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The Sleep of the Gods

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The Sleep of the Gods




  Copyright © 2009 James E. Sperl

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The author wishes to acknowledge the use of Michelangelo’s masterful The Creation of Adam, located in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

  Book design: James Sperl

  The author wishes to acknowledge the following people for their time and commitment in proofing this book. The story is, ultimately, a better one because of them. In no particular order, special thanks is extended to Kim, Barbara, Ma & Pa Sperl, Linz, Toeknee and Martha, may she rest easy.



  The light was green. She didn’t know how long it had actually been illuminated, urging her to move, but guessed it had been some reasonable amount of time given the chorus of car horns blaring at her from behind. Yes, the light was, in fact, green.

  But she couldn’t move.

  Staring through the polished windshield of her Toyota Prius, Catherine wondered if Clarendon Avenue would look the same several months from now. Would her favorite bakery, Nino’s, artisan baker of authentic Italian breads, still be there, kneading and crafting their ever-so-wonderful ciabatta and diavola? Would the Switchback Coffee House still be brewing her daily—and life saving—cup of South American bliss with just a splash of cream and a smidge of cocoa? Or better yet, would Andy’s market still be able to produce the quality and quantity of fruits, vegetables and other cooperative goodies for which it had become so regionally famous? Only time would tell, she knew. But lurking somewhere in the back of Catherine’s mind was a nagging voice, one that whispered what she already knew to be true.

  She eyed the swaying sycamore trees that lined either side of the street, they seeming to dance and rejoice at the beauty of the day. This caused her immense sadness for if they knew what she knew they might indeed find a way to resist the temptations of the wind. She could only look at them now as doomed friends who, on so many occasions, had provided her and her family with a shady park bench on which to enjoy an afternoon ice cream. It seemed unfair to simply leave them to their impending fates. But this was something she would have to get used to.

  Glancing at herself in the rearview mirror, Catherine swiped away smudged mascara from her face and tried to free the clumps of black that were beginning to cake her eyes. She sniffed deeply and willed herself to push down on the accelerator.

  But she couldn’t.

  The symphony of horns had given way to a vocal cacophony as irate drivers yelled epithets and other unpleasant suggestions. And it wasn’t as if Catherine was choosing to endure this vehicular abuse because she particularly enjoyed it. It was merely the lesser of two evils. For she knew as soon as she stepped on the accelerator the reality of where she was going and what she was about to do would sink in like a lead weight.

  The man on the crosswalk signal switched from green to orange. She considered, for a moment, the idea of allowing the light to return to its home position of red. She knew this would not please her fellow drivers, but the alternative was just too frightening, too real. And before she had a chance to consider her options, the car was moving.

  She glanced, as if not believing, down at her own foot, now firmly pressed on the gas pedal. The traffic light drifted overhead, its signals just visible enough to witness the bright red circle come to life thus trapping the small line of cars that had formed behind her.

  The sudden, involuntary decision to drive had come from a subconscious place. Somewhere where the importance and urgency of what was at stake overrode Catherine’s unwillingness to face it. But now she was driving. She was on the path and there was no going home.

  Damn you, Warren.

  Part I: Exodus


  32 Minutes Ago

  It was all coming together. Everything was going just as planned and Catherine couldn’t be happier. Warren had long since put in for vacation time and the kids would be out of school soon enough. Then summer would be upon them all and the long awaited, over-planned and oft-debated summer vacation of their dreams would be in full swing.

  Catherine became giddy at the thought of it.

  The trip would commence in Barcelona, Spain continuing on through to Sevilla for the weekend. Then, riding in style in the best Andalucian car they could afford to rent, they would wend their way over to the French Riviera and on up to Paris for a few days. From there it would all be by rail—Brussels, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna and Salzburg with the final leg of their journey landing them in “The Boot”, as Warren called it. Italy had been at the top of her list since she could remember and the reality that she would soon be sipping cappuccinos for breakfast while imbibing Vino Nobile and other notable Italian wines over dinners had her in such a state of anticipation she had actually considered canceling a city or two just to allow some more time in that most fertile of peninsulas.

  It was at this time, as Catherine re-inspected her family’s packing list, that Terri called. The vacation was in less than a week and there was a lot to do. Terri, ever the omniscient, seemed to sense the building stress that accompanied such planning even though said planning should have been a joyous activity, a prologue for the adventure to come.

  Catherine grabbed the chirping phone from its cradle, glanced at the number on the display and plopped down on the sofa with a smile.

  “Your timing couldn’t have been better,” she exhaled.

  “Let me guess,” Terri kidded, “you’re packing and repacking suitcases, re-examining your itinerary endlessly and, basically, just bouncing off the walls like a fifth grader on the last day of school.”

  “You know me too well,” Catherine grinned as she adjusted her blouse to allow air to move over her chest.

  “Catherine, honey, it’s gonna be fine. You guys are gonna have a wonderful time,” Terri assured.

