Time Moves Forward; A Tale of Sloth

Time Moves Forward; A Tale of Sloth

Back when I started the Seven Deadly Sins project, I joked that there were probably enough off-shoots of Domerin that I could write a prompt for each sin featuring him. It’s taken some time but I have, indeed, found a Domerin for every sin.

So far we’ve covered Wrath, Pride and Envy. Today we’re delving into Sloth. I actually dug through a lot of old role playing logs when I wrote this one. I also spent a looooot of time researching native legends. It feels like a beautiful introduction to a bitter sweet story, so I’m really happy with how it turned out.

This story features Cowboy Domerin, who has yet to appear on my blog. The long and short of his background is that aliens showed up on Earth and caused a fair bit of trouble with our technology, so the frontier has reverted to something out of old western movies. Domerin was inadvertently struck and killed by an alien weapon. But since he died in the act of saving one of their own, they restored him to life. Unfortunately, that has made most people afraid of him.
. . .

Time moved forward. Day turned to night and, eventually, the moon yielded to the sun. It was the one universal constant that remained in his life. No matter how eternal a moment might feel, the wheel of time continued to turn, dragging him in its wake.

Domerin Lorcasf had been awake for some time. Even with light blocking curtains, the sun was still powerful enough to penetrate his bedroom at certain points during the day. And he thought it was still morning, though he wasn’t sure how long he had been laying with his eyes closed, still trying to pretend the day hadn’t started.

Though there were no particularly pressing tasks that demanded his attention for the day, a nagging sense of duty still nagged at the back of his head. But what was the point in cleaning if there was no one around to notice the mess? And why should he eat three times a day when he barely felt hungry for one meal? Who determined the rules of human behavior, who dictated the terms of necessity when one lived alone in the middle of nowhere? What point was there, really, in going through the motions when there was no one to satisfy but himself?

Yet, if he didn’t tend the necessary tasks, argued the more rational portion of his brain, who was going to? It wasn’t like he had a mother or a partner or a friend to barge in and pick up after him. And sooner or later, he might begin to notice the mess if he let it pile up. Though it might just feel worthwhile if he let things get bad before he lifted a finger.

And besides, what else was he going to do? He didn’t need any more sleep and he couldn’t continue to pretend that he should rest now that darkness had fled. If he didn’t start moving soon, he’d be at the mercy of his own thoughts for however long they decided to hold him.

He blinked and glanced around his room. It was the same as it had been yesterday and the day before that. The walls were cut from light-stained wood, the floor mostly covered by a pair of threadbare rugs, the only real splash of color provided by the decor. His sheets were grey and white, but they were comfortable and that was really all that mattered. The roof slanted downward, which made the far end of the room smaller than the side where his headboard rested, but it gave the entire space a homey, protected feeling that Domerin rather enjoyed. Something left over from his childhood, maybe. Besides, the vaulted design hadn’t prevented him from putting a large picture window on that side of the room; the one which currently dumped sunshine in his eyes, demanding he rise.

In the far corner, just beside the bathroom door, was a small pile of clothing, discarded the night before when he climbed into bed. The fact that it contained only one shirt and pair of jeans testament to the fact that he did, indeed, tend the necessary tasks every day, whether he liked it or not.

He was trying to rouse himself to start, knowing it would only take an hour or two to finish – his house wasn’t large – but it was already too late. Even with the sun streaming across his eyes, he had already settled into a trance-like state; half-awake and half-asleep. Half-here and half everywhere else.

It had been a long time since he thought about the future, but that didn’t stop him from thinking about the past. Time grew fluid inside his head, flowing without direction or purpose, with only cause and effect to orient him within the stream.

First Man and First Woman worked diligently for many long days and nights to set the stars in the sky. They placed each one carefully, in precisely the correct position. And all the while they worked, Coyote watched from a hill above.

These story fragments always drifted to him in his mother’s voice, the last fractured remnants he had of her. Somehow it was easier to remember how she had sounded than how she had looked, perhaps because thinking about her bedtime stories instead of her face never managed to conjure the image of the last time he had seen her, twisted and mangled by the crash that claimed her life.

After a time, he glanced down at the materials they had gathered and noted three bright pieces of red mica. “These shall be mine,” he declared to himself. “And I shall place them wherever I please.” So he trotted down the hill to take them up.

But by the time he had finished placing those three red stars close to the horizon, he had become bored. “Why should I wait for all of this?” he exclaimed. He hadn’t, after all, been included among the planning.

So Coyote grasped the buskin on which the star fragments lay between his teeth and gave a great heave. And he flung the stars into the sky like a dog shaking water from its fur, proclaiming, “Let the stars sit where they will…”

Hectic had turned to hell. He didn’t remember exactly when it happened anymore, but it didn’t matter. There had come a point where going home in the evening had felt like escaping. Escaping the sheriff’s office with its stifling stale atmosphere and its steadily choking walls. Escaping the gazes that followed him like gun sights, waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger. Escaping the quiet whispers that inevitably permeated the conversations when his back was turned.

