I love my family. I really do. But sometimes, I just need to get away from it all. From family. From work. From life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my family’s company. And, it’s not that I don’t want to spend time with them either. Just, sometimes I need some “me” time. And, for some reason, the rest of my family decided that while I’m home, I’m not allowed to have any of that “me” time. So, this is what I have resorted to.
I was in my truck driving along the highway when I spotted a boat sitting out by the beach. For years, as a I drove to work, I saw this thing every day but never actually noticed it. It was an old row boat. The once vibrant paint was now faded and chipped beyond belief. Sitting out in the weather for years gave the boat a lot of character. I think that’s what drew me in to investigate the boat at first.
One weekend, I drove down the highway and pulled off the road near where the boat was located. As I got out of my truck, I grabbed my flashlight and threw my sunglasses on. I walked up to the row boat and gave it a gentle tap with my flashlight to make sure nothing was living in it. A few lizards darted away in every direction but mine. Beyond that, the boat was lonely. I looked around and didn’t notice any houses nearby or any signs that this boat still belonged to somebody. Judging by the weathering and how sunken the boat was into the ground, nobody had touched this thing in years. It was abandoned.
I took a quick walk around the boat to see what kind of shape the thing was in. Beyond the paint chipping, the boat looked in great shape. The body held up to the test of time. And, none of the wood was rotted out. I placed a hand on the bench inside and firmly pried and pushed it. The thing never had any give. The wood was solid through and through.
As I was investigating the boat, I glanced up for a moment and looked out to the water. Amongst all the blue was a tan and green dot of land about a mile away from the shore. The boat seemed like it was pointed to that island. I looked around for any oars that I could use. After searching around for a few minutes, I didn’t find anything. I looked at the boat again and back out to that island. This trip would have to wait for another day.
On Tuesday of the next week, I drove out to the local sports equipment store after work and grabbed a set of oars. Nothing fancy. Just enough to be able to get the boat moving in the water. After buying them, I threw them into the bed of my truck and thought about immediately driving out to the boat and testing them while seeing if the boat could actually float or not. But, that would have to wait for the weekend.
It was a long and tedious week. Work was particularly boring that week and felt like it was never going to end. By the time the weekend rolled around, I was almost too exhausted from boredom to go out that weekend. But, I had waited this long and I needed to see if that boat could make it out to the island. I never told anybody else about the thing. I don’t know why. I just wanted to keep it my secret. My piece of sanity hidden away from everybody else.
When I decided to go out for the trip, I made a quick excuse that I was going to be out for a little bit and quickly drove out to the secluded spot on the beach. I grabbed the oars from my truck bed and threw them into the boat. I slid off my shoes and threw them into the boat too. I let my feet sink into the sand for a moment before I began pushing the old row boat out to the gentle ocean. Today was the perfect day to test this out. The water was smooth as glass and the waves gently nipped into shore rather than their usual surge.
After some struggling to initially get it loose, the boat slid through the sand and gently floated out into the water. Not a single leak popped up in the boat as the entire bottom now rested on the water. I let out a cheer with this minor success. I quickly hopped into the boat and set up the oars. With a few strokes, I was already a few feet from shore.
I kept rowing and rowing and aimed for the island that I could see from the mainland. It was definitely a lot more work than I initially anticipated and my body was quickly covered in sweat. But, after rowing for about 30 minutes, I finally made it.
The bottom of the boat scraped up against the sand on the edge of the beach. I quickly hopped out and pulled the boat up onto the shore. It was perfect. I looked around and not a single soul was to be seen for miles. I pulled out my phone and checked the signal. I didn’t think I was that far from shore but, my phone read “no service.” I had found my sanctuary where I could escape from everybody and take a break. I slid my phone back into my pocket and plopped down onto the beach. I listened to the water slide onto shore and I looked over to the old boat. This was definitely going to become a new hang out spot. And, this boat was going to be my trusted partner in crime. Maybe next week I’d bring a cooler along. Just me, my boat, and a little solitude.
