The Best Arena.
Paper is everywhere.
It litters the hallway so that the intent is unmistakable, the scene obvious. There’s a clear buzz in the air.
Everyone saw it.
That was the point.
Everyone saw what was printed out and strewn all over the floor, the walls, the doors. That was the point.
Dan Ryan stands among them, dead center, heart racing, eyes wide, a manic grin plastered on his face. They all stared at him, whispering to themselves, wondering what comes next, but he just stands there, looking.
He leans over, the one sheet of paper in his hand, and his expression softens just a bit as he stares a hole in it. He places it on the tile, with care.
He stands then, and his head jerks around at some people standing there. They flinch, slowly backing away as empty eyes look through them. He turns back and closes his eyes there, and digs a hand into his front pocket, from which he produces a set of AirPods, and jabs them into his ears, keeping his eyes closed all the while.
With a touch to the one in his right ear, music kicks in, and the familiar drumbeat and blaring horns of the intro to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine” announce themselves in Dolby stereo sound, to an audience of one.
His eyes open, a picture of reserved calm, and he walks forward, facial expression placid and lifeless, shuffling through mounds of paper and past people lining the way. If he notices them, he gives no indication.
And he walks away.
“I find me, leave me, go towards me, come from me, nothing ever but me, a particle of me, retrieved, lost, gone astray, I’m all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their settling, no sky for their dispersing, coming together to say, fleeing one another to say, that I am they, all of them, those that merge, those that part, those that never meet, and nothing else, yes, something else, that I’m something quite different, a quite different thing, a wordless thing in an empty place, a hard shut dry cold black place, where nothing stirs, nothing speaks, and that I listen, and that I seek, like a caged beast born of caged beasts born of caged beasts born of caged beasts…” – Samuel Beckett
Fate is a fairy tale.
Karma is a silly story told to children in order to make them feel better; to ease their consternation in the face of chaos.
Maybe you think you’ve seen this before. Maybe you think you know how it ends. The world doesn’t echo the refrain in your head, a simple melody to be repeated until it becomes a well-worn road. You paint your own pictures but the rest of us don’t have to look at them if we don’t want to. Art is what we make of it. It is beautiful, living, breathing, or nothing at all; a lump of clay on a stump, worn away by the elements without meaning or purpose.
Who are we, after all, if not a random collection of dust and particles adrift in an infinite universe, and therefore, full of empty nothingness in the end? Why shouldn’t I do as I please, since there are no consequences after all? Whether you like it or not, you wither and die, crumble and blow away, or get stuffed into some pottery on a sentimental idiot’s mantle. ‘You reap what you sow’ is a kind way to comfort the mind because we think our minds need comforting, not because it carries any true weight. More often ‘evil’ is sowed and never reaped by the sower. It’s simply put there to exist, to be. There are no weights and measures. You’re fooling yourself. I find no satisfaction in this. I simply know.
Give me your reasons for fighting against your nature. Tell me why any of it matters, if you must.
But I made the decision to sever the meaningless ties around me and find a new way of living this life, fleeting as it may be.
Can it matter if I feel nothing?
The chaos brings clarity somehow.
I can’t explain it, though I don’t think it’s necessary to do so anyhow. Explanation won’t bring better understanding. Read the book if you like. Its two-dimensional mutterings won’t bring you any closer to the truth, assuming there is any to begin with.
Why bother to try and explain what is happening to me, then? I’m putting this down on paper for myself because I presume to think I may find it useful someday. Even while thinking that, I wonder if it’s true, but some corner of me finds it important, so there must be some shred of need to understand this left there inside me after all.
Maybe there’s a shred of what people call humanity hanging on for dear life somewhere inside me.
I’ll have to do something about that.
Deep in the Texas Hill Country, some fifty miles to the Northwest of Fredericksburg, Texas.
An escarpment frames the bulk of the view to the East, rising up out of the valley, and tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite extend to the West, off toward the horizon, and the setting afternoon sun casts a soft orange light on everything we see.
A two-story home is set among a thicket of trees at the end of a long, winding road here, and a gate, replete with gaudy golden lettering with the letters “DR” maintaining privacy, should anyone make it far enough out here to see. Vines intertwine the metal perimeter fence and extend far beyond the ability to trace its direction, out and around another thick bunch of trees in the distance in either direction.
