Authors: D.W. Ulsterman
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2016
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To the San Juan Islands.
A place that has always made me feel as if I belonged.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
It’s the humane thing to do…
Decklan Stone just recently turned ten years old when his father Milton gave him a very hard lesson in compassion.
There were seven kittens born a week earlier that Decklan’s father decided, in very serious and determined tones, needed to be drowned in the small pond located in the very back portion of the Stone family property.
“This is the right thing to do, Decklan. We can’t have all these cats running around here. They’ll starve, suffer, and then die. The world doesn’t want them, so it’s our job to get rid of what the world has no use for. Go into the garden shed and bring me one of those burlap sacks we used for the potato sack races on your birthday.”
Milton Stone was an educator, a high school teacher of English literature.
In private, though he would never admit it, Milton was also a devoted sadist. Few things in life gave him greater pleasure than to see others suffering, both physically and emotionally. When his son exclaimed happily at the dinner table the previous night that he had discovered where a semi-feral neighborhood cat had given birth to a litter of kittens, Decklan’s father recognized another such opportunity to indulge his dark nature.
With every tear shed by his son, Milton’s pleasure increased exponentially, though it was well hidden beneath a layer of carefully crafted, fatherly wisdom.
“Decklan, it’s the
thing to do.”
Ten-year-old Decklan had no idea what the word humane meant, and in that moment he didn’t care to find out. All he knew was that it was associated with the impending murder of seven innocent lives.
“Decklan, stop your crying! Come here and hold the sack open.”
Milton’s son did as he was told. He knew better than to question his father’s authority, believing that to do so might very well result in his being thrown into the pond along with the kittens.
The sky was overcast, the upstate New York air thick with unusually high humidity. The lush, well-manicured grass of the Stone family’s backyard had often been an escapist oasis for young Decklan, but on this day it was to be the scene of a most horrific crime.
Milton Stone held several small rocks taken from the side of the yard and proceeded to dump them into the sack held by his young, teary-eyed son.
“Now show me where the kittens are.”
Decklan hesitated, thinking he might yet convince his normally all-knowing father that he couldn’t remember.
Milton’s voice issued the familiar warning growl that signaled he was nearing dangerous levels of displeasure. His long, lean and clean-shaven face was marked by a pronounced and disapproving frown. The blue eyes that resided behind a pair of thick prescription glasses narrowed slightly, communicating how close Decklan was to his father’s reactive precipice.
“Decklan, TAKE ME TO THE KITTENS.”
The boy’s eyes glared back defiantly.
He refused his father’s request.
Retribution was swiftly delivered in the form of a firm slap across Decklan’s left cheek. He was struck with enough force that he fell to the grass-covered ground below.
“Don’t make me ask you again.”
Decklan stood up far more quickly than the father would have thought possible. He straightened his shoulders, and jutted his chin upward while he ignored the stinging pain that permeated the left side of his face.
The gesture left Milton momentarily stunned. Decklan had never been so forcefully impudent before.
“Very well, I’ll just find them myself and you won’t have a chance to tell them good-bye. I’m disappointed in you, Decklan. I wouldn’t have thought you to be such a cruel little monster.”
Milton could barely conceal his smile as he watched his son struggle with abandoning the kittens in their moment of greatest need. There was just a short pause before Decklan relented, emotionally spent and still physically hurt.
He pointed to the shed.
“They’re in the back in a hole under the floor.”
Decklan watched as Milton gave him a wide, approving smile and noted how his father’s eyes remained devoid of any warmth or kindness. The elder Stone’s eyes never smiled.
“Very good, Decklan. Come on then, let’s get to it.”
Father and son walked across the yard’s thick, green grass and then made their way to the back of the shed. Decklan could hear the kittens meowing loudly for their mother who had seemingly gone missing.
“Reach into the hole and grab a kitten and put it into the sack.”
Decklan’s tears streaked his face and his nose began to run, causing him to sniffle loudly. Milton reached out with his right hand and pushed against the boy’s back.
“Son, don’t disappoint me. I told you. This is the humane thing to do.”
Decklan reached into the hole underneath the shed with trembling hands and withdrew the first of seven kittens. Each one had eyes that had just recently opened. Their soft fur smelled of shared warmth, and dirt. Decklan had already named each kitten and proceeded to recite those names silently as he dropped the kittens one by one into the sack.
Furry Ear, White Sock, Stubby, Big Nose, Pink Toes, Long Tail, Chub-Chub.
Milton Stone closed the sack filled with kittens and rocks. He nodded at his son and again gave his unsmiling smile.