A man walked into the room and flipped a switch on the wall, turning on the overhead lights that surrounded the perimeter of the ceiling. He made his way around the table, placing leather portfolios on the placemats that sat in front of dark leather chairs. Each portfolio that he set down was identical to the last. Rich black leather with a silver brain embossed on the cover. After making his way around the room, he made sure that the last folder he set down was perfectly in line with the placemats just as all the others before. He surveyed the room for any errors that would disrupt the upcoming meeting. Nothing caught his eye. With a nod of affirmation to himself, the man left the room. His job was done.
Within the next half hour, 16 men made their way into the room and sat in their assigned seats. Although no name tags were placed on the table or chairs, they still knew exactly where to sit purely out of habit from going through this same routine constantly. They all opened the portfolios that were set out for them and analyzed the contents inside. This process took another ten minutes with none of the men saying a word during the whole process. Finally, after it seemed like every man had finished their reading and had finished taking notes on the documents, one of the men cleared his throat and called the meeting to order.
“First on the agenda today is the energy management issue. Frank, would you kindly give us a brief on the issue at hand?” The head chairman asked with a stern voice that sounded more like a command.
“Yes, sir. Right now, all of our systems, as you all may have noticed, are running on minimal energy. We’re going to have to import more resources in order to fuel all of our energy systems back up to nominal levels. We can maintain the current situation for a little while longer. But, my team would like to put in a request to the head of the board to make energy imports a priority for right now.” The man replied as the whole counsel stared at him.
The head chairman looked down at his portfolio with a pen resting in his hand and checked through the list of the other attendees at today’s meeting. He circled one of the names and looked up to the other side of the table.
“I understand that waste disposal also has an issue right now and is requesting resources at this current time?” the head chairman asked, this time sounding more like an honest question.
The man that he was making eye contact with began to stammer. To all the other board members, it seemed like he had about a million thoughts racing through his head but couldn’t let any of them escape his clumsy lips. After a few moments of several incoherent thoughts and a large heaping of umms, the board member paused to take a sip of water from a glass that his assistant had just brought to him. His thoughts were finally gathered.
“Yes, sir. The waste disposal division has been able to deal with our current situation for quite some time. But within several cycles, we’re going to have a catastrophic meltdown. If we don’t get approval from the board for immediate action, we’re going to have a repeat of 1987 all over again.” The board member said as fast as he possibly could, as if he was racing his brain before more thoughts could try to force themselves out of his mouth.
“1987?” the head board member questioned in disbelief. He shook his head. “How did we let it get this bad?”
“I don’t mean to point any fingers here,” the waste disposal board member continued “but several other departments have been receiving much more attention than we have in recent times.” He finished his sentence while glancing at several of the other men sitting at the table.
“Okay. Energy, can you wait a few more cycles so that we can handle this current issue first?”
The energy management board member glanced down at his portfolio and started sifting through the papers in front of him.
“We’re going to have to crunch some number to get you a solid answer…” he was promptly cut off.
“I don’t need exact numbers. Can you hold off?” the head board member replied tersely.
The energy board member made one final flip through his pages.
“Yeah. I think we can make it work.”
“Okay.” The chief sat back in his chair, relaxed that that issue was taken care of.
Suddenly, the lights in the room began to flash red. A loud siren started to go off. All the board members quickly glanced around at each other in disbelief.
“It can’t possibly be time yet!” one of the board members yelled in disbelief.
Several other members glanced down at their watches. In fact, it was time.
The chairman quickly commanded attention over the room, even over the blaring siren.
“We still have way too much to cover before the day starts. I need a quick judgment call. Can we cover the rest of these issues in 10 minutes?” He vocalized with a sense of urgency.
The board members all looked around the table, nodding to each other.
“Good. Ten minutes it is.” The chairman confirmed. “Motor controls. I need you to put in an urgent order to slap the snooze button on the alarm outside.”
The chairman got up and left the room. Within seconds, the room went quiet again. The board member returned. He nodded to the chairman.
“Okay, men. We have 10 minutes before we get up for the day and have to go to work.” He looked back down at the agenda. The top header read “Conscious Mind of Doug. A Meeting of the Minds.”
“So, next on the agenda. What are we having for breakfast?” the chairman continued.
