Richard Houchin


She is waiting for me, but I canít help but slow down when I see the trees. The gnarled limbs of arthritic birches huddle beneath oaks. Wreathed in heat, blistered with knobs, the white bark has split. Yellow leaves litter the ground.

I step off the sidewalk and move down the empty street. I run my hand across my pocket, feeling her letter. I'm forgetting her face, but when I find her at the overgrown creek Iíll remember. Beneath the glare of the sun, everything is heavier. And yet her letter is different. I finger the worn edges, and itís like drinking strawberry lemonade. I taste it on my lips. I feel the smooth texture of the ice against my fingertips.

I remember when she interviewed me for the paper, her brunette hair sponging up the sun. And I remember when I read her something I hadn't finished writing, huddled beneath an old oak tree. And then we asked each other pointless questions, and made silly promises.

She is waiting for me now.

Wind gusts from the trees and I stop. The shadows exhale a disinfectant tang and I turn aside. What is this? The movement of the leaves draws my eyes. A branch is gripped here, the wind slips down to that birch there, and the whisper of dried vegetation is pulled along--

"Lazarus!" The word is commanding, ringing over the leafsound. I recognize it. Nausea strikes as I move. Starbursts appear. I stumble. The asphalt rises, falling up.

I gasp, the air furnace-hot, as my outthrust hand is bit by the oily street. Gut clenching, the ground continues to fall. Something forgotten clamors to be recalled. On my knees, I wrestle to lift my face. A man is in front of me. Sweat runs into my eyes, blending with hot tears. I try to stand. I try to shake the burning haze from my vision, but the world tilts. A gulf opens beneath my shoulders. The man is a green blur. As I fall he reaches out, his yellowed nails curling in invitation.