The house itself is a modified ranch-style, extended upward and around into an L-shape, with broad stone stairs leading up from the ground to meet a landing. Two grand oak entrance doors, some twelve feet tall and lined with limestone-carved swirling patterns stand guard. A thick, dark metal square sign, with a gilded trim around the edges and on the lettering, but otherwise black in color is to the immediate right. Thick block letters spell out “DANIELLE RYAN MEMORIAL FOUNDATION” and in smaller letters, “Est. 2004”.
Inside the home, on the other end, a formal study took up the entire width of this end of the “L”. The room was opened up to the roof, and two stories worth of thick mahogany bookshelves covered three of the four walls all the way to the top. A thin ladder was on the North wall, vertical and attached to a railing at the top and the midpoint, should anyone want to retrieve one of the several thousand books filling every inch of every shelf.
An eight-foot-long and four-foot deep executive desk, mahogany like the rest, was centered there, with a high-backed leather chair behind it. And beyond this, wall to floor windows filling the fourth wall and allowing copious amounts of light to illuminate the room at all times. Through the windows themselves, gated pastures.
Linda Williams sat there in the chair, back to the desk and peered outside, looking around at the quiet scene outside.
“No horses today,” she muttered. “Unusual.”
Only a fleeting thought, however, as she swiveled the chair back around to face the desk and pulled over a few file folders in front of her, from where they had neatly been set aside by her assistant.
In her years as manager of the charity, she had always maintained the duty of handling the budget for the upcoming year, and with the previous fiscal year having come to a close, it was that time again. Monotonous work though it was, she had come to enjoy the work of the charity so much that she had made it her life’s work over the last decade.
The charity had been established to help victims of drunk driving, as well as to work toward educational initiatives relative to that end, in the hope that some level of prevention could be maintained as well.
The benefactor of the charity, whose daughter was the organization’s namesake, had generously established it in the mid-2000s, and they had never wanted for cash to pursue the charter. Fundraising, obviously, was also a major component of the work, but this was an easy sell, being such a noble cause.
The door cracked open a bit, but she didn’t look up. Her assistant had been in and out all day, and this wasn’t unusual, since there was a good bit of back-and-forth between Linda’s office and the finance group down the hall. Files had been going back and forth, line items being checked over and over to make sure everything was just so, and signatures going onto all of the budgetary forms being passed around this time of year.
The door closed again with the click of the heavy door creating a low rumbling sound, and she looked up, pen at the ready, preparing to sign something else. What she saw instead was a towering figure, the charity’s benefactor Dan Ryan, sunglasses covering his eyes, a long trench coat covering most everything else, and brown work boots, standing just inside the door. Her mouth dropped in surprise, but she composed herself and rose from her chair immediately, rushing around while the words fumbled from her mouth.
“My goodness… Mr. Ryan, what a surprise. I haven’t seen you down here since the fundraiser three years ago. This is quite a pleasure.”
Ryan reached up, removing the sunglasses and slipping them into the front-left pocket of the coat, and forced a smile onto his face, a smile which his eyes did not join.
She jutted her hand out to shake his, but he looked down at it, then back up again without movement from either arm.
“Miss Williams, please…. Why don’t you sit?”
“Oh, um…” Slightly taken aback, she backed up, where she bumped into the front edge of the desk, startling herself again before she composed herself. “Okay, sure. Uh, absolutely.”
“So, Mr. Ryan….” The frazzled, gangly middle-aged woman rushed back around the desk as fast as she could and jumped back into her desk chair as Dan Ryan stood in place as if anchored by some unseen force of nature. “To what do we owe this special trip? Would you like to look around? The foundation has made a number of improvements to the property since the last time you were here.”
The smile returns. There is no more sincerity behind it than there was the first time.
“I know. I paid for it.”
The smile unsettles her slightly this time, and her anxiety level rises, despite her best efforts to hide it. “Yes yes, of course. You’ve been very generous over the years. The work we’ve been able to do has been nothing short of miraculous, in many ways.”
Ryan stares in her face, watches her eyes twitch, and, becoming somewhat bored with it, he starts to walk around to the side of the desk, first thumbing at a copy of Samuel Beckett’s “The Unnamable”, then letting it go and continuing on to stand at the window, staring out at the property beyond. Linda, for her part, tries to retain her composure, standing up and trying her best to join in, turning her back to the desk and leaning against it lightly.
Dan perceives this, just out of the corner of his eye, and he sighs, just imperceptibly, and frowns.
