He stood with his sister against the wall. He’d come all this way but it hadn’t helped. Now it was dawn, hot and bright. Steam rose up from the asphalt, thick as mist. Once, their father had taken them to a place called the Flume. He couldn’t remember where it was. It was a long hike up a cold trail and they couldn’t see more than twenty or thirty feet in any direction. The sound of water came from all around: rushing, streaming, pouring, dripping, plopping. They walked up through the center of a canyon to a place where a giant rock was supposed to have once rested in between the two opposing walls. One day, their father told them, a storm came that brought so much water down the canyon that the boulder — as big as three school buses end to end — had been washed away. He’d said it with an air of awe, whispered it so that they had to lean in close to him, like he was telling them about the birth of a god. They never found the boulder, their father said. Some people think it broke up into a thousand smaller stones, but I think it fell into a different canyon all together and is waiting for someone to rediscover it. When their father was little, his own father had taken him to the site of the St. Francis Dam disaster. They climbed the walls of the San Francisquito Canyon searching for pieces of concrete left after twelve billion gallons of water broke free and raced to the ocean. Some witnesses described the water as a wall, but while he was climbing through the canyon, it had been impossible to imagine anything so tall, so quick, and so deadly. The air that day had been dry and the landscape baked a deep golden brown. Think of all the stone and brick and mud and straw and wood and pitch and steal and mortar and gypsum and horsehair plaster that have been used in service of the wall. And inside: the lathe, the insulation, the bones, the dust, the dead insects curled into their exoskeleton, the acorns, the artifacts, the newspapers and spoons and shoes and jewelry and toys. The joint compound, the primer, the paint, the pictures, the frames, the photos, the black-light posters, the tapestries, the windows. The doors! Think of all the doors! He’d gone through how many doorways in his life? Fifty doorways each day? A hundred? How many steps? He loved his sister, certainly, that’s why he was here. He had cried for her, worked for her freedom. And yet still they are doomed. He considered each doorway. The men had not even offered his sister or himself a final request. Would he have asked for a cigarette? He’d not smoked in fifteen years. Their hands were behind their backs, pressed into the wall. He longed to hold his sister’s hand. He thought about entering and exiting. His sister’s breathing was calm. Like her, he had declined a blindfold. Whatever came, they’d see it coming.

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