He sat at the table and by the light of the small table lamp studied the worn road atlas. There all the land opened wholly before him, flat, pallid and bleak, the corners curling skyward as he searched amongst the smudges and gray silhouettes, a bloodshot array of roadwork, for some mark on that pale, depthless country to which he might affix for himself a crude bearing. When no one place called out to him—and none ever did—he would glance at her picture. A few precious seconds, or longer. For eternity if given the choice. And closing his eyes he would lift one hand from the table and sweeping it over the entirety of it, like a fortune teller with their globe, he invited the land to speak to him. An errand as helpless as any there was as the world lay deaf and indifferent to him. And so it was when his hand came to rest and he measured the distance from where it hung suspended over the atlas to where he knew himself to be and found the divide never far enough. Not even when Fate, or something more sinister, beseeched him beyond the thin, tattered borders and bid him alone to the ends of the earth and over the world’s blunt edge.
He woke to a noise and a flash of bright light, then went skirting for cover like some startled vagrant or half-human creature. His feet kicking and slipping across the floor, pulling up bits of carpet fluff. With one hand he shielded his eyes and pawed sideways at the air with the other and scrambling as such made his way to the corner where he pressed his balled up self into the wall.
Good morning, Sergeant, said a voice.
John David lowered his hand enough to see a figure squatted across the room. A man kneeling by the window. Dressed in the Army green uniform—slacks with black piping, jump boots, short sleeved shirt. In one hand he held the cord to the blinds and with the other was petting the upturned belly of the little dog. What the hell is wrong with you? John David asked. Funny, the officer answered, I was about to ask you the same question.
John David scooted himself up and leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He concentrated on his breathing. Inhale, hold. Exhale, hold. Repeat. Inhale, hold. Exhale, hold. Repeat.
Sorry I startled you, said the officer.
John David glared at him. What kind of chaplain just lets himself in?
It was easier than you might think, said the chaplain as he glanced around the empty room. Now I see why. There’s not much here to steal.
What does that mean?
What happened to all your stuff?
John David looked away.
Okay, said the chaplain. How about we start someplace else, your front door for instance.
What about it?
Where is it?