An excerpt from Delsyn’s Blues: the Prologue

January 2, 2012

Sonny's Forest


DELSYN played the blues, played his frustration and grief away with old songs, heart songs, songs that did the crying for him and let him laugh. Mostly, anyway.

It was hard, and it didn’t get easier. The summer before, he’d nearly died; he’d been long unconscious, and his brain had almost starved for oxygen—lacking the blood that was instead filling the spaces in his joints. He’d surprised everyone but his uncle Sonny James when, despite everything, he lived. Perhaps he’d surprised even Sonny when his brain recovered, worked almost like normal. But his joints hadn’t been so forgiving, and every bend of knee or ankle, every bit of weight to bear meant pain, sometimes as hot and swift as lightning.

He’d just turned eighteen. This wasn’t the way the world was supposed to work.

Del’s world had narrowed down mostly to Sonny’s acres, a beautiful place that he’d known all his life, but even there he couldn’t go wherever he wanted. A wheelchair is useless over rough, soft ground, and crutches worse, dangerous even. He loved this place and hated it for the trap that it had become. His music—his guitar and his mercifully spared hands—helped. Sonny did what he could: drove him up the coast to Neah Bay, into Port Angeles for a movie, into Port Clifton—the nearest town—for Frappuccino at Margie’s. A couple of times, Luki Vasquez—the man his uncle loved—had carried him on his back as easily as if he’d been a child, took him down to the beach, and helped him wade through the low waves at the edge of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

But he hadn’t once been in the forest, Sonny’s forest, the woods he’d grown up in—and that mattered. One night he’d felt particularly lost and frustrated, and after saying goodnight to Sonny and Luki, he’d left the house by the back door and made halting, unsteady progress on his crutches to the line of trees that guarded the thick forest beyond. The smells, cedar and dust and new-formed frost, were memory and real all at once, and Delsyn desperately wanted to be in there with the trees and insects, just breathing the same air. So, placing the crutches carefully where they didn’t sink, following one weak leg at a time, Delsyn went in.

He only made it a few steps before he needed to rest, so he propped his crutches against a familiar stump, a gigantic memory of the old-growth forest that once lived there, still rotting into red dust a century after it had been cut. He settled himself down carefully into its folds, glad he couldn’t see the bugs that were certainly feasting off the soft pulp even at this time of night. By shifting from foot to foot, he could rest his legs, and then he’d leave. But he was glad he’d come. For once, he’d go to sleep with sweet, forest-scented dreams.

He heard a scrabbling at his feet—probably a vole or a shrew, but he wanted to know just what it was that made the sound. “Light,” he mumbled. “I need a little light.” He always had his phone with him even though it was useless for making calls around Sonny’s place, where no signal could snake past the giant barrier of the Olympic Mountains. He used it to play games. He took pictures. He recorded his own music, the blues he loved to play. He planned to add the SD card to the tapes he’d made on an old cassette deck and give them to Sonny for his birthday in May, if he could wait that long. But for now he thought the phone could help him. He slid his thumb over the screen to light it up but soon realized the glow wasn’t enough to see the ground, and he knew he couldn’t bend down close if he wanted to be able to get back up. “Bummer,” he said and was about to slip the phone back into his pocket when he heard voices.

A man’s voice, rough and hard. “You’re an idiot! A fool, and if I’d known that before I got involved in your little retirement venture, I would have stayed miles away. Those twins are devious, worse because they’re stupid, too, and everyone in the life knows that—even their own daddy. You managed to pull them in, as lame as you are; that should have told you something.”

“I’m not sure it was them—”

“What an ass! They practically advertised the location. They’re the reason we had to move the samples.”

“And you’re the one who brought ’em here. Not the brightest, in my opinion.”

Del caught the sarcasm in the words, could imagine the man’s gesture encompassing Sonny’s land: “Here.”

“I know this place,” the first man said—a voice Delsyn didn’t recognize. “No one will look here. All we need is a little time when the owner—and his latest fuck—are absent, and we can move it again. Arrange it.”

“Fuck you.”

“Don’t even, you bastard. You’re stupid, and thanks to your little minions, nobody’s going to touch this stuff until it cools off. We’ll be lucky to move the goods by spring.”

The men were moving now, Delsyn guessed; their conversation became obscured by a rustle through leaf-trash and brush. Then, suddenly, he realized the voices were getting closer, and all at once he felt very exposed, very crippled, and very scared.

One set of footsteps moved back into the forest, but the other seemed to be looking for an exit, and that one would pass right by Delsyn. If Del had been fully able, if he hadn’t needed the crutches, he could have held still. But he had no faith in his body, and panic sent him stumbling toward the edge of the trees. He wanted to be out before the man caught him.

He might be killed, he thought. He didn’t want to die hidden in the dark.


Too late. Aching to move legs that wouldn’t cooperate, Del shouted “Uncle Sonny!” But he was so afraid, his voice barely stumbled past the fear in his throat. And he was too far away from the house. And Sonny and Luki didn’t even know he was out here.

The voice seemed slimy, seemed to ooze up Delsyn’s spine. “Now, Del, take it easy. You know me. You know I’m not going to hurt you.

All I need is for you to tell me what you think you heard so I can explain. You probably misunderstood. We wouldn’t want you to get yourself hurt, now would we?”

Delsyn tried to answer, hoping he’d be smart enough to talk his way out of it. But he didn’t because he couldn’t. Ever since last summer, when he got upset—good or bad—his throat and tongue locked up, like he couldn’t get the language in his brain to come out into the world. And then….

A blow—no more than a slap, but Delsyn felt the change. Felt the simple knot that had held his damaged brain together slip free. Not in the dark, he thought, and he pushed forward as he fell. With moonlight in his eyes and shining silver on the coastal fog around him, Delsyn began to die.

Later, he knew he was no longer home, knew they had taken him someplace machines could reach him with their long plastic arms. A place to wait. And while he waited, he heard things.

A doctor said, “… very probably will not wake up.”

Sonny answered, “But he woke up before.”

Sonny spoke to Delsyn, sometimes, discussing and scolding as if they were riding in the Mustang on the way to the store. The nurses came in, usually chattering, one of them sounding young and very sweet. Other patients, still able to cuss out loud. Even Luki, singing the blues for him in that scratchy voice when he thought no one else was around. Del wanted to smile. He wanted to touch someone. He wanted to sing too. Then his brain came apart a little more and he dreamed a little farther down in the darkness where it was far too quiet. He entered a tunnel that led to the other side of that line, that fence between life and death. He felt pretty good about it. He’d done the best he could to say goodbye.

And he thought that, after all, dying might have been his own idea.

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