Falling Down – Eli Easton
Josh finds himself homeless at eighteen, but he has a plan. He’ll head north on the bus to New England and spend October there for his mother’s sake. She always talked about going to see the fall leaves someday. And when the leaves were done and the harsh winter came, Josh would find a place to curl up and let go. It would be a relief to finally stop fighting.
Mark spent his life trying to live up to the tough swagger of his older brothers until he pushed himself so far against his nature that he cracked. Now an ex-Marine, he rents a little cabin in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where he can lick his wounds and figure out what to do with the rest of his life. One thing was clear: Mark was nobody’s hero.
Fate intervenes when Josh sets up camp under a covered bridge near Mark’s cabin. Mark recognizes the dead look in the young stranger’s eyes, and he feels compelled to do something about it. When Mark offers Josh a job, he never expected that he’d be the one to fall.
He arrived in Jackson on a Tuesday morning. He’d slept hard on the bus, which was practically a luxury motel compared to sleeping on the ground. Jackson was a cute little town but tiny, smaller even than Emeryville, the town in Alabama where he grew up. He found the cheapest coffee in town at the local grocery store and picked up a bag of day-old rolls to go with it. He managed to wash up and brush his teeth in the grocery store bathroom. He really needed a full shower, and a laundromat too, but he did the best he could.
Afterward, he walked around town, which took about five minutes. He stepped into a gift shop that was filled with calendars, T-shirts, mugs, and a variety of fall-themed items. He looked over a rack of postcards, each one with a perfect fall scene. There were so many lovely places, but he had no specific reason to go to any of them. Even though it was morning, he was suddenly tired again. Where should he go? He’d arrived in The White Mountains, his final destination, but he could hardly bed down on Jackson’s Main Street.
That was the most exhausting thing about being homeless. It was always a challenge to find a place where you could let go and rest, someplace sheltered and safe, even if it was an abandoned shed or a doorway somewhere. There was never a home or hotel to rush off too so you could relax, no dependable place, no real place. Even when Josh and his mom had been homeless for those few bleak months when he was eleven, they’d at least had a car to live in.
Josh knew all about being homeless now, and he’d reached the conclusion that home was as much a human necessity as water or food. It didn’t matter what it was, how small, or how humble, but it had to be yours. Because when you didn’t have home something thirsty inside you shriveled up and died a little more every day. The tether that connected you to earth wore a little more thin. Josh had only been homeless for three months this time, but he couldn’t imagine how people did it for years. It was like a slow poisoning of the soul.
He turned the rack of postcards, looking at the photos. His heart sank, weary and sad. The pictures were pretty, but they were just places, just trees. Then he noticed a postcard of a bridge. It was an old-fashioned covered bridge, brown in color, as if all the paint had worn off it, and it perched over a small body of water. The photograph was taken at a low angle, and Josh could see a slanted dirt embankment under the bridge. It was the kind of hidden space where a person could rest out of the sun. The leaves all around the bridge were brilliant gold and they reflected in the water too, lighting up the entire scene. It reminded Josh of a song he heard once in church. And someday yonder, we will never more wander, but walk the streets that are purest gold.
He rubbed his fingers on his jeans to make sure they were clean and took the postcard from the rack. He turned it over. Bigler’s Pond in The White Mountains. Gainsville, New Hampshire.
He took it up to the counter. “Excuse me, Ma’am. But can you tell me how far away this is?” He held out the postcard.
The middle-aged woman behind the counter was pretty and plump and dressed in a nice sweater. Her gaze moved over him, judging. He expected her to give him the cold shoulder, but she surprised him by smiling. “Sure, I’ve driven by this bridge many times. Isn’t it pretty? It’s on the east side of Gainsville. I can show you on a map if you like.”
“Yes, please. That would be kind of you.”
She hesitated, her gaze going to his duffel bag. “Are you walking? It’s about twenty miles from here, I’m afraid.”
Josh almost laughed. If only she knew how far he’d already come. “That’s fine. I don’t mind.”
Her smile was pitying. “Okay then. I’ll go get the map.”
Josh didn’t reach the bridge until it was almost dark. He’d tried to memorize the map the woman had shown him, but he went left instead of right on one road and ended up in the tiny town of Gainsville. He took the opportunity to buy a few cheap items at the mini-mart and re-check his directions with the store owner. Then he retraced his steps on a surprisingly busy country road until a turn-off on McKinley. A mile later, he saw the bridge.