“Aren’t there usually horses in the pasture out back? There used to be horses in the pasture.”
“Um, well…” Linda stammered and frowned slightly. “Actually yes. I was just noticing earlier myself that the horses weren’t out today. I’ll have to remember to ask the stablemaster why they aren’t…”
Ryan waved his hand, cutting her off wholesale and turning to face her.
“Miss Williams, let me be blunt. I’m taking back possession of the house. You’re leaving.”
He turned back to the window, eyes narrowing slightly as he tried to see farther off in the distance. A creek was there past the gated pasture and stables, and a small wooden shed’s tin roof reflected the sun’s glare just enough to catch his attention.
“You’re… taking back possession of the house. I… I don’t understand.”
He turned his head back to her, his eyebrows raised just a bit.
“Oh, well you see, I’m moving in and you’re moving out. Which part of that are you having trouble with?”
In her head, all of this information started swimming around her mind and she tried to shake it off, causing her head to shake a bit as she did so.
“No, I mean, what does this mean? Are we moving to new offices? When is all of this happening? It’s budget season and I’ve been working hard on making sure the Foundation is ready to go for Winter fundraising….”
Ryan held up a comforting hand. “OHHH… right. Well, that’s ok. I’m shutting the foundation down anyway.”
Like a punch in the throat.
“I’m shutting it down. Are there any boats on the property in case someone should want to take a leisurely ride on the creek over there?”
His eyebrows furrowed a bit as he considered how nice it might be to sit out on a little boat with just his thoughts, and how peaceful…
Linda, however, was simply stunned beyond belief.
“Shutting it down? You can’t just shut it down! You may pay all of the bills, but this is a real charity, not some scam. We have a board of directors!”
“Yeah, I know that. They’re gone.”
Instinctively, she did a double-take.
“They’re GONE? What does that mean, they’re gone??”
He threw up his hands.
“It means they were here before and now they’re not. You know, Miss Williams, for someone who has been able to make her way up the executive ladder, you sure do ask a lot of dumb questions.”
“Mr. Ryan…” She asked, incredulously. “I don’t understand any of this. You’re shutting the foundation down? You established this for your daughter… I saw you… I heard the speech you made in her honor when you started it. That speech is what moved me to come work here. And you want to shut it down? This doesn’t make any sense…”
“Miss Williams,” he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, it’s just that…. Well, to be honest, it’s just not terribly important to me.”
She looked up at him, and he looked back at her, and before she could say anything, he smiled again and leaned slightly toward her.
“Goodbye, Miss Williams.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something, and before she could react a hooded figure had leaped up onto the desk and with a guttural snarl, dove in her direction. She perceived a dark mask over the bottom half of the person’s face, feminine features, and piercing green eyes. But a hard-braced knee rose and struck her in the forehead, and she went airborne, into and through the window, and she burst through, taking shards of glass with her, and landed on the grass outside.
Dan Ryan watched this, saw her land, saw the gashes in her face from the falling glass, and he reached up to pull out a large piece of glass hanging from the frame. The hooded figure landed in a crouch at the base of the frame, then stood up and pulled the hood back, and Cecilia Ryan stood there, cocked her head to the side, and watched the woman on the ground.
A cold stillness hung in the air. Cecilia had blood on one cheek, and she wiped it away with the back of her sleeved right arm. She turned to look up at her father, and he looked back at her.
A moment passed.
Her demeanor changed just then, a genuine smile crossing her face.
“Did you see the size of the pool around the side? It’s almost as big as the house! And I think I saw some horses over there, too!”
Ryan snapped his finger. “AH!… So that’s where the horses went. I knew they were around here somewhere.”
They turned and headed back around the desk, a father putting an arm around his only daughter. As they approached the door, she smiled again.
“I’ve always wanted a pony.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
He opened the large office double doors. Upon opening, they revealed the disturbing scene out in the main hall. Immediately obvious were two men in their mid-20s, face down up against each side wall, blood trickling away from them on the floor. There were red smears down each side as if a smallish hand had fingerpainted them there. Up ahead, furniture was broken, some in plain sight, some halfway around the corner, suggesting more to come as they walked forward.
“Did I do good, daddy?”
He kept walking with her, deliberately.
“You did great, Ceese.”
She looked up.
“Are you happy?”
He smiled, and he frowned — at the same time.
“All in all, I’ve never been happier than this.”