I’ve thought a lot about it, and I want to take back the taking back of what I said. Which is to say, I am not sorry for what I said and I in fact say it again: I do not like you one bit. You’re a nasty piece of work, making people get down on their knees, tricking people into thinking you’re goin send them to hell—or worse, actually sending them to hell—getting them to give you everything, even their damn souls. What right have you to do that? I don’t care one bit if you are responsible for all of creation, and I’m doubtful of it, you got no right to treat people like slaves.
That said, I have a lot of wrongs to right. A lot to apologize for. Not to you, I ain’t sorry to you, but I think maybe if I tell you some things, you might send out my prayers into the world like well-wishes on the wind. Help make things right. At the very least you’ll be a witness.
When I was sixteen years old, I was cycling out past the abandoned warehouses by myself. I used to do that a lot, go cycling around the edges of town when I was supposed to be in school. One day I came across this sorry old vagrant leaned up against the back of one of the warehouses. He must have crawled there from the railway. This was in the peak of summer and heat was bouncing off everything. The fields were stark yellow, clouds of dust rising up and rolling toward the horizon. And the silence. Absolute. It was like the world had stopped, and I needed that feeling back then.
I smelled him before I saw him, tell you the truth.
Then I heard him. A low wailing sound, like a beached seal. Took me a minute to spot him. I thought he was just a bag of trash at first. But then he moved. It was slight, an arm outstretched, fingers swaying. I realized that gurgling, wailing sound was him calling out to me in what little way he could. Well, I got a fright. Damn near fell off my bike. I considered leaving him but it was too silent. I woulda heard him calling after me for miles, maybe even years.
I cycled over to him. Up close, he didn’t even look like a person. Looked like the sum of every sorry forgotten soul who ever lived. Black hair, matted and greasy, covered his head, thick beard beneath. Cracked lips poking out like crabs from rock. “Boy,” he said. I just looked at him. “Boy,” he said again, breathing like his lungs had a hole in em. “Come here.” Well, for better or worse, I was transfixed. I stepped off the bike and let it fall to the dirt, shuffled over to him.
“Feast your eyes on a dying man,” he said. “William Pearl Hopkins by birth, but they know me round here as Willy. I been stabbed and left for dead. Killed by Big Smilin Bob. You gotta tell the sheriff what happened to me, son. You’re my only hope of being remembered.”
He fidgeted around and grimaced. I noticed he had a hand on his belly, a dark wetness glimmering beneath. “Killed over twenty dollars, but that’s how it goes when you ain’t got a roof over your head. I want to tell you my story, boy. Someone needs to bear witness to a life lived, however insignificant. There’s beauty in every soul, even in the soul of a forgotten old fool like me.”
He coughed. Blood dribbled out his mouth like wine. “I was born into poverty to parents who didn’t want me. Left home at eighteen, found work cutting trees for a railway man. He was a hard drinker, the railway man, and a nasty piece of work. But he had this young wife. Beauty like you’d never believe, son. A living angel.” He coughed again, wiped his mouth. “We used to see her sometimes coming outta his carriage, putting clothes on the line, staring off into the distance as if looking for an answer to everything. But we all knew she was off bounds, being the boss’s wife.
“Well, one day I wandered right up to her. The boss was off someplace else scouting new land for the railway. Fine day, I said. It caught her off guard but I knew right away when she looked at me that she felt it too. There was a connection, you see. Maybe you haven’t experienced that yet, boy, but one day you will, and when you do, well, there ain’t no coming back from it. Within a few weeks we were swallowed up in love. We met up whenever we could, made love beneath the trees. We were discreet, but not as discreet as we should have been. Still, we got away with it.”
The vagrant looked stricken with grief all of a sudden and bowed his head. When he looked back up his eyes were watery. He wiped them, sniffling. “Well, one day, I returned from a hard day’s choppin when I saw all the men standing around somber like. There are times in life when you know, boy, and there are times in life when you know. Turned out the boss man and his girl, my girl, hadn’t been much at the love makin of late. She’d got pregnant from me and he took a stick to her. But she was a small woman and he went too far, beat her to death. I left that place in back of one of those trains that day and I never been more than a few hundred yards from a railway line ever since.”
The unspeakable silence returned and the vagrant slumped forward. His eyes began to close. “It’s time for me to sleep, boy. And I know I ain’t ever wakin up. Tell the sheriff what Big Smilin Bob did to poor old Willy.”
With that he was gone. I didn’t need to touch his neck to know it. I turned around, hopped back on my bike, and cycled home. I didn’t look back. And I never told a soul that story. Not the sheriff, neither.
I’d always figured ghosts lived inside those abandoned warehouses. I guess now they do.
This brilliant debut consists of a prose collection of fictional letters from a deceased 26-year-old Southern American named Jeremiah John Watts (JJ). The people JJ mentions in these letters have a parallel to the alienated and confused dreamers, addicts and lost souls found in the work of the likes of Denis Johnson and William Burroughs, but JJ’s larger-than-life sentimentality as his past leaks out of his heart and onto the page puts this collection in some new sphere of perception equally brilliant but entirely its own. Gradually, the letters tell a fractured tale of a life of mistakes, heartbreak, sickness, and regret, but also love, faith, hope and perseverance.
– Heath Brougher Author, A Curmudgeon is Born, and Your Noisy Eyes
To find out more about Dreaming In Starlight read the Introduction.
About the Author
Philip Elliott was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1993 and quickly started scribbling nonsense. He’s the founder and editor-in-chief of Into the Void Magazine, and his own writing can be found in various journals in 9 countries, such as Otoliths, Scarlet Leaf Review, Foliate Oak, Revista Literariedad and Flash Fiction Magazine. He has a degree in Ancient Classics, likes to blur the boundaries between fiction’s many genres, and loves above all writing that is honest and heartfelt. Philip lives in Dublin, where he gets along better with his dogs than any humans, is finishing up work on a novella and much too many other projects, and is any combination of these things: fiction writer, poet, feminist, vegan, atheist, buddhist, minimalist, mindful meditator, wandering wonderer, punk rock fanatic & very loose cannon. Stalk him at philipelliottfiction.com.
Visit Philip’s Author Page At www.ctupublishinggroup.com/philip-elliott.html
Read on Kindle Unlimited At www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJCG48J