He has decided, at last, that there is no death and thus nothing to fear. That there is only combustion and respiration. That all creation is alive and that what we think of as birth and death is only the universe itself breathing. And he has decided that, this being the case, his mother shall never truly die…nor he grow into an adult.
For he is—and will remain—the X-Ray Rider. And now that school is out he is running—running like a little boy—for home; even as lightning flashes in the blue-black sky and splinters it into a thousand shards, until at last he sees the back of their house about a half-mile north—and, seeking a shortcut, swerves into someone’s yard.
There is a narrow concrete path along the side of this house, its surface soaking wet so that it reflects track lights embedded in the eaves. Its perimeter is guarded by an iron rail. He vaults over the rail—More than human! More than divine! X-Ray Rider! X-Ray Runner!—but there is no concrete, no reflection. He is falling, arms swinging….
HE IS LYING AT THE BOTTOM of a stairwell. There is broken glass everywhere as if he has fallen through a window, which he has, or at least the glass portion of a basement door, which stands ajar, creaking. He vaguely recalls hearing sheets of paper swish-swishing down, scattering around him. He is bleeding from his palms, his head, his nose, his arms—one of which is numb, sleeping. He feels himself all over with his good hand, expecting brains to be oozing out, bones protruding. But nothing seems to be broken, although his left leg is splayed uncomfortably. Glass grates as he grips his ankle, pulling it toward him, dragging papers along, and folds it beneath him. He tries to stand but there is nothing to grip, only the door pane which is spiked with glass. His head swims dizzily. How could he be so stupid? Falling for such an obvious illusion—mistaking the shining wet stairwell and the light above its door for a reflection. The thought of it shames him.
He hears something pattering against the wind- breaker—blood from his nose, blotting the powder-blue nylon with splotches of maroon.
He looks at the top of the well, a concrete rectangle with the dimensions of a tomb, sees darkened eaves, hazily, and beyond them, storm clouds, drifting across the sky. He places his good hand against the wall and climbs to his knees, not wanting to remain in the stairwell another instant, wanting to run home as fast as he can, to his mother and bedroom and plastic model kits, to beige-colored carpets and warm air blowing from heat registers. The concrete wall of the well presses bitter cold against his palm.
He crawls upon his knees through the broken glass, gathering up pages, smearing them with blood. When he gets them back into the folder he staggers out of the stairwell, one landing at a time, his injured leg resisting, but feels a wave of nausea as he reaches the top—and pivots, so that he is leaning against the rail, staring into the well, breathing heavily.
The broken door below sways and creaks. The rain drones against the world.This is what it will actually be like, he thinks, when they lower her into the vault. As he and his brothers—pallbearers, if episodes of Night Gallery are any indication—stand brooding. As his father stands off to one side looking like the widows in movies, only minus the veil—glassy-eyed, untouchable, waltzing with ghosts. As the minister takes a handful of earth and shakes it onto the casket, saying, ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…’ Until the caretakers come and begin shoveling dirt into her eyes. And she will begin sobbing because it is cold down there and she is so alone, abandoned by everyone. Because she was a good wife and a good mother and it all ends like this, with shovelfuls of earth in her eyes and hair.
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Wayne Kyle Spitzer (born July 15, 1966) is an American author and low-budget horror filmmaker from Spokane, Washington. He is the writer/director of the short horror film, Shadows in the Garden, as well as the author of Flashback, an SF/horror novel published in 1993. Spitzer’s non-genre writing has appeared in subTerrain Magazine: Strong Words for a Polite Nation and Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History. His recent fiction includes The Ferryman Pentalogy, consisting of Comes a Ferryman, The Tempter and the Taker, The Pierced Veil, Black Hole, White Fountain, and To the End of Ursathrax, as well as The X-Ray Rider Trilogy and a screen adaptation of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.”