  “I know, I know,” Catherine conceded, “It’s just that I always feel like I’m forgetting something. And not just ‘something’ but something important like a passport, a ticket or some other vital piece of information that I’ll most certainly need.”

  “And if you do, so what?” Terri countered. “You think you’d be the only person to have forgotten something on a trip?”

  “No, I know.”

  “Then stop worrying,” Terri urged, her tone taking on more sincerity. “In one month you and I will be parked in front of your computer, a glass of wine in our hands, looking over every last picture you’ll take. And all this fretting and hemming and hawing you’re doing is gonna seem like a distant memory.”

  Catherine nodded silently, glad she had a friend like Terri in the world to keep her grounded. There was a time when she and her husband Dan were to join them on their world adventures and the initial late night talks over travel itineraries were both enthralling and exciting, as if by the mere mention of a country’s name they had somehow teleported themselves there and received some near experience. But two weeks after this plan had been floated out into the ether, Dan was hit with massive layoffs at his Motorola plant and lost his job along with twenty percent of the overall workforce. For Terri, the dream would remain just that.

  “Do you need me to come over?” Terri offered.

  “No, no. Of course not,” Catherine said, brushing it off. “Geez, you’d think I was planning a funeral the way I’m carrying on about all of this.”

  “Hey, travel’s a stressful thing. And let’s face it, you’ve got one whopper of a trip coming up.”

s,” Catherine teased.

  “Sure thing,” Terri returned. “But just remember that everything you’re doing is supposed to break down into one common goal: fun.”

  Catherine rose from the couch and sauntered into the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of water from the dispenser in the refrigerator door.

  “I just don’t want this to bore everyone, you know?” Catherine said, taking a quick sip. “I’d like Warren and the kids to have at least a little interest in what we’re doing. But they just seem so...indifferent to the whole thing.”

  Catherine dumped the remaining water into the sink. “Listen to me,” she said, irritation rising in her voice. “Poor me, blah, blah, blah. Seriously, how do you tolerate me sometimes?”

  “Heavy sedation and therapy,” Terri responded, laughter immediately following.

  Catherine put her hand to her mouth, stifling the snorty laughter everyone who had ever known her had grown accustomed to hearing. She leaned forward on her kitchen sink and gazed into her over-manicured backyard. “So has Dan had any luck yet?” she uttered, her laughter fading. She knew full well he hadn’t but felt compelled to move this one-sided conversation someplace else.

  “No, not yet,” Terri said with a sigh, “but we’re keeping our fingers crossed on a barista position opening up down at the mall. We hear one of the perks are free muffins for employees, so that’s good.”

  Catherine beamed from ear to ear, tickled at the thought of seeing Dan—a chemical engineer since birth, as far as she was concerned—donning an apron and matching baseball cap only to serve java to hyper-caffeinated soccer moms. Happy for the levity, Catherine played along.

  “Well, you know, if that doesn’t pan out,” she began, “I heard there’s a fantastic opportunity at the Fry Bread House.”

  “Oh, yeah?” Terri said. “What are the benefits like?”

  “Are you kidding?” Catherine responded, trying desperately not to burst into laughter. “The works: matching 401k, stock options, bonus incentives, all-you-can-eat fry bread...”

  “Hold on a minute,” Terri requested. “Let me get a pen.”

  Catherine could hear Terri rustling through papers in the background, feigning a search for a writing implement. It was all she could do to keep character.

  “Okay,” Terri returned, “now tell me about this fry bread.”

  That was all it took and Catherine found herself stifling and snorting in equal measure as she exploded into laughter. And as if it were there to signal the end of a jaunty round of tomfoolery, a faint beep emanated from Catherine’s phone. She quickly glanced at the face, checking the incoming call as she wiped happy tears from her eyes.

  “It’s Warren,” she said.

  “All right, I gotta go anyway. I need to apply some festive buttons and pins to Dan’s overalls just in case TGI Friday’s calls back. I’ll talk to you later.”

  Catherine chortled loudly, trying desperately to regain her composure before answering the phone as it beckoned to her with simultaneous buzzes and tones. She breathed as deep as she could and let it out, lifting the phone back to her ear.

  “Hi,” she said enthusiastically, doing all she could to keep from giggling.

  “Hey,” Warren replied, his voice sounding exceptionally lower than usual. He’d always been a baritone with a deep, resonant voice, but there was an unusual quality to his pitch at the moment. The kind of quality one might have after a night of loud talking in a noisy bar.

  “Were your ears burning?” Catherine inquired.


  “I just got off the phone with Terri. We were talking about the trip and how much I’m looking forward to it and stressing over it and hoping everyone has a good time and all that stuff. You know, basically psychoanalyzing myself and flushing out my neuroses.”

  Catherine smiled broadly, proud of that fact that she was able to mock herself and feel no real sense of anguish at admitting what was, invariably, the truth. She was a basket case and that was okay, thank you very much.