Even the sheriff had begun to crack under the pressure of choosing between losing one of his best and giving in to the town’s demands. There had been a two hour conversation. Domerin remembered every moment of it clearly. And then he’d gone home, slammed his door, and sat in the darkness, wondering how he could wake up the next morning and face doing it all again. He’d have given anything in that moment to be like the stars, flung toward some unknown fate, as long as it removed him from the here and now.

That was when he heard the knock at the door.

“Go home,” he told the figure standing in the dim light of the street lamps when he finally got around to answering the door. “Stop doing this to yourself.”

Anyone else would have listened. But then, no one else would have bothered to come. Seibel Abolan looked fierce in the orange light, like a fire just gaining momentum. He set his jaw, lifted his chin and shook his head. “I won’t leave you here alone, Domerin. If you lock me out, I’ll just camp on your doorstep.”

He hadn’t even bothered to answer. He’s simply turned and strode back across the chaotic living room, strewn with the mess of living he hadn’t yet summoned the energy to clean. And he had waited for the soft click he knew would follow, the sole indication his partner had followed him inside.

“I don’t know what you expect me to say,” he railed, not bothering to hide his temper in front of the one person left he could actually talk to. Tilson’s ready to give me the boot. What the hell is left for me at this point? Why keep fighting an empty, pointless battle?”

Seibel remained silent while he took off his boots and placed them side by side with Domerin’s. “He can’t just let you go,” he protested as he straightened. “You’re the best man we have.” But his voice contradicted the words. He knew Tilson would do it, would have to do it, and even Seibel’s protests wouldn’t go far enough to make a difference. Not this time.

The next sound that escaped Seibel’s throat was soft but carried a hint of dire desperation. “There has to be something left for your here. This is your home, god damn it!”

Domerin barked a thin, bitter laugh. “And I was a hero when they thought I died saving it. Now I’m a monster because I managed to live. I can’t do this anymore, Sei. I just can’t.”

It should have ended there. If they had both been sane, both been rational, it would have.

There was agony written into every line of Seibel Abolan’s face when he shuffled forward, groping in the dark until he managed to grab Domerin by the arm and force him to cease his endless pacing. Domerin could see him clearly, though he could tell his partner’s single eye was still struggling to adjust to the dim light filtering through the window. He could have turned on a light, but it was so much easier to let everyone believe he never came home. That the house at the end of the street was deserted. That he drifted into the office like a specter and disappeared somewhere after he left it.

“I can think of one reason you should stay.” Seibel’s voice cracked when he said it.

If Domerin had been a cat, every hair from the back of his neck to the tip of his tail would have been standing on end. As it was, he tensed and turned, though he couldn’t bring himself to jerk his arm free of that grip. “Don’t,” he hissed. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”

Seibel stepped forward, blocking his escape path. His hand fell from Domerin’s arm, but moved quickly to his shoulder. Then both his hands were on Domerin’s cheeks, gently caressing before they began to tug downward. And then soft, warm lips pressed against his. And if they bore a slight taste of salt, who was Domerin to lay blame?

It all happened too fast for him to process. He was ready to grasp Seibel’s arms and push him backward. He was ready to force his friend out the door and slam it in his face, if that’s what it took. But the lips pressed to his were so earnest, so passionate that his resolve melted. The hell his life had become fell away. There was no need to defend himself here, not reason to point out that he was still the same man he had been before the incident, even if he had died for a little while. There were no arguments about whether he belonged in town or if he should be allowed to serve as a lawman.

There was only the warm body in his arms and the shared bliss between them.

But that moment, like all other moments, had to end.

Time moved forward.

And the two of them drew apart. Seibel clutched his shoulders as if that were the only thing still keeping him upright. “We can beat this together,” he insisted, “you and I.”

 Domerin reached up and ran his arm across his lips, as if that would wipe away what he had done. “Does Laura know you’re here?”

He might as well have slapped his friend in the face. Seibel rocked backward on his heels. But he caught himself quickly and there was steel in his voice when he spoke. “Probably. I called and told her I’d be late getting home. That’s pretty much code between us for me coming over here.” A moment passed and then he added more softly, “I’m sorry if what I did was unwanted.”

“It wasn’t.” Domerin’s voice was barely more than a whisper. “And that’s the problem. You’re a married man, Seibel. And there’s nothing I respect more than two people’s decisions to bind their lives together.”

Forget that Seibel’s wife had been the source of all his woes. Forget that she had practically raised the whole town against him because he had dared to come back whole and her husband had lost an eye. Forget that they had been best friends the day before it all exploded. None of that erased the vows they had given.