The door of the coffee shop rang out as the old man walked through the entrance. He sat down in the same chair that he occupied every Sunday morning for the past 35 years. It was quiet today. A few students sat in the corner and discussed an upcoming test. In a few weeks, the local college would fill this shop to the brim studying for finals. He didn’t mind. It reminded him of when he was younger.
A waitress came up to him and placed a coffee mug sitting in a saucer beside him. She never asked what he wanted. It was the same drink every week. A standard cup of coffee. Black.
“Thanks, dear.” He said with a gravel voice.
He picked up the mug and took a long draw from the black coffee within. As usual, the waitress had waited enough time to let the coffee cool down to the temperature that he loved. Not too hot to burn his mouth but, warm enough to still enjoy the flavor without being too bitter. After placing the cup back into the saucer, he sat back in his chair and stared at the newspaper in front of him.
This coffee shop never changed. It was something that the man truly admired about the shop. And, it was the same reason he returned to the shop every week. The same flavor of beans were imported every week to be ground, roasted, and served. The cups were the same since the shop opened minus a few cups that replaced broken ones. The wooden tables were aged. When first installed they were perfectly smooth. Now, they showed character. Beyond aging, nothing in here ever changed.
But, the outside world did. It seemed to be getting worse everyday. While the man looked down to the newspaper laying in front of him, he frowned. He read a title to one of the articles on the front page. A young girl was raped and murder last night. Abandoned in a gutter. He pursed his lips and shook his head. He thought back to a time when the news wasn’t always so dismal. When the world didn’t seem like such a horrible place.
But, maybe the world wasn’t changing so much. He thought for a moment and wondered if it was him that was changing instead. Maybe he was just getting older and noticed the horrors of what was going around him more. It’s not like there were any world wars raging on. Only small skirmishes between countries. There was no epidemic sweeping the globe and wiping out a solid fraction of humanity. No. Medicine is better now than it ever was before. Maybe the same crimes had been happening all along. But, now the news reported on those crimes rather than a looming threat of doomsday.
He took another sip from the mug and let the warm coffee trickle down his throat. At least one thing in this world was better today. He admired the coffee for a second before setting it down again. He pushed the newspaper aside and pulled a ballpoint pen from his pocket and clicked it open. Taking the pen to the yellow legal pad that had been sitting under the newspaper earlier, he split the page vertically with a line going down the middle. On the left side of the line he wrote “pros” and the right side, “cons.”
After setting up the table, he tapped the pen against the paper while staring out the large window at the front of the shop. His eyes glazed over as he stared at nothing. Deep in thought, he drummed a steady beat on the legal pad with his pen. His eyes grew wider as his thoughts grew deeper. Then, he snapped out of it. His eyes refocused and he looked back down at the legal pad. On the pros side, he wrote the word “satisfaction.” On the cons side, he wrote “guilt.”
He continued jotting down bullet points on both sides of the pros and cons list for several minutes. Every few bullet points, he would pause and take a sip from the coffee mug that sat next to him. The cup was soon emptied and the waitress came by and offered to refill it for him. He politely denied and she took it to clean it up. Without any more distractions, he began to dive head first into this list of pros and cons and soon he was onto the second page of the legal pad.
As the lists grew longer and longer, it took more and more time to come up with the next thought to jot down. By the time he started to draw towards the end of writing the list, he looked up and noticed that most of the patrons that were inside the shop when he first walked in were now gone. He looked back down at his legal pad, satisfied.
This was not the first time that he made a list of pros and cons while sitting in the coffee shop. It was in this very shop that many important decisions in his life were made. In this shop, he made the decision to attend the college just down the street. In this shop, he made the decision to ask out the one girl in his psych classes. In this shop, he later made the decision to marry that same girl. Every single time, it started with a legal pad, a pen, and a blank stare. Then, came the long moments of jotting down every thought that popped into his head and determining whether it was a pro or a con. It became routine for every important decision in his life to be narrowed down to a list of pros and cons. He looked at the list and then back to the newspaper article about the murder. In this shop, he just made the decision to kill the man that took his daughter away from him.
The tires crunched on the snow as the car eased to a stop on the side of the cobblestone road. Ruby Clarke reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed the DSLR camera from her bag. She flipped the on switch and quickly eyed the settings. Everything seemed good enough. She didn’t need perfect pictures nor perfect composition. She needed cold, hard facts.