  “Yeah,” came the response from the other end. Catherine knew immediately that Warren had either not listened to or cared about what she had just said. And this perception immediately brought her back to earth like a brick without a parachute. “So, what’s up?” she said joylessly.

  “I, uh...I can’t talk long but I need you to listen. Listen carefully.”

  “Okay,” Catherine said, not sure exactly what that meant, but now focused on the next words to come out of Warren’s mouth.

  “The three star hotel is booked. You need the four star retreat,” came the words, monotone and dry.

  Catherine took a minute to get her bearings, the sentence being not at all what she was expecting.

  “Did you hear what I said?” Warren asked, Catherine noticing a slight tremble in his voice, as if he were trying to suppress emotion.

  “Yes...but everything’s already been arranged,” she replied, still confounded as to what he was talking about. Yet, there was a synapse in the corner of her mind trying to ignite, trying to brush the cobwebs loose.

  “The three star hotel is booked. You need the four star retreat,” he repeated, his voice now taking on a more urgent tone as if what he was saying desperately needed to be understood. In the background, Catherine could hear other voices speaking in a discordant swell, overlapping and intertwining with each other. But even amidst the jumble of words and noise Catherine could decipher one unmistakable characteristic: fear.

  “Warren, what’s going on?”

  “Catherine, please. The three star hotel is booked. You need the four star—”

  “I know, I know. I heard you. The four star retreat. I need the four star retreat,” Catherine said forcefully, pure, actual anger starting to build. “But I don’t understand. This trip has been booked for two months and you wait until a week before we’re supposed to leave to start making changes—”

  And then it hit her.

  That synapse finally fired, punching her in the stomach with an electric jolt of reality.

  The Four Star Retreat.

  Yes, she had heard him all right. But every fiber of her being wished she hadn’t. “Warren, what...what are you saying?”

  “I love you,” he uttered, his voice breaking slightly. “Tell the kids...” His voice trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence, as if by uttering what he wanted to say would only add more weight to the situation. “I have to go.”

  Catherine stared into her backyard again, this time seeing nothing. The world had been reduced to a pinprick of light in front of her and everything that was ever beautiful had just been corrupted. Staggering backwards she managed to find the top of a kitchen stool and sat, her body resting limply upon its surface. The phone felt like it weighed twenty pounds and she could feel the blood leaving her face.

  “Okay,” was all she could manage to say. Anything else seemed as if it would take an effort she was incapable of providing.

  “Goodbye. I love you.”

  The click of the receiver in her ear may as well have been a thunderclap. She held the phone to her head with a numbness she had never experienced before.

  With a thud, the phone crashed onto the countertop as her arm just couldn’t seem to bear the weight any longer. She pushed herself up from the stool, as the spinning world seemed to resume a more manageable speed. She moved her foot forward in a gesture that resembled a step until gravity, both figurative and literal, grabbed hold and forced her to whirl and vomit into her kitchen sink. As she hunched over the stainless steel basin she had a brief moment of levity when the thought occurred to her that one of the last things she would see of her home would be a tarnished and stained sink trap.

  Catherine moved with increasing speed. She had already pulled the pre-packed duffle bags from the farthest reaches of the walk-in and tossed them carelessly on to the bed. She then proceeded to withdraw a small stack of unassembled cardboard boxes from an overhead shelf near where she kept copies of important documents
such as wills, birth certificates, life insurance and the like. She glanced at these momentarily knowing with a deep pang of sorrow that there was a very great chance they would be worthless after today.

  She tossed the boxes beside the duffel bag and stood, wiping the tears that just didn’t seem to want to stop flowing from her face. It had taken her a moment since Warren’s call to rejoin the now, but once she did the impact was astonishing. She was unprepared for the emotional strife she would feel, the shock of it all. It’s one thing to plan and prepare for a situation that, by most accounts, was one percent possible and ninety-nine percent improbable, but it’s that one percent that sneaks up behind you, grabs you around the throat and holds a loaded gun to your head.

  Catherine quickly tied her shoulder-length, chestnut brown hair in a haphazard ponytail, surveying her bedroom as she did so. She drifted from object to object, recalling in flashes of borrowed time where she had attained the various items that comprised her sleep oasis, as she’d come to view it: the privacy screen from Japan which was more decorative than useful; the self-portrait of Inicio Juarez, a Brazilian painter she had discovered and a piece of whose art she was fortunate enough to have attained; her French, Renaissance-era armoire that had cost several car payments, but was worth every penny of its handcrafted mastery.

  But it was the pictures that gave her pause.

  Sitting on top of her dresser and vanity, they seemed to entrance Catherine. She gazed at them in a way she had never considered before. She stepped toward them and looked over the eclectic group of framed photos, each depicting a different, but always happy, moment in her, Warren and the kids’ lives. And that was what she loved most about photographs: the ability to suspend time and portray the true spirit of the moment, regardless of what happened before or what happens after the shot is taken. That moment is real.

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