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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: First Chapter

The Power of Nothing - Chapter One
Robbin Yager

'To be still was impossible for her. They weren't living with a ghost, didn't have disaster stalking'.


Jan pushed four coins into the slot, and punched the numbers, thankful for rain splattering the glass. One drop quivered, resisted, then exactly when he answered, succumbed to the inevitable, casting off to burst upon her shoe. Like that single splash, she needed courage to tell her parents she won’t be leaving London, will not be there for the funeral, and please don’t insist she come home.

Everything was falling to pieces. Yet everything will change. Believing was naive. They told her this, yet she could not dismiss the feeling something waited out there. The feeling resided deep in her gut, locked tight. Jan wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but she knew it existed. It made her rise from her warm bed and take whatever light the day offered, get out and keep moving. It comforted when nothing else could and no one else would. She couldn’t discard it in a moment of weakness, because once believing is dead, how do you return to the source? The belief ransacked her parents’ murdering reminders of inadequacy and self-doubt. Her father’s words commanded as if she were wounded and needed encouragement to survive. Her mother argued expertly and wielded doubt like a lash. Come home before something worse happens. Jan knew no one. Where would she go for help, alone with no money, no work? Come home and rest, you’re still in shock. Her mother knew a doctor. Remember her cousin April? Drugs can really help now. She served the final dose. Guilt. Jan owed it to Richard’s parents, show some sensitivity, don’t be so . . . so ungrateful.
Something detached from Jan’s skin and chilled to the bone. Winter’s deep freeze minus 35 howling wind never felt like this. Meaning exhaled into long filthy tunnels whirring exchanges, down thick black cables spanning skies, satellites spinning across oceans, bitter cold, to the house she hated, to their unwanted love hijacking her will. And she was letting them do it.

Someone said the single word 'no’, and she realized it was the right word. Her word. She said it over and over, then louder, knowing it was the one word they refused to hear. She didn’t care if they heard or not. They offered no ideas, no clues, no understanding, nor a single word of explanation. They didn’t care what she thought or felt. All those useless words were only for themselves. They must stop yelling over her life. Right now!

Jan hammered the receiver down, severing anxiety in mid-sentence. Creeping silence ate into her anger, though anger never satisfied. It always transformed into a paralyzing wad, confusing so badly. Their words and manufactured kindness could be the ultimate solution. But their words would never rescue this disaster, never allow space for anything essential.

Jan wearily escaped the phone box, sunk fists deep in coat pockets and pitied her pounding heart. Barely able to focus, she begged the question. Why? Remembering made her resent her sorry life. Yet blood flowed in her veins, and by muscle on bone, legs still obeyed, dragging feet over pavement. Not him. No, never again. His memory warmed to familiarity and sulked to her outer edge. She wrapped it closer to sustain definition, to keep the fear at bay.

Walk on.

She liked dull skies and driving rain. Hissing traffic sprayed grit on her face. Remnants of comfort needed discipline. So when her nightmares surfaced, she could hide the pain, squeeze tight, sure no tears would come. It really didn’t matter anyway, she decided. No one ever noticed.

Walk on.

Lines, squares, rectangles, complemented her rigid heart beating concrete time. Each step measured meaningless progress, a nowhere perspective overlapping the fluorescent London skyline. On her left, a singular museum tower pointed optimistically, telling her there is more, always more. By moving she will eventually arrive. There will be an end to hardness in her heart and hardness under her feet. Believe. To not have that sharp stone burn in her chest. Oh! To remember softness. She tried but memory wasn’t willing. She had no choice but to embrace dread and keep fear at bay. To be still was impossible, so she walked as she had for weeks, going nowhere.

Black columns streaked the evening sky, dull behind yellow billboard halos. Two enormous lovers existed there, white blonde sharing some frivolous delight. Flowers and perfume. They shopped perfectly with garish lips. Too angelic in this cell. Deceit. Where was death in all of this? Ordinary people passed on an ordinary street. She envied their warm homes, their warm routines, their safe predictable lives. They weren't living with a ghost, didn't have disaster stalking. To be still created an opportunity for fear to slide onto her skin like the hand of an unseen stranger. Desperate, irritating, needy. She needed to sever the hand and destroy the nightmare forever.

Walk on.

Looking down, she saw leaves shredded under countless soles, ground to angry black. Colored like her father's harping, demanding she come home. She frightened him, she knew this. And he knew she could go further than he imagined. Because he was afraid and he believed, he must force her. But he was wrong, like on that strange day back in Canada. But that was long before the dread, long before Richard. She trusted her father back then. Until that day. The day he insisted she no longer be afraid, everything changed.

How her brother protested, she would hold them back, it was not for girls, called her excess baggage. But she went anyway wearing her mother’s too-big boots, two pairs of wool socks faking the fit. It took hours of sulky silence between them on the bench seat, truck headlights picking through the dark wood. She fought to keep from nodding off. The rutted trail would send her to the floor if she had not hung on. Finally, thankfully, morning tested a feeble light over the trees, her father’s signal to turn off the key and unload.

They fingered the big shells, counting each one, packing extras carefully. Double-check whispers clouded delicate and clear over their rifles. Under dark pinewood, long strides faded to shadow. She ran to catch up, forest debris snapping, relieved to see her brother waiting. Until he angrily hissed ‘shut-up’ into her face. Her father told her. ‘Roll your foot from the outside, silently like a squaw. Pick up your feet, don't shuffle.’

