Into the Breach


Into the Breach

The day before I left for California, my eight-year-old son and I spent the afternoon in the woods. After hours of swimming in the creek, avoiding snakes, catching turtles and frogs and then letting them go, and pretending we were in a “real-life” game of Minecraft, we sat down on a big rock. Both of us got quiet for a moment.

Then I asked, “So, do you want to talk about me leaving tomorrow? I haven’t done a tour like this since you were born. Is there anything you are wondering about? Are you worried or scared or feeling sad?”

He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well, Dad, I’m worried you’ll get lost.”

I suppressed a smile because I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t taking his concerns seriously. After I explained to him that the airplane pilots knew where they were going, and that Kasey Lansdale and Tod Clark (who will be driving portions of this leg of the tour) also knew where to go, he seemed better with it. Fears put to rest, he then asked me to bring him back Freddy Krueger and Jason action figures.

The next day, I told him goodbye. He took it well. Gave me a big hug. Playfully punched me in the belly. Gave me another big hug. Didn’t cry.

On the way to the airport, I cried enough for both of us.

*   *   *

Things I always travel with:

Toshiba Laptop

Sony Digital Voice Recorder so I can dictate things while driving.

Three Blue Yeti Microphones so I can record a podcast interview if an opportunity presents itself.

Four Moleskin Notebooks in case I want to jot something down when not driving.

Kindle Paperwhite

Chargers for all of the above.

Assorted pens and markers.

Pictures of both my oldest son, my youngest son and his mother, my girlfriend, and my cat.

Nobody carries photos with them anymore. Instead, we keep pictures on our phones. But I always bring these pics with me.

I miss them all already.

*   *   *

I always fly out of Harrisburg International Airport, which is right next to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Those cooling towers loom over Central Pennsylvania like Lovecraftian monoliths, reminding all of us locals just how fucking close we came to dying many years ago.

They are always the last thing I see upon flying out.

*   *   *

While waiting to board the plane, I meet an opera singer and his wife. They are in their seventies, and on their way to Kansas City for vacation. I was unaware that people went to Kansas City for vacation, but whatever.

I’m not really in the mood to talk to strangers. I’m already missing my kid terribly, and I can still feel the psychic shadow of those cooling towers falling over me, and I’m pondering what it means. I’ve got Mayan Blue by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason on my Kindle, and I’d really like to read it, but find doing so is impossible because the opera singer wants to talk.

“Where are you going?” he asks.

“Los Angeles,” I reply.

“Oh, on business?”

I nod an affirmative.

“What line of work are you in?” he asks.

“I’m a writer,” I admit.

Our plane is late, and he spends the time telling me all about the book he wants to write and maybe I can write it for him and we’ll split the money, and how does that work anyway, and do I know Stephen King, and why are movies never as good as the books?

We board the plane and as luck would have it, the opera singer and his wife are one row behind me and across the aisle.

I get no reading done.

*   *   *

One-hour layover in Detroit while I change planes. The opera singer and his wife are gone. I break out my Kindle and finally start reading Mayan Blue. It’s off to a good start. Once again, I am blown away by the number of fantastic new horror writers that I’ve become aware of this year. 2016 has been a shit year for the entertainment industry, but it’s been spectacular for horror fiction.

I sit in first class for this section of the trip. I like first class. Can’t always afford it, but when I do, I enjoy it. One of the things I like about it is that usually, the people in first class aren’t there to fuck around. They are serious business people and not prone to idle conversation. You can get work done in first class. I’ve never been able to write on airplanes, but I do use the time to get caught up on my reading.

Except I get the one exception to the first class rule. I get a lady who wants to chat.

“On your way to Los Angles, too?” she asks.

It seems like an odd question, since if I was on my way to Kansas City, I’d be sitting on a different plane with the opera singer—but I confirm that yes, I’m going to Los Angeles.

“Oh, on business?”

I nod an affirmative.

“What line of work are you in?” she asks.

“I’m a political pundit for cable television news stations,” I lie.

She leaves me alone for the rest of the flight, and I get to finish Mayan Blue and start Laird Barron’s Man with No Name. I enjoy them both.

*   *   *

Land in California. Los Angeles is a weird mutant bastard of a city. It is both wonderful and terrible, but I am glad to be back in it.

On the way to the hotel, the heat blasts the cab. The driver apologizes for his faulty air conditioning. The windows are down, and the wind blowing through them feels like I’m standing in front of a hair dryer—warm and electric.

We stop in traffic. A car next to us is playing Alice in Chains.

“So I found myself in the sun, oh yeah. Hell of a place to end a run, oh yeah. California…”

Despite the heat, I shiver.   

I think about dead friends, and I rummage in my bag, and pull out the pictures, and glance at them one by one. Then I put them back in the bag and look out at California flashing by, just in case I don’t get to see it again.

Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.

1 thought on “Into the Breach”

  1. I use to travel alot by plane and just wanted to read. So people wouldn’t bother me I always put on earphones, the ones they could see. I put them on while hooked to a walkman even if I wasn’t listening to anything. That keeps them away. Good for muffling crying babies too.

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