A Work of Serial Fiction by Noah Sanders | 12/30/16
Most of the business at the Mason City, Iowa Embassy Suites – as with most of the business at Embassy Suites nationwide – comes in the form of youth soccer teams in town for weekend tournaments, solitary professionals drinking night caps alone at the hotel bar – wondering if they are emulating that tired paradigm or if they, and their predecessors, are genuine, were in fact the inspiration – exhausted, tense families passing through on their way to somewhere else, and the odd religious youth group.
This Monday through Thursday, however, the Mason City Embassy Suites was playing host to the annual convention for the National Association of Golf Course Architects (NAGCA), a fact that was viewed as a coup of sorts among the small, but ruthlessly competitive and catty, world of Mason City hotel executives. Most high-profile bookings opted for the Hilton Garden Inn or the Radisson, both just across highway 65, the Radisson closer to the Taco Bell.
So, when Farmer Wilson, Angie, and Harriet came down for breakfast, they found themselves surrounded by men. They found themselves surrounded by a very specific type of men, a type not found anywhere in Howe, Illinois. They were men in khakis and monogrammed polyester polo shirts; men with watches gifts for Father’s Day twinkling in the morning sun, reflecting the glare from the complimentary continental breakfast’s domed metal trays; men with blonde hair, men with dark brown hair peppered with salt; men named Chip and Porter and Charles and Piper and Brexton and William; men with potbellies and red rosy cheeks like clean-shaven Santas; men who made their fathers proud, who’s sons make them proud, who’s daughters are small and fragile and innocent, who go with them to Father/Daughter dances dressed in pink and white frills down to their ankles, hair rolled tight into buns and held with silver, sequined pins; men who call their wives “doll”, their sons “sport”, and their daughters “angels” – these men milled about and talked, their conversations about college sports and the Wall Street Journal and family cruises they took to the Cayman Islands all blending into a dull roar and echoing off the walls of the hotel atrium, rising high past eleven floors of beds in crisp white sheets crowned with a small, square chocolate wrapped in silver foil, rising up through the skylight and colliding with the air, dissipating into nothing.
Sitting at a table in the middle of all of this, Farmer Wilson, Angie, and Harriet ate their breakfast, drank coffee, and argued about what do next. They were certain Silas had gone west. They had no clues, had not seen Silas for a month, had, in fact, lost his trail the moment he left Howe. Yet all three of them knew he had headed west. None of them, of course, had ever been in that direction. None of them had ever left Howe. Their journey so far had already been almost too much, too strange. It had forced them far from their comfort zone, surrounded them with sights and sounds completely unfamiliar to them: restaurants on the side of freeways serving food they’ve never tasted, gas station bathrooms reeking of piss and reheated breakfast sandwiches, the greyhound bus, stiff, stale, and sleepless.
And whatever lay to the west was the strangest of all. It sat on the horizon, dark and unknown, foreboding and uncertain. It was exactly because of this uncertainty that they knew Silas was there. He had traveled where they were most scared to travel, was forcing them to test their faith in and devotion to him against as great a challenge as existed in their small world.
But “west” was a direction to an enormous place, and they had no idea how to get there. Angie wanted to buy another bus ticket, saw no reason to fix something that wasn’t broken. Harriet, appalled at their routine life already shattered, wanted to do anything but get back on the greyhound. Three weeks of travel (it had taken them a week to figure out the logistics of leaving Howe) surrounded by people she did not know, did not ever want to know, could barely conceive of as “people”, had been more than enough for her.
“Our top priority must be to stick together.”
“None of us is saying otherwise, Sister Harry.”
“I’d hate for us to be pulled apart. And those buses only have room for two on each side. That is two of us together and one of us apart. It cannot be allowed.”
“You can sit with Brother. I will sit across and put our belongings in the seat next to me. It will be perfectly safe.”
“I refuse to risk your well-being for my safety. We cannot continue on the bus. That must be final.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
“All I know is we cannot get on that bus. We will never find him if we are first strangled in our sleep or stabbed by some ruffian with a pocket-knife.”
“Oh don’t be so dramatic, Sister! We have Brother to protect us. We will be fine. We are taking the bus. Brother, what time is the next bus?”
Farmer Wilson did not hear them. He stared into his coffee. It was pale and diluted, like rainwater stained with mud. He rotated the mug and the coffee rose to the rim and sunk back down, rose and sunk, leaving a faint brown film on the mug’s white porcelain walls. He watched the coffee turning, the smallest movement from his wrist sending tidal waves roaring around the mug.
He could feel something sitting in his chest, a cavernous, empty hole that, although it held nothing, weighed him down. It was a powerful, debilitating pain branded as if on his sternum, blinding him to anything else but the thing that left it. He needed to find Silas, needed him back in his life.
Do you enjoy this story? Please consider
a donation to help keep Noah writing.