“Laura and I aren’t in the same place we were when we said those words,” Seibel protested, shaking his head. “It may damn me, but this is the choice I’ve made. What about you? What do you want?”

“I don’t think we’re finished with you.” Domerin’s voice had grown rough, as if each word were dragged across gravel before it exited his throat. “Even if your heart changed, you can’t just ignore the vows that you made. Are you leaving your wife, Sei? Is that what you’re saying?”

A soft, frustrated sigh escaped Seibel’s lips as he flung himself onto the couch. He must have landed on a book because he shifted awkwardly for a moment before he settled into a comfortable position. “Part of me still loves her, I suppose. But we’ve been moving in opposite directions for a long time now. Started well before your death. Wanting you wasn’t the start of this, but it certainly seems like the end. So, yes. That is what’s happening.”

They were skirting a dangerous line. Wanting to dissolve marriage vows and doing it were two different things. And the mind could so easily flip between passion and regret. Before he acted, he had to be sure.

So he stood staring at his work partner from across the darkened room, his gaze as intense as it had ever been. “Before we do anything, Seibel, we have to be bluntly and brutally honest with ourselves about what this is. Unless you go home tonight and tell your wife that it’s over-“

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Seibel interrupted, shooting to his feet as he said it, extending one imploring hand in Domerin’s direction. “I swear to you, Dom, this is the path I want to walk.”

His mother had always told him to be careful about what people or dream visions said in the dark. It’s easy to hide beneath the glamour of the moon, she always said. The light is bright enough to make falsehoods shimmer and shine, but too dim to reveal the truth.

He had been telling himself that when he tried to resist taking Seibel’s offered hand. But the offer had been too appealing and he had believed it because he wanted it to be real.

*   *   *

The problem with trying to banish his memories with hard labor was that there wasn’t actually a lot to do. Since giving in to the pressure to abandon what passed for civilization on the edge of the wastes, Domerin lived in the middle of nowhere. He kept the cupboards stocked and the house clean. He kept the land surrounding his tiny oasis trapped in case raiders came to visit. But without access to the ‘net – his house occupied the middle of a dead zone in that regard – there were few ways to spend the rest of his time.

When he tired of reading or lounging in bed, he inevitably ended up on the roof. From there, he could observe the small, rock-shrouded valley that comprised his kingdom while he smoked. Every now and then a dry, dusty wind swept through the valley. But aside from that, there was little to note aside from the antics of his mechanical horse. And even that wasn’t real. It was simply programmed to mimic the biological creature whose shape it shared.

Which meant that there was nothing to stop his mind from drifting along the same twisted path it always took.

If he had ever been surprised when Seibel Abolan told him that he was unable to leave his wife, he wasn’t anymore. It made perfect sense that when he expressed his anger and frustration, she was contrite. She had loved her husband beyond words and reason, even if he had started to doubt his love for her.

And of course she had tried to make it work. What devoted partner wouldn’t? Which made the doubts creep into her husband’s mind. What if he had been wrong all along? What if it was his lack of effort, his anger and discontent with the situation that had forced the two of them onto separate ledges?

“Then we’ll forget what we have done,” Domerin insisted when Seibel told him that he hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell his wife the truth. “It was a foolish mistake and we won’t repeat it.” Though he doubted that absolved him of the act.

“But I don’t want to forget it, Domerin,” Seibel retorted. “I don’t think I can.”

“Then what do you want?” Domerin growled, though he had already known the answer. “You are asking me to help you have an affair!”

“Yes.” That simple word still hit like a hammer. “I’m sorry, Domerin. But I’m asking you to help me have an affair. I understand if you want to be done with me.”

Domerin closed his eyes in the present as the words vibrated through him, just as he had closed them that day.

“If I walk away from you, my life will be empty.”

Time moved forward, creaking like the rusted hinge of a door in terrible need of oil.

Now here comes Iktomi walking across the grey-green grass, past bones that glimmer bright in the summer sun, until he came to a large bunch of wild sage. There he paused, stretching his long neck like a duck until he could see what lay beneath. And what did he find but a black nose tucked between four feet with a busy tail splayed over top.

It was a coyote and it was fast asleep.

Cautious, Iktomi lifted one foot and gently prodded the sleeping coyote with his toes, but it made no movement. So he lifted first one foot, then the other free of the creature’s muzzle and pressed his ear close. But not a stirring of breath did he hear.

“Dead,” he proclaimed at last. “Though not for long.” For the body of the coyote was still warm. And Iktomi thought to himself, “If I carry this coyote back to my home, I will feast well this evening!”

So he seized the coyote by the front and back paws and swung its lifeless body up over his shoulders before he made his way onward. And because the furred head rested on his shoulders, he did not see when the coyote – who was actually The Coyote – cracked one eye open and grinned with glee.