Without realizing why, she was walking like that now, softly along London's concrete trails. Squaw! She considered the irony, faced the evening rain, gathered a remnant of amusement and put it beside the stone.

Walk on.

Memory again, on the wooded path when the power began. ‘Pick up your feet’, her father whispered. And she did, creeping like an animal. Slippery roots and leaves held her back. Her brother and father floated ahead, silhouettes barely visible under sky’s faint blush. When he said. ‘We have one’, she kneeled before the impression in the mud. Something about the heart shape made her run her finger lightly over the edge. In it she sensed a life from calf to grown animal, vibrant and searching for survival. The gritty message brought a change in light; wind brought the scent of pine. Her head filled with imagining. This moment desired sweet osmosis with the world.

She didn't want to be hunting moose. Hated the idea. Her father scoffed at her fragmented protests. He would show her how it was done. Then she would understand it took skill, luck, patience. It wasn't easy being a hunter, he said, to think like the animal, learn the lay of the land, learn where the moose found shelter and plentiful food. He explained that sometimes a whole season would pass without seeing one animal. Those years were the most frustrating. Sometimes they encountered other hunters who already reached their limit, out for one more bear, white tail, elk. Luck gave them the chance. Shoot cleanly without pursuit. Painless. There was little or no suffering. The animal didn't even know what hit it.

Today luck had found them, they had a big one and they were close. Her father licked a finger and held it up to test the wind, then cast it sharply ahead. She held her breath and waited for silent imperfections. Yes, she could hear soft rustling, leaves stripped from a limb. Upwind. It was moving slowly, browsing, unaware.

He signaled her brother and motioned in turn for her to follow. She placed her feet exactly after her brother, pretending to be invisible. It was her father’s shot. Her brother would be the backup in case he missed, or wounded. Then the moose would flee. It would be a wide target with a clear shot to the side.

Her father disappeared behind a cluster of trees, and she crouched behind her brother, kneeling and hunched intensely over his rifle. Sun warmed her back but she fought off shivers and dared not move. Her father once told her, tension would foil the shot. But she did not repeat it. Obedient in trust, Jan never wanted to know. Not now, not ever.
Her body flinched before the sharp crack wrenched her thoughts. Echo ricocheted down the valley.
Antlers exploded from the thicket. The raging animal plunged directly for them, hurling mud and leaves and spinning shards in every direction. Hideous milliseconds passed like an hour. Her brother lurched back. Each particle of time she believed he would lift the rifle and take aim, he tried, fumbled, froze—too late—she saw his body holding the shape of paralyzed fear, and when she rose up, knew he could not shoot in time. Standing even with the moose, she looked deep, a gleaming eye telling her, have faith, know more than death—and swerve and pass like she was just another sapling or stump or willow branch. Pounding, snorting, massive blur to her right—then—one dry leaf floated gently upon the grass.

She glanced down at her brother clenching his rifle, shoulders at his ears, eyes circled in glassy, colorless shock. He swiveled slowly around to question her, offering his doubt. She would not accept it. Her sense of peace and a cool wind filled the void.

Her father came running and halted suddenly, hesitating when he saw her brother. Their haunted stares penetrated the hole where the moose had plunged through and crashed over the distant ridge. Deadfall snapped like returning gunfire, and they stared until silence reclaimed dominion. A bird flew high overhead twittering sweetly. She smiled at her father, sure that every simple thing in the universe sang in perfect harmony.

But it wasn’t to last, because her father had come between them now, and was standing before her, pointing the rifle directly at her face. At first she didn’t understand, until she saw his shaking hands, and his quivering anger. When he realized she saw his fear, he lowered the rifle and grabbed the front of her coat instead. Then the yelling began.
‘It was the most stupid ridiculous thing anyone could ever do. Waving your arms like that, at a charging moose? It’s insane. Why did you do such a thing? You were lucky it didn't trample him.’
Quavering words pounded his anger nail by nail. ‘You killed our chance! It could’ve killed him! I could . . . why did you do such a fucking stupid THING!?! Tell me! WHY?’

His words splattered. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see his face. To explain would be folly. He would never, never understand. She had never waved her arms, she simply stood, and had answered, knew she would, even before her brother saw the animal. She knew it back when she touched the mark in the mud. Right then it simply asked and she simply answered—‘yes’.

Her father believed she caused her brother’s failure. It wasn't that her brother couldn’t even raise the rifle, that he wasn't even ready. No. She must have done something to stop him. What? Why did she not say anything?
Her brother watched his accusations open-mouthed, but never said otherwise, never defended her at all. He just repeated it was a mistake to bring her along in the first place.

The incident was never mentioned again. But she could always sense resentment in the way her brother avoided her, in the way her father looked at her. Always with lingering, dark, brooding contemptuous anger. And it never occurred to anyone that she had simply saved her brother’s life.
But all that was long ago. Walking right now with a heart of stone, with fate pointing a boney finger from the shadows of a London back street, nothing compares to this.

Walk on.

The author ROBBIN YAGER has now published The Power of Nothing, and has a website for the novel at

Click on cover to take you to and to buy this book.

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