid than any other, all inside those letters, postcards and pictures my father sent me. But they also all stand out of reach, as that drawer shall not ever be open.Bookmark here

I take a deep breath and sigh—after standing up I’m feeling a little tired, just as I do every time, but luckily this sensation soon fades away.Bookmark here

It’s uncomfortable. I was born this way, but even then, having just one leg still feels weird to this day.Bookmark here

Sometimes I feel like I was born destined to always miss something.Bookmark here

“What do you think?” I ask the Virgin Mary at my desk.Bookmark here

She’s always there, watching me. Life is rough, but I’m sure that without her blessing things would be much worse.Bookmark here

In my head, I humm a prayer and leave my room, confident the Lord will hear my pleas.Bookmark here

As I reach for the front door of the cottage I notice the crucifix on top of it is tilted, so, with some difficulty, I reach and straighten it. Bookmark here

With that done, for a moment I stand still, as if waiting for something, until I hear a voice whisper in my ear.Bookmark here

“See you later” it says.Bookmark here

I immediately turn on my back, but there’s nothing there. With a sigh, I turn off the lights: without me here, no one needs them on. Now I feel like I can go, and in a single step I cross past the door and close it behind me. It’s time to go to work.Bookmark here

I breathe in heavily. You can do it, I tell myself. I have no car or drivers license, so I have to walk an entire mile to get to the city, and because of my condition, this means an entire, incredibly exhausting hour of walking.Bookmark here

For this very same reason, me and mum were planning to move from this cottage before she died. We were saving up so we could get a mortgage but we still haven’t managed to actually do so, and now that she died, all plans have gone completely downhill. I can’t do it even if I try selling the cottage, which would cover around a third of the price. Bookmark here

So, in the end I always get to the city incredibly sore, and if something happens to me on the way, no one will be able to help me. After all, all the company I have are trees, engulfing me entirely as if I didn’t even existBookmark here

Step by step though, even if each one hurts like a million needles against my skin, I manage to make it to the store where I work.Bookmark here

I open the glass door and walk to the balcony, where my only fellow employee, the son of the shop owner, stands. I greet him and he greets me back, but our talking ends there. Albeit as a 23 year old man he’s a few years younger than me, he’s very tall and has wide shoulders, so being by his side feels a little awkward. Of course, this also isn’t helped by the fact that he's a smoker, reminding me of my father: someone who besides being an alcoholic, also couldn’t go anywhere without his cigarette. Bookmark here

I sigh and my eyes uninterestedly gaze on the shelves of the at the moment empty store. There’s a pretty varied collection of products here: a few shelves are occupied with foodstuff, and as Leavenworth is a somewhat touristic city, others have souvenirs in them. Bookmark here

Actually, now that I remember, there’s a pretty nice picture taken by me that is being sold here—though of course, I also have it at home. The picture shows the city from the hill where I live, which serves for a surprisingly nice view, showing the Cascadian Range as a background to it.Bookmark here

Inadvertently, looking at it brings a smile to my face. I hope someone buys it.Bookmark here

A few customers appear with time. Some say hello to us and one or two even try to chit chat, but most are just passing by, buying whatever it is that they want and then going away. And as they come and go, the snow continues to fall, never stopping and never changing, and together with the not visible sun, it all feels like time isn’t passing at all. Bookmark here

“Will we stay here, attending clients forever?” I feel an urge to ask, but I refrain myself. It would be weird to talk with him all of a sudden. We’ve always worked in silence since we first met, and I’m not one to change that. Bookmark here

It’s funny, most of the time I’m far away from people, but every time I’m here it still feels like I’m alone.Bookmark here

It takes time, but through an endless repetition of identical moments, eventually it starts to get darker, with the coming of the night. Finally, the clock shows 6 pm, and I’m allowed to go away.Bookmark here

It takes me around forty minutes to get to the church, where I attend the last mass of the day, at 7 pm. When I enter, a little early as usual, I take the same seat as always on the front row, where I can hear Father Mark’s words the best. As I’m here early and the church isn’t that big, the partially bald, white haired man, whose face is full of wrinkles from his so amicable smile greets me personally with words of welcome and a hug, which I happily receive. Bookmark here

Father Mark is one of the two— No, is the only particularly important person to me right now. Granted, Mr Harrinson is someone I’m very grateful for employing me in the store, and everyone else in the church community is also very nice, but since we moved here, besides mum, Father Mark is the only one who’s ever had that extra care for me, who would really go above and beyond in helping me whenever I needed. Bookmark here

Of course though, this wasn’t only limited to me—he treated everyone like that—but even then, and even if this makes me feel a little sad, this doesn’t mean I have any less appreciation for him. Not only everything he does is incredibly kindhearted and helpful, but he also taught me the word of God. Bookmark here

