I'm standing in the middle of a field. The grass is brown and dead. The place looks something like a parade ground.
In fact, that's what it is.
On each side there are barracks, old ones. From World War I, World War II. There's a flagpole here with a flag at the top.
At the far end, there's a cliff.
I walk to the cliff and look out. All there is there is the sea. I turn and look around. This place is deserted.
I really need a towel.
There's gotta be a towel around here somewhere, I think, so I start walking around. I pass some RVs and an old station wagon.
There are people renting out the barracks.
Eventually, I find a tiny gift shop. I go in. It's really dark.
Can I help you, honey? says a lady behind the counter.
Yes, I say, I need a towel.
Right as I say it, my eyes adjust, and I see that I'm in the wrong place. This is just flags and miniature jeeps.
We don't have those, she says. Do you need one?
Do I need one? I think.
Yes, I say. I forgot to pack one when I left.
Oh, says the woman. Well.
She looks around.
You mean like a beach towel? she says.
Like a towel, I say. You know, for drying. Like when you take a shower.
Oh, she says. We don't have those. You might want to try in the town.
I go back outside and stand there a while. I don't have a car or anything. There's no way for me to get into town because town's about ten miles away.
Well, I think.
I go back to the cliff. I stand there, looking down.
At the bottom, there are some kids playing in the surf. They're splashing each other and laughing.
I go back to the barracks and stand in my room. The curtain's in tatters and there are no sheets on the bed.
I forgot to bring a sleeping bag, too, I realize.
I don't know why I came.
Eventually, the rest of my friends show up, and we all shake hands and smile and hug. Then I get a ride into town and stand there in the grocery store.
I look at the signs over the aisles, looking for one that says "towels." I don't expect to see one, and I don't.
I go over to the Starbuck's stand.
The girl at the Starbuck's seems really nice. She fixes me a cappuccino. She reminds me of someone, but I don't know who.
I don't know why I ordered cappuccino.
When my friends are done shopping we go to the liquor store. I stand inside sipping my drink. The liquor store is weird; there's a counter and a counterperson. You tell her what you want, and she gets it.
My friends buy some rum and some vodka and gin. Then they get some Jack Daniels.
You sure you don't want anything? one says to me.
I want to shake my head, but I nod.
In the car back to "base," I finish my cappuccino. Then I sit there with my empty cup.
Is there something wrong? one of my friends says to me.
No, I say, looking out the window.
That night we all sit around. For a while, we talk about books. But then we move on to other things. People talk about girlfriends and husbands.
There are some dogs around and they keep coming over. They want me to pet them, but I don't. I'm allergic to dogs, and besides I don't like them. When I was young I had a dog; he died.
At the end of the night I go back to my room. There's a sleeping bag on the bed. It's old and mildewed and there's a pillow beside it.
For a while I just stand there and stare.
In the bathroom, I find a towel on the rack. It's old too, and worn. I think about taking a shower, but I don't.
Can always do that tomorrow.
Late that night, I wake up in the dark and I don't know where I am. I sit up and look around and eventually I remember. I put on some clothes and go outside.
At night, the parade ground is very different. You can't see the dead, dry grass. We're a million miles away from any cities, so the sky is filled with stars.
I remember when I was very little, my Dad used to take us outside. He'd stand there and point out all the constellations. He knew them all.
I only remember one.
Orion, the hunter. There he is. I look up at him for a while. He's always there, wherever I go. He never changes, never moves at all.
I turn away and walk to the cliff and look out at the sea. Or look out to where the sea is; I can't see it, it's completely black. In the air I can smell and feel and taste it, and below I can hear the waves crash.
I have no idea what I'm doing here.
It's a common theme in my life.
For a while, I stand there, in the dark. It's cold, so I zip up my jacket.
Finally I turn and start on back.
I shower, and take the towel from the rack.
About the author:
Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles, where he is a musician and screenwriter. His fiction has appeared in (or is forthcoming in) Knock Magazine, Wigleaf, The Bicycle Review, Dogzplot, Every Day Fiction, and Writers' Bloc, among others. He has received honorable mentions in Glimmer Train and ChiZine short story contests, and publishes non-fiction monthly at www.thenervousbreakdown.com. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is currently seeking a home.
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