“Now we go to the pond.”
During the journey to the back of the yard the kittens began to wail loudly at their dislocation and Decklan watched in horror as the sack’s exterior showed the newborn feline siblings moving frantically from inside their burlap tomb.
I’m not going to cry anymore. I won’t let him make me cry.
The slow march to the pond was nearly unbearable for Decklan. His eyes remained fixed upon the sack being dragged across the grass by his father while his ears were assaulted by the kittens’ plaintive cries to be returned to the warm and safe confines of their former home underneath the shed.
Decklan began quietly humming a song that had recently been repeatedly playing on the small, portable radio he received as a birthday gift. It was a habit he employed during times of great stress. As a younger child he’d often hum a commercial jingle. On this day, as the kittens’ collective panic intensified the closer the bag came to the awaiting pond, it was David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that played on a loop inside of the boy’s increasingly dismayed mind.
When his father stopped in front of the pond and looked down at his son and began to speak, Decklan only heard the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar and David Bowie’s voice in his head - calm, comforting, and otherworldly.
Milton Stone lifted the sack off the ground, swung it around his head, and then flung it with a loud grunt into the water.
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.
The music stopped the moment the bag hit the pond’s surface. Decklan flinched and tried to look away, but found he was unable to do so. The burlap sack floated for a few agonizing seconds, an intolerable length of time that allowed Decklan to make out the unmistakable outline of tiny paws pushing against the thick fabric as the kittens fought to be free.
They wanted so badly to live.
Milton Stone relished the strain evident on his son’s face as the bag slipped silently beneath the dark cover of water. He reached out and gently placed his left hand around Decklan’s shoulders. It wasn’t enough to simply see the boy’s pain. The school teacher had to
it as well. When Milton spoke next, his voice conveyed an unusually cheerful demeanor that oddly juxtaposed with the seven bodies that lay at the bottom of the pond.
“And that takes care of that!”
Decklan’s father turned and began to walk away. After a few steps he paused, but kept his back to his son.
“You did the right thing, Decklan. You did the
thing. Don’t forget that.”
For the remainder of his childhood, Decklan Stone never did forget that day, especially the haunting movements and sounds living things make as they drown.
His nightmares wouldn’t allow it.
The water was especially calm during twenty-two-year-old Adele Plank’s quarter-mile voyage from Deer Harbor to the private island of her interview subject for the college newspaper assignment she hoped might lead to her much-desired future as a journalist. She had first read Decklan Stone’s one and only bestseller,
, shortly after her sixteenth birthday. It had been a gift from her now deceased grandmother Beatrice, who declared the story, “one of the best I ever read!” Grandma Beatrice read a
of books so Adele knew then, the compliment likely had at least some merit.
It had taken Adele less than two days to finish the three hundred and seventy page novel, a feat which she had since never bested. She read it for a second time, and then a third, memorizing the subtle nuances of each character, especially the way the writer weaved multiple plot lines into a remarkably satisfying conclusion.
and so, by default, she came to love its author as well.
“You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken someone besides myself to Mr. Stone’s island. I think maybe, heck, almost four years and that was his publicist who flew all the way here from New York for a meeting that lasted all of an hour. I remember him telling me Mr. Stone hates the telephone, doesn’t do email, none of that stuff! With him it’s in person or it’s not at all. Anyway, that’s what we all call it around here, Stone’s Island, but its real name is Wasp Island. That’s what I knew it as when I was a little kid, but he’s been living there for thirty-odd years now, so we all just call it Stone’s Island these days.”
Adele gave a polite nod and half-smile to the somewhat incoherent, mile-a-minute ramblings of the man who had earlier introduced himself to her in an oddly childlike voice, as Will Speaks. The forty-six-year-old Deer Harbor local had a ruddy complexion, ample belly, and a wide, smiling face that complimented his seemingly natural good-natured demeanor. Will had been the one contacted by Adele’s newspaper editor to transport her across Deer Harbor on his small Boston Whaler skiff. Even as she watched the passing water playfully splash against the little boat’s dull, white hull, she still couldn’t believe she was actually going to meet the man who had given life to
Her newspaper editor had called Adele into his cramped and paper-strewn office just three days earlier to give her the good news that Decklan Stone’s longtime publicist had contacted them to say the author agreed to the one-on-one interview Adele had proposed weeks earlier.
“I don’t know why he chose you, Ms. Plank, but he did. Stone hasn’t spoken to anyone in the media since his wife’s death and that was more than twenty-five years ago! This interview is going to get you national attention. You might have just been given the journalist’s version of the winning lottery ticket.”