“How tiresome it is to travel on one’s own feet,” Coyote said to himself. “But to be carried like a warrior from a great battle – now this is fun beyond measure!” And then he closed his eye and held himself very still so that Iktomi would carry him all the way back to his home.

Domerin had spent months waiting for Seibel to tell him that Laura found out about their illicit meetings. They certainly spent enough time together that it should have been obvious. He was starting to wonder if they were actually being careful or if that was just some game they played to convince themselves no one could possibly be aware of their shame.

His mother always told him that the moment you did something you were afraid to talk about, you knew you had done wrong. But somehow, that never stopped them.

So when Seibel came to him, thin-lipped and grim-faced, he expected the first words out of his mouth to be, she knows. Instead, he said…

“Laura is pregnant. But I don’t want to believe it. She shouldn’t have been able to conceive.”

For a moment, Domerin wanted to snort and ask why? Perhaps because Seibel was spending all his seed somewhere else. But it would have been cruel and he saw no point in rubbing salt into that wound. “You think she’s lying?”

Seibel shook his head. “She showed me a note from her doctor. But she’s on birth control. And she takes it. I checked.”

But would it really have been that hard for her to wash those tiny pills down the sink? What was he doing, sneaking into her purse once a week to make sure there were seven fresh empty spaces in the pack?

“We can’t do this anymore.” He should have said it a long time ago, but he had to say it now. He didn’t even know what the fuck they thought they had been doing all this time.

“I know.” Seibel hung his head but it didn’t wipe the shame or the sorrow from his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Domerin. This whole thing has been unfair to you and now… Now I don’t know what I can do to help you.”

Is that what he thought he had been doing all this time? “If you love your wife, Sei, there’s no reason to despair. You would have chosen her, sooner or later. This only makes the choice easy. And you’re going to be a magnificent father. I don’t doubt it.”

Seibel almost stumbled as he came forward, setting a hand on each of Domerin’s shoulders. “I do love her. But I love you too. Knowing I’m going to be a father doesn’t make this any easier. It feels more like a trap closing around me and no matter what I try, I can’t get out.”

Seibel might as well have driven a knife into his chest right then and there. He could have twisted it left and right a few times and spared Domerin the pain that came after. But the trick to life, or so his mother had taught him, was that there were moments when you didn’t matter. When bigger, more important things needed to be attended. In his youth, that had always meant the tasks that sustained the tribe. But on that day, it had meant easing the wounds of another no matter how they widened his own.

He set a hand on each of Seibel’s cheeks, lightly lifting his head until the man was forced to meet his gaze. “I love you too, Seibel. And that’s why I’m going to help you do what’s right, even if it means picking you up and putting you on that train myself. Our time was stolen, and it was golden while it lasted, but now it’s time to let it go. The mother of your child is getting on a train back to the city, and you have to be with her when it leaves. You’re going to be a father and I’m going to go on living, just as I always have.”

Then, with all the confidence of the great trickster himself, he summoned a grin to his lips and added, “It’s not as if I’m going to break without you.”

The cigarette burned down to the filter and Domerin crushed it absently in the ashtray he kept on the roof because he didn’t want to put burn marks on the roof he had so painstakingly crafted. The house might not have been a labor of love, but it had been his labor – all of it – and he was proud of the results.

He should really start thinking about riding back into town. One of them, anyway. One of the ones that was less angry at him at the moment. It was about time to restock the freezer and he could use some fresh fruits and vegetables while he was at it.

That was the only surefire way to stifle the memories. Even if only for a little while.

With a quick turn, Coyote leapt from the flames the moment he struck the embers.

As Iktomi watched, his jaw fell open and his eyes flew wide. He had thrown a dead coyote into the fire and, now, some fire spirit had leapt from the flames! The flame spirit danced across the grass, kicking embers from its paws that struck Iktomi’s bare shoulders and arms, causing him to howl and shriek with pain.

Settling on his haunches, Coyote flashed his many-toothed grin and began to laugh.

“Next time, you’d better make sure,” Domerin murmured, reciting Coyote’s final line from the tale as he climbed down from the roof, “that your enemy is stone dead before you built a fire.”

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe time didn’t move forward anymore. Maybe it just circled and swirled like some endless whirlpool while he sat on the edge waiting for it to sweep him under and finally drown his sorrows once and for all. After all, his flesh no longer seemed to age, and the anger and hatred of the frontier folk never seemed to change. The only way time was ever going to move forward again, instead of circling this same endless track, was if he found some meaning to apply to his life, some goal other than eating and sleeping because the clock said he was supposed to.

But if twenty years hadn’t provided him with a way to rise above the pain, he wasn’t sure what could.

At least he knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that he hadn’t entirely lied the day he sent Seibel away. No, he hadn’t broken when his lover left. Because he had been broken a long time before that.

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