I consider myself to be somewhat of a mondagreen expert, having inadvertently invented a few too many of them myself, so this week's Flash Fiction Friday prompt really spoke to me. Jimi Hendrix' Purple Haze was my immediate choice from the offered list, the only choice, really, as Benny and the Jets is my least favourite Elton John song, and I flat-out refuse to use a Nickelback, Good Charlotte or Fall Out Boy song. I do have my reputation to consider, after all.
Fortunately Purple Haze offers a lot of creative potential. Next time I will leave myself more than an hour to complete the task, though.
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"Hey." I touched his forearm, giving it a little shake, and asked again. "Where did you go anyway?"
The first time I had asked him, at the dinner table over mom's welcome home roast chicken, he had brushed off the question with an easy laugh, a light punch on my arm, and a request for another slice of mom's world famous rhubarb pie.
But now, after the table had been cleared and we had been excused from dish duty, I had him to myself. As we strolled down the gravel lane toward the silo, grasshoppers leaping into the ditch banks at our approach, the sun beginning its slow descent over the wheat field, I tried again. "Scott, where did you go?"
I was referring primarily to his unexplained absence, the manoeuvers for which he had volunteered that were supposed to last the weekend, but which had inexplicably stretched into two weeks. But I was also trying to figure out where my brother had retreated to inside his own head.
I peered into his face and saw only a blank canvass of skin and flesh and bone stretched over a cavernous void. Scott's eyes fixed unblinkingly on the horizon, a million mile gaze, registering nothing at all. It was the same blank stare that I had seen him slip into a few times at the dinner table, a trance from which he would visibly shake himself when the conversation was aimed at him.
I tapped his arm again and at long last, he blinked a long slow stretch of his eyelids, and gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. He turned to look at me, a wide easy grin spreading slowly over his face. "You know I can't tell you anything, Brenda." He winked at me, and raised his index finger to his lips. "Classified information. If I told you I would have to kill you."
"Don't patronize me, Scott." My curiosity and concern were giving way to anger. "And don't bullshit me, either. I've been hearing rumours about the stuff that's been going on at the military hospital. Are you involved with that? Have you been letting them test chemical weapons on you or something?"
Even I couldn't believe I had voiced that last question. It had been a secret fear that had been niggling at me, but the very idea was so preposterous that I would never entertain it as a legitimate possibility. My big brother may have joined the god damn army but he would never be so stupid as to let them mess with his body like that.
Scott slowed his long stride to a near shuffle. "They weren't weapons," he whispered, "yeah they probably were originally supposed to be, but ... they were kinda the opposite of weapons, to tell you the truth." He stopped and turned to face me. "Where did I go, you wanted to know? I'm not really sure, kiddo, but I think it might have been heaven."
I was too dumbfounded by this statement to do anything but stare, slack-jawed, at my brother. The level-headed boy who had taught me to fight, to shoot a rifle, to drive the old station wagon, the voice of reason who always had my back, was now earnestly spouting some mystical claptrap at me. "What are you talking about?" I hissed.
"I dunno, Brenda," he sighed, "I really don't. I can't explain it, but when they gave me that stuff, I went somewhere. It may have looked like I was just sitting in a room at the barracks for two weeks, like they tell me is what happened, but I wasn't."
He pointed at the deepening purple of the horizon, to where the rim of the sun had dropped below the ripening heads of wheat. "I know what it's like on the sun." His voice shook a little. "I've seen the hydrogen flares and I've been pulled into the magnetic fields. I've ridden the solar winds to the Orion Arm. I've been doused with the interplanetary dust of the astroid belt and I've swum in the galactic tides. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live. To tell you the truth..." He returned my perplexed look with a steady unshakable gaze. "I didn't want to come back."
"Apparently I was one of the last soldiers to volunteer for this mission, they're terminating the operation. They were starting to clear out the lab as I was being discharged." He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small folded envelope. "Come here," he urged. As I reached his side, he carefully opened the envelope to reveal a single tiny square of purple paper. "Here," he held it out to me, "I brought you home a souvenir."