He was an old man now, and the stories had begun to slip away from him.

Age had claimed many of his friends, pals he had shared priceless memories with… memories he could still recall when prompted, but whose images now flitted in and out of his periphery like phantoms- eluding his waking mind, only showing themselves to linger on the hazy edge of his sleep at night, or in the late morning when he woke. These memories taunted him with the whispered voices of forgotten friends and fleeting snapshots- sometimes in grainy black-and-white, sometimes in full three-strip Technicolor- of wondrous times not to be forgotten.

There had been a farm early on. Long fences of oxidized barbed wire his mother had told him were sure to give a person lockjaw if that person were careless enough to catch themselves on their razored fruit. There had been skies of cerulean and amber and midnight purple that went on and on and on forever, or at least until their wispy clouds crashed into the far-distant mountains on the horizon, where the sun would make its daily entrance and its nightly bow over fields rippling with swaying grass and dotted with grazing cattle. There had been literature and grammar lessons in school and tryouts for the track and field team and an old Chevrolet pickup that had a chronically-bad distributor… and there had been a dusky afternoon in his family’s hayloft with a girl who had freckles on her shoulders. He could remember the freckles, but the girl’s name taunted him over the gulf of years.

During this childhood time there had been dreams. Always dreams. Dreams of rocket-powered jet ships which could reach faraway galaxies. Dreams of rampaging dinosaurs causing havoc on the main street of his small sleepy town. Dreams of Halloween tricks gone terribly awry, of ghostly children haunting old schools and animals who knew your secret name. These dreams had mostly escaped, like wisps of steam between grasping fingers. Some had been jotted down on napkins, in the margins of books he loved and between the lines of his dreaded mathematics homework.

And there had been dreams of Mars.

There had been a war that his eyes had been too poor to let him help fight. But the books he’d studied had gotten stuck in his soul, and he had ended up seeing where the war was fought after all- even if he had carried a typewriter instead of a carbine rifle. There had been brave and scared young American boys and brave and scared young German boys and he had been on a ship that was struck by a torpedo but didn’t sink.

There had been a time in New York City when several sailors had taken issue with his friend Sully when Sully had the nerve to chat up a girl the sailors were all waiting to dance with. It had been the Old Man’s one and only fistfight, but it had been a good one- the kind that began with bloodied noses and broken furniture and ended with bruised laughter and jokes and a shared respect amongst men to whom fighting had become a daily routine, but who now lacked a material enemy with whom to engage.

But during all that time- in the frigid forests of the Ardennes, in warm but shark-infested waters of the Pacific, even in the crowded and noisy streets of New York, Mars was always there. Always.

(to be continued)

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