THE FIRST STEP by Keith LaFountaine

Come here, my son.

I can see it inside of you – that horrid rage. The saddening stench of terror. The thing you buried deep. Washed down by alcohol and sealed with fast food. It is a weight the likes of which words cannot describe. But you don’t feel it in words, do you? No, you feel it violently, suddenly, without warning. When that boulder decides to shift, it’s like an earthquake is rupturing your spleen and pushing apart your intestines.

I know. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.

Come here. Rest beside me. Take a breath. Swallow in that air that tasted so sweet in your lungs not so long ago.

You say you’re old, yes? That it’s been years, decades since the exuberance of childhood filled you. But I promise you, it hasn’t been that long. That euphoria you once felt is still within your grasp, hovering just in front of you. Like the lightning bugs you caught with Ma.

Oh, yes. I knew her, too. It’s a pity she passed so soon. I know that added to the boulder. Didn’t it?

But I want you to focus on your breathing right now. Suck in the dew, the impossibility of morning. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Enjoy now, in all its imperfections and beauties. Notice the way the sun shines through your eyelids, creating a pearlescent yellow glow. Hear the buzz of flies, the croak of frogs from the pond down the bend, the chatter of your old neighbor, Mrs. Carmody, as she brings in her groceries.

You used to the see the world through rose-colored glasses. Streets that had cracks were imbued with personality. Worlds that twinkled above in the night sky could hold aliens. But now you look at that road and see your taxes. Now you look at the sky and wonder if it’s all empty.

But here’s the secret. You can take it to the bank. That road still has personality. When you stare at it just the right way, you can see the aftermath of a righteous battle. The triceratops was a mighty warrior, indeed, and he fought off a T-Rex all by himself, using those horns on his boned helmet to defend and attack in equal measure. Yes, and if you look closer you can see the pterodactyls flying high, swooping over the ocean that froths and slaps against rocky beaches.

And the sky? Why, I could tell you stories about the Martians, but you’ve heard all those before, haven’t you? Why don’t I instead regale you about the crew of the Morgdale, an intrepid ship that sails the cosmos, cruising through black holes, visiting odd worlds. One week, it’s an ocean-ridden planet with a pink sky and yellow soil. Other times, it’s an icy moon that twists around a red giant.

You see? No, it’s not remembering. Not exactly. But it’s a similar process, I suppose. And the boulder, it shifts. But not in that way it does when you stare at the water-marked ceiling at night. Not when those flashes of crimson overcome you, so suddenly and acutely that you can’t help but thrust the color and the heat off your chest.

I know you cry afterward, in the dark, where no one can see you.

No more, you hear me?

Instead, consider a cup of ice cubes. Feel the condensation on the glass. You’re reading a good book now. Remember how enchanted you were back then? Remember the way you could lay in bed for hours, immersed in a world someone else had conjured from the depths of their imagination? Now, reclaim that moment. Reclaim that hope. Remember the ice cubes. Remember the cool sip, the flush of water on your lips as you took a drink. The comforting kiss of a washcloth when fever had the temerity to ravage your mind.

Yes! That’s it! Beat at that boulder. Don’t drive it deeper. Instead, pull it. Break it apart. Chisel away at it. Use your manifest destiny. This is your moment. This has always been your moment, ad infintum, as long as you are willing to claim it.

You can cry. I know it hurts. But I am right here.

I know it pains you to weep in front of someone else. I know it feels unnatural, like dancing on one leg and tapping the ceiling with the opposite hand. It may even feel painful at first. But let this flood come forth, raging, coursing, with the power of the universe behind it.

And calm. Breathe. You are okay. You are safe. You are enough.

Is this the end? Oh no, my child. This is not the end.

But this was an important first step.

Keith LaFountaine is a writer from Vermont. His short fiction has been published in various literary magazines, including Dread Stone Press, Wintermute Lit, and Red Fez Literary Journal.