It was just what he’d hoped for. The trees that were gold in the postcard were still green, but they were starting to turn. A random gold leaf stood out here and there. Otherwise the place was picture perfect, with the small pond and all the trees and the quaint old bridge. And it was isolated. There were no houses at all visible in front of the bridge and, as Josh got close, he could only see one small cabin behind it on the other side of the pond. The space under the bridge looked good too—hard packed dirt that was bare of weeds and trash and didn’t smell like death or piss. The slope was a little steep, but he’d slept on worse.
Josh looked around to make sure no one was around before crawling under the bridge. He sat down on the dirt and heaved a sigh of relief. The bridge made a roof above him and hid him from view of anyone passing by. It was a good place. A damn good place. Thank God. It was practically a miracle, and he’d take all of those he could get. It was almost dark now, and his feet ached bad from all the walking. He swayed as he sat on the ground, exhausted.
His mom stood on the bank of the pond a few feet away. Her smile was filled with delight. “This is real pretty, Josh,” she said.
“Yeah it is, mom.”
She spun around in a circle. “An embarrassment of riches!”
“That might be going a bit far,” Josh snarked. But honestly, he was very pleased.
He forced himself to rally and unzip his duffel bag. He spread out his blanket, which was so filthy it looked more brown than blue, and made a pillow from a rain coat tied around some clothes. He set up his battered old pot for cooking and a plastic water jug. He started to take off his shoes—his feet were swollen after that twenty-mile walk. Then he realized he needed firewood. He left his stuff and went out to collect some. There was plenty in the nearby woods and along the pond’s shore, easy to spot, even in the poor light. The moon sat low on the horizon like an understudy sun waiting to take over. It was big and round tonight. That was good news too. Josh much preferred brighter nights to the black ones. It scared him not to be able to see what was coming.
He carried the wood under the bridge. The fire had to be set close to the bridge’s side so the smoke would rise and not choke him. He made a pyramid of twigs and stuffed some old newspapers from his duffel bag down into it. He used a lighter to start the fire. Donny had given him the metal lighter for his eighteenth birthday. Josh was grateful for it, but that birthday had been hard, the first since his mother died. The memory of his birthday ‘dinner’ over a campfire in Birmingham was unpleasant. There’d been a drunk guy who kept trying to talk Josh into sucking his cock and wouldn’t leave them alone.
Josh put the memory away and focused on the task at hand. He finally got the fire going.
He opened a can of beans and warmed them over the fire. He ate them with the day old rolls. He was so hungry, he used his finger to get every bit of sauce from the can and the pot. He couldn’t resist eating the rest of the rolls too. He’d be sorry in the morning, but then again, one roll for breakfast wouldn’t have been enough anyway.
When his meal was done, and the pot was rinsed, there wasn’t much to do. He could try to do some laundry in the pond, but he was too tired after the long walk, and it was getting seriously cold. No way did he want to get wet. He read a few pages of a book, a thriller called I Am Pilgrim, which someone had left at the train station. But after a short while his eyes refused to focus in the dim firelight.
Fuck, it was cold. It would get colder after the fire died out. He rummaged around in his duffel bag and put on three more T-shirts and another pair of socks. Unfortunately, he didn’t have anything that would fit either under or over his jeans. He put all the wood he’d found on the fire, hoping it would last through most of the night.
He curled up on his blanket as close to the fire as he dared and tried to sleep. But the darkness beyond the bridge was so very dark compared to the firelight, and he felt so very alone.
He put his fingers to his throat, pressing down, as if the beat of his own heart could keep him company. Now that he was here in New Hampshire, something heavy and dark settled down on top of him like an incubus.
Here. Maybe even in this very place. Why not? It was a good place. He wouldn’t find a better one. He could stay here until the snow came, until it was time. Thinking about that made him sad, sad enough that the back of his throat ached and his eyes stung.
He didn’t mind the idea of leaving this life. Not really. But there were things he wished he’d been able to experience. He wished he’d known what it was like to be loved by someone, by a man, a kind and decent man. He wished he was being held, spooned, in a warm bed, at that very moment. It wasn’t about sex. He’d had sex with guys. But he’d never been held for no reason at all except that it felt good to be close—at least, he’d never been held that way by anyone except his mother. He imagined being held like that now, someplace warm and dry and out of the wind, someplace safe. That would be heaven.
Josh didn’t have that, but he did have a killer imagination. He closed his eyes and pretended.
Having been, at various times, and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, the author of metaphysical thrillers, an organic farmer and a profound sleeper, Eli is happily embarking on yet another incarnation as a m/m romance author.
As an avid reader of such, she is tinkled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, three bulldogs, three cows and six chickens. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest writing.
Eli currently publishes with Dreamspinner Press and has a few self-pubbed titles as well.
She also publishes thrillers under Jane Jensen.