Valley of the Spun
Jonathon T. Cross
ZEKE LUNGED FOR the gun. There was a flash. A crackle. Then nothing.
Blood leapt from one fiber of his shirt to the next. Death wrapped its icy fingers around his throat and pulled him to the ground. His head fractured like an egg on a frying pan, spilling its guts over the wet cement.
Had five months passed, or six? Time lost meaning after it took hold. Hours bled into days, nights into mornings, and weeks into months, until his life became one chaotic blur.
He surrendered to fate. If this is how the story ended, he didn’t want to see it through. Instead, he sought refuge in a memory. The beautiful day when he last held his daughter.
Sunlight reflected off the artificial lake, planting a halo on Sadie’s head. Her red cheeks quivered under their own weight, holding strong against the Arizona sun, and a smile lingered on her face, mirroring Zeke’s. How did he get so lucky? Even in the middle of June, Sadie insisted on romping around the field, chasing ducks, and waving her pudgy arms in the air.
Fragrant molecules of cut grass stolen by the breeze drifted to his nostrils, bringing
memories of his childhood to mind, although his early years were riddled with the type of distress
that he vowed to protect Sadie from. He wanted her life to be like the grass here. Pristine. Of course, green grass isn’t natural in Arizona. The healthy color owed its thanks to the shade of non-native trees, the breeze rolling off the manmade lake, and the persistent sprinkler heads, which soaked the better half of Sadie’s outfit.
Wandering ducks filled the surrounding field, one of whom strayed from its friends, coming unusually close to Sadie. She took notice. Then, without warning, she dove at the duck, eliciting a quack from the aggravated bird before it rejoined its flock.
“You got him,” Zeke said as he looked at the flock. “Which one is next?”
Sadie ran full speed at the ducks and grinned as they took flight around her. Children find joy in the simplest of things, and he wished he understood how. Like many adults, the spirit of youth was slipping from his grasp. Smiles were harder to come by, but when he watched Sadie enjoying herself, it sparked something in him. Reigniting the joy that he once felt.
He took Sadie’s hands and trotted backward, remembering what it meant to lose himself. She stumbled after him, giggling with each step. Her sparkling blue eyes looked up, locked onto their target, and glistened. Then, through a mouthful of saliva, she said the word he was waiting for.
He wrapped his hands around her waist and raised her over his head. Her smile widened as she giggled. She held her arms out like the wings of an airplane, with her fingertips spread as far as they could go. He ran with her for a minute while she pretended to fly through the sky, steering by swaying her body to the left and right. Then he stopped, dipped, and threw her up into the air. When she landed back in his waiting hands, her giggling transformed into laughter.
Eva crossed her arms. “I hate it when you do that.”
Whenever Zeke was flying high, thinking nothing could bring him down, Eva did. As Sadie’s mother, Eva had the unique ability to sucker punch his inner child. She’d pull him away from his fantasy world with Sadie and plunge him back into reality. His time with Sadie wasn’t a walk in the park. It was both limited and supervised. For no reason other than Eva needing to maintain absolute control. He couldn’t remember the last time his life was in his hands...
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