Flep sags into his desk chair, rubbing his eyes. He reaches mechanically to switch on the desktop Mac with his free hand, then sits still with his eyes closed, head bowed.
Mud vibrates under his boots. Men scream in his ears. Whistling metal zips past with a speed that hides the flight paths. Blood stretches over snow like a crimson river. Where is the paper? He reaches for paper, its familiar feel—needing that letter so desperately it’s terrifying that it is not here.
Flep’s eyes snap open. For an instant, he sees the paper clearly: brown and dirty, wet with snow, covered in handwriting, clutched in his freezing fingers. Holding his breath, hands shaking, he squints as he fights to see the words.
Sunlight falls across his work desk in a long rectangle from the small window. The computer awaits his password. Coffee steams in its lidded mug, sending up a wisp of vapor through the spout. A phone rings down the hall—an old-fashioned telephone sound, not a chime. Three or four people are talking in the office next door. The floor beneath his shoes feels solid. Air around him feels warm, even stuffy.
The clock on the wall to his left ticks softly, reminding him to be efficient.
Never waste a minute. You can rush and worry and stress all week and you will never get it back.
His mother’s words. She was always trying to catch up. She never did. Flep keeps the clock for white noise in his workspace, reminding him to use every moment.
Yet, here he sits. Motionless and dumb in the busy studio offices.
A car horn honks outside. He is only four floors up and traffic is loud here. No screams though. No bullets or explosions. No snow. No blood.
He presses a hand to his stomach, fighting to swallow, pushing the mug away and turning his head at the same time.
Flep spins in the swivel chair to face the door. “What?”
Simon steps back. “Sorry, didn’t mean to—”
“That’s fine,” Flep says. “What do you want?”
“I just…have these sketches for you.” The young intern holds out several sheets of hot press watercolor paper covered in graphite and ink sketches.
“Thank you.” Flep takes them and turns away, avoiding meeting Simon’s eyes.
“I can go over the ideas with you…” Simon trails off, addressing Flep’s back. “Did you get breakfast? Need anything?”
“We’ll talk about these before lunch,” Flep says. “I’m leaving early today.” He logs into the computer and turns back to Simon, trying to smile. “Happy 4th. Doing anything fun?”
Simon still looks uneasy.
Late attempt at civility not cutting it.
“Seeing friends tonight,” the young man says. “We’re trying to catch some fireworks.”
“Good luck in that crowd.”
“Thanks. They know their way around better than I do.” Simon only came to Manhattan three months ago to start his internship with Time Marks. “Well…” He nods, smiling weakly. “I’ll talk to you about those later.”
“Give me a couple hours. I’ll get back to you.”
Light from Flep’s office window catches Simon’s Ray-Ban glasses as he glances down to the papers he handed Flep. He opens his mouth, nods, puts his hands behind his back, lets them hang at his sides, then hurries away.
Flep rubs his eyes again. Heartless bastard. That kid was probably up half the night doing these drawings. Now Flep is treating him like a prop?
He turns his attention to the screen. He’ll make it up to Simon. Take him to lunch tomorrow with Tanya, the other art department intern, and talk over their progress. The two of them can brainstorm. Flep only has to encourage them and act like they have good ideas. They do have good ideas. Two smart kids and both superb artists.
Half crouching away from the voice, he looks around. “John?”
“Do you have those concepts to show the producers?”
Friday, damn him. John first asked for them on Friday. The day before a weekend and major national holiday when half the team wasn’t going to be here. But John Case, West Side, river front resident, does not believe in putting off until tomorrow what someone could have done for him yesterday.
“We’re working on it,” Flep says. “I’ll have something ready tomorrow and get a meeting on Wednesday.”
“Tomorrow? You’ve got four people on this. Good God.” John shakes his head and turns away. “Well, whatever it takes.”
As John stomps off, Flep exhales a slow breath, wishing he could.
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* (Good until release day)
Flep has a great job as a New York City production designer, a blossoming relationship with Torin, and the potential joy of becoming a stepparent to Torin’s two young daughters. Nothing could be better—yet his life is crumbling from the inside out.
Ever since moving in with Torin, Flep has dreamed of muddy trenches, bullet-riddled bodies, and endless horrors which only grow worse and spill into his day-to-day life. Traumatized and sleepless, he slogs on: a soldier afflicted with post-traumatic stress. Only, Flep has never been a soldier, let alone been to war.
Fighting for his sanity, Flep turns to unlikely sources for help—even phantoms from another era. It could take a family from 1916 to illuminate his waking nightmares, but the truth may come at the price of losing his new family along the way.
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