Thursday, May 30, 2019

Splendid Desolation (Part Four of Four parts) blog post #339

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Now all will be revealed. Vince has been saved, and with Skye at his side, desolation becomes splendid desolation. But the story’s not over yet. Read on.


I woke the next morning with Skye sitting beside me, watching me with his marvelous turquoise eyes, an enigmatic smile on his lips.
“Now it’s time for you to go find my twin.”
“Twin? Karl’s your twin?”
“Yes, we’re identical. He’s a good guy. He’ll help you.” The boy hesitated a moment. “I wish we had more time, but it will be hot soon. You have to be on your way. But first, I want to thank you. It was a magical night.”
“I should be thanking you, my young friend. But why should it end so soon. Come with me.”
That sweet, wistful smile appeared again. “I can’t. Please don’t ask. But perhaps I’ll see you there.”
An hour later, my head covered by a floppy cloth hat Skye provided, his canteen on my hip, and a distant butte as a marker, I paused for a final look back at the hill. Skye Hardesty, a lonely figure in the distance, raised a hand in farewell and turned to disappear over the crest. There was no sign of the tarpaulin that had sheltered us for the past two days. The kid had stowed it away for use another day.
It was late afternoon before I stumbled across a two-lane strip of blacktop. I took a half dozen more steps before realizing this was the highway. But where was the filling station? I checked my landmark, discovering I’d veered off course. Turning my weary steps north, I almost staggered past an old building set off from the road. Laughing inanely, I stumbled through the door of an old-fashioned trading post, delighted beyond all reason at the sight of another human being.
The man standing at the counter rushed to help as he realized my condition, easing me into a chair beside an old pot-bellied stove. A big glass of cold water appeared in his hand; I swigged it greedily.
“Not too much,” the man cautioned, echoing Skye’s first words to me. “Go easy now.”
It took a few minutes to collect myself and adjust to the gloom of the building’s interior. Eventually, I looked up into a pair of concerned green eyes and a familiar countenance, although this man was in his fifties.
“Mr. Hardesty?”
“Mr. Hardesty, my name’s Vince Lozander. I met your son. He helped me or I wouldn’t have made it.”
“Mr. Lozander,” the man replied, “my son’s a stockbroker in New York City, more’s the pity.”
Confused, I glanced around the store. “Is Karl here? Karl Hardesty?”
The room went quiet for a moment before understanding broke across the man’s pleasant features.
“I’m Karl Hardesty, Mr. Lozander. It was Skye, wasn’t it? Skye found you out there.”
A chill took possession of me. I shivered as a wave of goose bumps played down my back. “I-I don’t understand. Skye said you were….”
“His twin,” the man completed. “I am. Skye Hardesty disappeared out on that desert thirty-odd years ago. I don’t understand it either, but every once in a while, he sends me somebody from out of that desolation. Can’t really explain it, Vince. Can I call you Vince? Lots of people get lost out there every year, and he helps a few…special ones it seems like.”
He lifted the canteen strap from my shoulder and shook it. “Empty. But you brought it back. All of them do. It’s Skye’s, see?” He pointed out the name etched in the metal cap. “I always take it back out there and throw it on a hill somewhere so he can use it again.”
“But that’s crazy! The man I saw couldn’t be more than eighteen or twenty.”
“Nineteen, to be exact. Or he was thirty-two years ago when he died out there.”
“Died!” The hair on my neck rose; my skin crawled. “That’s impossible! I talked to him… uh, touched him. He was as real as you are.”
“Like I said, can’t explain it. But I know what I know. My brother was a troubled young man. He went out there to die on purpose, I think. He loved the desert, spent all his free time on it. Called it splendid desolation. It’s where he wanted to be.”
“He does love it,” I mumbled, accepting the unthinkable. “Will you tell me about him? It’s important to me.”
He eyed me speculatively. “Yes, I guess it would be. Vince, spend the night, and after supper I’ll tell you about Skye Hardesty, and how his brother let him down when it counted.”
Karl and Skye Hardesty were as close as identical twins could be, but one grew up straight and the other bent, or so the locals figured. One was a man; the other turned into a faggot. The whole county shook its collective head. How could it happen? They had identical genes, shared the same womb, experienced the same life events, but Karl fell in love with a local girl while Skye fell head over heels for another teenager, a boy.
“The whole place was scandalized,” Karl said wearily from the old overstuffed chair before the potbelly. “Me along with the rest, I guess. Oh, I’d known he was different for a long time. But I figured he’d grow out of it. Should have known better. He was as hardheaded as I am. Practically the same head...except for that. When they labeled him a queer, I stopped defending him, I’m ashamed to say. Our old man was offended right down to his Evangelical roots and did everything but throw Skye out on his ass. Mama wouldn’t let dad do that, but that’s the only thing she did for Skye.
“So we all let him down. But Skye was one strong kid. He took it all, the abuse, the scorn. But when the boy he loved turned on him that was more than he could take. The kid, Nelson was his name, got caught in his perversion and tried to blame it on Skye. Called him every name you can think of in front of the whole community at a dance one night and told my brother to keep his pansy hands off him. That was after the two had fooled around for a year or better.
“Skye never said a word, just turned around and left. I should have followed him, but I was having too much fun. And if the truth be known, I didn’t want to be painted with the same brush, so I decided to put a little distance between us.
“When we got home that night, he was gone. Only things he took with him were his old jalopy and his desert gear, so I knew right away where he was. Wasn’t until I found his ring that I knew why he was out there. We had identical turquoise rings we got on a trip to Albuquerque one year. It was the most precious thing he ever owned. It was our link together, I guess you could say. He’d only leave it behind if he didn’t need it any more. I knew he was dead before I spent a week looking for him. Found his car. That was all.”
“Maybe he never died. Maybe he went somewhere.”
Karl dug out his wallet and handed me a faded picture. “That’s him on the left. Me on the right. Is that him?”
“Y-yes.” The skin puckered on my arms and back. My scalp prickled. “That’s him.”
“Then how come he didn’t get old like I did?” Karl asked the unanswerable.
But I wasn’t listening. There was another presence in the room. Something powerful but insubstantial. The sudden fear and apprehension fell away. I was free and happy and special. I looked at Karl Hardesty and answered the man’s last question.
“Because you still need your flesh and bone. He doesn’t.” I peered into the deep shadows in the cavernous room. But the air had cleared; Karl and I were alone in the room now.
“He’s gone,” Karl mused. “He comes sometimes when he’s sent somebody extra special. You must be very, very special, Vince. And I thank you for it. I sorta enjoy his visits from time to time. I like to think it means he’s forgiven me.”
“He has, Karl. Believe me, he has.”


Can you summon a willing suspension of belief sufficient to accept the ending? I can. I hope you can, too. I hope you enjoyed your look at a Splendid Desolation.

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