Earlier that same day Ruby was sitting in her office at the Herald, waiting for a new freelance job. She was a photojournalist working in a small town in upstate New York. She dreamed of making it to the Times. But, after 5 years of working nonstop, that dream slowly died a little more as each day passed. She looked at the calendar on the wall of her cubicle and stared at the date. How had so much time passed since she started this job? What was she doing just sitting in this cubicle? Her phone buzzed. Snapping out of her daydream, she swiped the notification on her phone and read the text that came in. Amelia texted her. As Ruby clicked the messages icon on her phone, she was bombarded with a wall of text messages. Amelia was concerned. Ruby quickly skimmed the texts.
Apparently, Amelia went out to the city last night for some fun at the clubs and met a guy. He seemed “pretty cool” at first and then as the night dragged on, Amelia started to get weirded out by the guy. Subtle things he did here and there. A glance that lingered to long. A touch on the shoulder that was rather firm for just being an acquaintance. Ruby quickly skimmed through the texts. This wasn’t the first time Amelia had texted her like this. She was always concerned about the smallest of things. Ruby stopped and waited for a moment after reading the last line. This was new. Two words made up the final text message that was the most concerning to Ruby.
Ruby sat for a moment, thinking about what she could do for her friend. Maybe a text message to calm her down like all the other times before. Normally nothing bad came out of a weird guy met at the club. No matter how many times it happened to Amelia. But, this one was different. Amelia was legitimately scared. Ruby looked up at her calendar and then the clock. Absolutely nothing was going on in the office and there was likely no business coming her way between now and the end of the day. Ruby nodded as she made up her mind. She started clicking away at the on-screen keyboard and quickly composed a text.
“Send me this guy’s number. I’ll check him out for you.”
Within seconds a phone number popped up on her screen with a “Thanks” attached to it.
Ruby opened her laptop and pulled up the in house search provided to her by the Herald. It was an amazing setup that they had. With a few keystrokes, Ruby had the guy’s full name, address, and criminal history. His name was Ray Gill. The criminal history box on the bio was blank, luckily. But, Ruby knew that the empty box didn’t mean anything other than the fact that he wasn’t caught doing anything. After clicking around some more, she realized that the Herald’s public record search wasn’t going to get her far. She quickly gathered her phone, laptop, camera, and spare batteries and through them all into her bag. Grabbing her keys off the desk, she spun out of her chair, and rushed out the office.
As she made her way down to the parking garage, Ruby pulled up the map app on her phone and punched in Mr. Gill’s address. He was a two hour drive away. After climbing into her car, Ruby checked her gas. She had just filled up her tank this morning so she knew that she would be good to go. Listening to the first instructions, Ruby began her trip to see what was up with this Ray guy.
After two and a half hours of nonstop driving except for a lunch break, Ruby finally pulled into the neighborhood of Ray. As her car creeped up on his house, she noticed that man loading up an old white van in the driveway. This was definitely not the first impression that she wanted of the potential creeper. Ruby watched as he slammed the side door shut and climbed into the driver’s seat of the van. As he started to make his way down the road, Ruby followed with enough distance between the two cars to not be noticed. After another half hour of driving, the van slowly drifted to a halt. Ruby looked down at the GPS. It was the middle of nowhere. She watched him pull the van off the road and get out. He rummaged in the back for a moment and came out of the side door with what looked like a shovel.
Ruby shut her engine off and grabbed the DSLR camera from her bag. She needed a closer look of what Ray was doing without getting any closer. As she stepped outside, the cold winter air surrounded her. The silence of the snow covered woods filled her ears. She made sure that she was hidden slightly from the man while standing behind a slight hill. As she walked to the top, she could finally get a good shot of the inside of the van with her camera. She zoomed the camera in as far as it would go and twisted the lens until the picture came into focus. Squeezing the shutter button, she snapped her shot. She pulled the camera from her face to further examine the picture. Zooming in, she noticed a small pile sitting in the van. Zooming in more, she noticed that the pile looked like a body. Clicking the zoom button once more, she saw a face. Amelia’s face.