I could say that it was only with mum forcing me to come here everyday as a kid—even if I, in my childish ignorant desires, didn't want to—and always reminding me of those teachings at home that this was made possible, but I don’t think this reduces the credit he deserves in any way. Actually, I think it just means they’re both equally important to me and who I am today.Bookmark here

As the mass properly begins, the usual rituals start. Our chants echo through the church, and with the sign of the cross, Father Mark says:Bookmark here

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”Bookmark here

“Amen.”Bookmark here

As we confess our sins to the Lord I, as always, come back to what mum taught me twenty years ago. To the sins I used to commit, and to the lessons I should’ve learnt. But once again, there’s something wrong. Just like every single previous time, a certain heaviness comes upon my chest, and a lingering pain afflicts my heart. Bookmark here

I’ve long figured out that I’ll only get rid of these sins—that I’ll only be free from ever committing them again—when that pain goes away, for it is but the cries of the ill-intentioned parts of my mind. So, forgive me Lord, as despite many harsh lessons, beatings and restrictions mum used to bring upon me, I still fail you, the wicked remnants of my sinful father still lying here.Bookmark here

I sigh—I hope at least mum made it straight into heaven. Then, it doesn’t take long until, in a blink of an eye, the mass comes to an end. Bookmark here

As many others say goodbye to Father Mark, I wait for him. Everyday, he drives me back home, out of worry for me. Bookmark here

“Walking to the city and then back home is too much for you,” he says every time, and now, says once more. “Are you really ok with going to work alone? Even with my help, I really think you need a new home in the city. Or do you like to imagine yourself my age still walking downhill on those crutches?”Bookmark here

Seems like I also can’t escape that, I think as the trees quickly blur in my eyes with the car quickly running uphill.Bookmark here

“I know, I know, I’m trying to get there. But money doesn’t fall from the sky, you know?”Bookmark here

“That’s why you could live without paying your tithe.”Bookmark here

“I’m not doing that,” I sigh.Bookmark here

I have to pay it.Bookmark here

Quickly, we reach the cottage and with his help, I leave the car. Amidst the forest and during the night, the place has a chilly sensation to it, a cold breeze blowing in between the trees.Bookmark here

“Thanks as always. I don’t know what I would do without you.”Bookmark here

“It’s nothing,” he says with a nod, and goes back to the car. “Bye!”Bookmark here

“Bye!” I reply and watch as, my sight blurred by the vapor coming out of my mouth, the car disappears into the road downhill, surrounded by the woods. I unlock the door and, carefully, enter the cottage where no one waits for me. Turning the lights on, I now see the empty house, full of a certain ghostly aura.Bookmark here

Thirsty, as I go to the kitchen area of the room—which serves both as a living room and as a kitchen—I think I might as well get a beer.Bookmark here

Approaching the refrigerator, I hear my steps resonate in the silent room. It’s something I should have already grown used to, but somehow I didn’t—even the sounds of nature seem to fade away when I’m here. Bookmark here

Before I do anything though, I can’t help but notice the picture of my mum beside the refrigerator.Bookmark here

She’s seated at an old chair against a dark background and with a serious look on her face. Her eyes have a certain accusatory glare to them, and it seems as if they’re looking right into my soul. It makes me feel as if she’s punishing me like she used to.Bookmark here

After locking my eyes with hers for a few seconds, I divert my look and open the refrigerator. There, I see a can of Kaiser—the same brand of beer my father used to drink. Bookmark here

I immediately reach for the can, but instead of taking it, I hear a voice firmly say next to me:Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

I turn to my left. There’s nothing there.Bookmark here

With a deep breath I take a bottle of water and walk to my room, where just like always, I’m greeted by the silent statue of the Virgin Mary. It is in the same position as in the morning—another day like any other is coming to an end.Bookmark here

I sigh—somehow, they all seem the same, though it’s not like this is new either. I feel like it has always been this way, from a long, long time ago.Bookmark here

I take my clothes, readying myself to shower, when suddenly, the telephone rings.Bookmark here

This is weird. The telephone never rings.Bookmark here

Somewhat restless, and consequently awkwardly, I get there and answer it.Bookmark here

“Hi?” I utter to the machine.Bookmark here

“Viktor? It’s me, Cole” a voice says on the other end of the line.Bookmark here

“Cole?” I repeat, taking a moment trying to remember who he is.Bookmark here

“Long time since I've seen you, isn’t it? Hahaha” he says in a weirdly nervous manner.Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah…” Bookmark here

An awkward silence ensues.Bookmark here

“Doing well?” he asks as if trying to extend the conversation.Bookmark here

“…U-uhum” I nod.Bookmark here

“So, uh… I have something to tell you…” he says, at the same time as I finally remember he’s some random guy from highschool whom I barely talked to.Bookmark here

What would he even have to tell me?Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

Before he answers, I hear a gulp.Bookmark here

“Your father is hospitalized for lung cancer in Los Angeles right now.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.