The Power --by Donnie B. Cox

The child is crying -- a lonely sound off in the distance, insistent and impossible to ignore. Why doesn't someone check on this kid? Where's the mother? When he ntries to get up and investigate, he feels as if he's strapped down, powerless to move. He concentrates with all of his might, trying to make a connection between his brain and useless limbs, but it's impossible. The harder he tries, the more frantic he becomes.

When Harris comes awake, it happens all at once, as if someone has just thrown open a door. Sweat pours freely into his eyes and his breath comes in ragged gasps. The fragments of who he is, and where he is slowly drift into place. He turns over on his side to check the time. The red digits on the clock show 4:00. It's still dark out. He slides his legs over the side of the bed, sits up, and feels around on the bedside table for his cigarettes and lighter. After fumbling with the lighter, he manages to get one lit and takes his first drag of the day.

For the third time this week, he's had this same crazy dream followed by the feeling that someone has arrived just in time to save his ass from some unnamed evil. He considers calling his doctor to ask about cutting back on the drugs, but knows he'll get the same old ration of shit, "Mr. Stone, if you stop taking the medication, you're going to end up right back in the hospital!" "So fuckin&Mac226; what," Harris grumbles, "I could use the rest."

He leans over, snaps on the table lamp and pushes himself to his feet. Cigarette dangling from his lip, he bends down, grabs a pair of jeans off the floor and slips them on. Glancing around the small bedroom, he notices the cardboard boxes he hasn't unpacked, and a huge stack of books that he presently has no interest in reading. Lately, he hasn't felt like doing shit. He hasn't even bothered to put in an appearance at work for over a week. Harris takes a hit off his cigarette and catches his reflection in a grimy, full-length mirror propped against the wall. He spends a few seconds glaring at the image, as if trying to place the face -- then says in a low-pitched voice, "Who do you love?."

Still half-asleep, he walks down the hallway to the living room. A tiny night-light plugged into one of the baseboard outlets allows him to navigate through the minefield of crushed beer cans scattered across the carpet. Dropping into his battered recliner, he clicks on the television with the remote control. On the screen, a Sunday-morning evangelist is pacing back and forth, sweating, shouting, pointing an angry finger at a group of scared sinners.

Harris retrieves an empty beer can from the floor, and jams his half-smoked cigarette through the opening in the top. Using his hand as a pistol, index finger aimed toward the screen, thumb cocked, he drops the hammer. A soft exploding sound comes from his lips followed by a mocking, "Bullshit."

As the camera scans the crowd, every face reflects the same guilty expression, eyes cast downward, as though they'd like to crawl under the folding metal chairs to avoid the punishment that could come at any second. A penalty dished out by some unseen force under no obligation to answer for itself --absolute, petrifying power.

Feeling exhausted, he leans his head back, closes his eyes, and tries to rewind the dream that's been causing him to lose so much sleep. For the last few days, he's been catching more shut-eye in this chair than in the bed. He scans his brain for details, but can remember nothing except the sound of crying, and the terrifying helplessness of being unable to move.

In the background, the fire-and-brimstone voice grinds on like a metal-driven dream. There's something about the sound of that voice that really gets under his skin. And the cold, conceited face, the kind of face he always loved to sink his fist into when he was seventeen. Back when every fucking traffic light was a figure of authority, and every beer bottle smashed in a 2 A.M. parking lot, a toast to his father -- his holy father . . . coming home thundering drunk on a Saturday night and rousting everybody out of bed. Ranting and raving, promising them the worst beating they've ever had. His sister, hiding in the bedroom closet, crying -- terrified. Calling out for her mother -- calling out for him -- his mother sitting motionless, a posed mannequin on a beat-up, brown sofa, while he stands in the corner, helpless, angry tears rolling down his face, inadequate child-sized fists clenched at his side.

Both of them, frozen-in-place, too frightened to move into the next room and hold her. They can only stare at this furious, red-faced bully pacing back and forth across their living room floor, and pretend not to hear -- pretend it will end soon -- pretend they recognize this man . . .

Suddenly Harris raises his head, thoughts rushing around his brain like a runaway train. Now he remembers -- remembers it all -- every dirty detail buried behind the doors of that derelict little five-room house. A thousand Technicolor images etched into his mind: every whiskey-driven scar fixed in faded walls, every shattered glass, every meaningless minute spent begging mercy for every wrong thing.

Old shadows descend on the room like a judgment. Something deeper than sadness washes over his body, and for the first time, Harris Stone sees himself as he really is -- a broken toy, a defective machine bent by a brutal hand. He knows something vital has been stolen from him and there's no way he can ever get it back -- not with overpaid doctors, multicolored pills or sweet prayers to Jesus. For him, there is no redemption -- no road home.

He reaches over, picks up the remote control, and turns off the television. Pulling himself out of the chair, he walks slowly down the hallway to the bedroom. He opens one of the cardboard boxes lying on the floor, and rummages around until he finds what he's looking for. He pulls the .38 from the box and walks into the bathroom.

Mind floating somewhere on the edge of time, Harris stares into the mirror, body trembling under the weight of what he can never set right. Trails of sweat travel the lines in his face, as he focuses intently on his shifting reflection . . . until gradually: he sees his father's face -- hears the menacing voice, feels his sister's fear, his mother's humiliation . . .

Feeling totally exhausted, Harris closes his eyes. Both arms hang limply at his side and the revolver feels almost too heavy to lift. Opening his eyes, he sighs and speaks directly to his reflection, "O.K. old man, it's just me and you." Harris raises the gun, places the blue metal barrel just above his right ear and pulls the trigger . . . click . . . nothing . . . clickclickclickclickclick . . . dead silence . . .the face in the mirror smiles. Harris Stone screams . . .

Pigeons explode from the rooftop of the apartment building, tearing the still morning air. Church bells are ringing -- a lonely sound off in the distance . . .

© Donnie Cox