Above The Field Of Buttercups

T.F. Torrey

The brown Town Car glided to a stop at the side of the gravel road next to a wide field of golden buttercups, its passenger side wheels crunching into the shallow ditch beside the road. Nothing could be seen through the dark amber tint of its windows. A thin haze of dust rolled over the car for a moment as the driver put the car in park and turned off the engine. The car's taillights glowed briefly through the dust cloud, then were dark.

The driver's door opened, and a barrel-chested man wearing an ill-fitting blue suit stepped out. Smoothing down the strained buttons on the front of his jacket with one hand, he looked up and down the road, deliberately casual. Satisfied, he nodded his head to the open door of the car.

At this, the passenger side door on the back swung open, and a lean man with gray eyes and a cold expression stepped from the car. His dark blue suit seemed exquisitely tailored. He, too, took a casual look around, then gestured at the open back door.

A third man climbed from the Town Car. A purple bruise grew on the cheekbone under his left eye. His brown suit was wrinkled, his right sleeve torn a bit and missing the cuff link. This man had a narrow face with pointed features. He, too, looked up and down the country road, but with a bit of hope in his eyes.

Beside the road lay a wide meadow of golden buttercups waving gently in the late-summer breeze. The field rose in a gentle slope, and on the other side, where the meadow gave way to deep silver birch woods, the slope rose to become a hill.

The gray-eyed man gestured toward the meadow and, late-afternoon sun at their backs, the three men set off across the field of buttercups, heading to the woods on the other side. They walked in silence, the only noise coming from the brush of flowers against their legs.

Halfway across the field, the three men stopped suddenly, their attention focused straight ahead. A glimmer of silver rose silently from behind the trees. As it rose, it became the rounded leading edge of a metal ring, turning slowly on thin spokes around a black hub. This was one of the G4 space stations, one of those in the lower orbits that were more expensive, but that let its occupants feel more connected to Earth. Larger and larger it grew, until it appeared twice as wide as the full moon. They could see, or thought they could, the gray rectangles of steel buildings along the inside edge of the disc. Even at this distance, tiny checkerboard patterns of crops were visible, tiny squares of tan and green.

"Hey, Sammy," said the weasel-faced man in the middle quietly. "Do you think there's a heaven?"

The gray-eyed lean man refused to make eye contact. "Shut up, Frankie," he said.

"I'm just saying," Frankie continued, his eyes fixed on the disc of the space station overhead. "There's still stuff we don't know, right?" He looked briefly at the third man, who had been driving the car, for support. "You know what I mean, right, Joey?"

Sammy looked down at the ground. Joey stared up at the space station, his mouth hanging open.

"I mean," continued Frankie, "we've got these giant space stations up in the sky, and cities under the ocean. We've got outposts on other planets, other moons."

"Our moon, too," said Joey.

"Our telescopes have looked all the way back to the beginning of the universe. But— His voice faltered. "There's still stuff we don't know, right?"

Sammy looked at the ground.

Joey said, "Uh."

"There still could be a heaven, right?"

No one said anything. Insects buzzed near the edge of the woods. The space station continued to wheel higher into the sky, glass and steel sparkling.

"Come on," said Sammy, stepping out again toward the woods, "we gotta go."

Frankie followed, with some hesitation, and Joey brought up the rear.

"You think so, though, don't you, Sammy?" Frankie asked. A measure of pleading had crept into his voice.

"Shut up, Frankie."

The space station climbed steadily into the sky. As the men walked, Frankie and Joey could not keep their eyes from the station. Sammy's eyes stayed on the silver birch trees at the edge of the field of buttercups.

The three men reached the edge of the meadow, entered the woods, and began to climb the hill. Overhead, the space station disappeared behind the shimmering canopy of leaves. Frankie and Joey strained to see the space station, catching glimpses of its silvery form in the snatches of blue sky between the glittering green leaves.

They had nearly reached the top of the hill, and the station had risen to almost directly above them, when Sammy stopped walking. "This is it," he said. "Here."

Frankie was breathing hard. He looked desperate and sad.

Joey took his eyes from the sky and closed his mouth.

"Hey, Sammy, Big T knows I'm sorry, right?"

"He knows, Frankie."

Frankie looked around at the woods as if looking for something.

Joey stood with his hands crossed in front of himself, facing Frankie squarely, his chest puffed out a bit.

Frankie said, "There's nothing else we can work out. Maybe just the three of us?"

Sammy reached inside his jacket. "I don't think so, Frankie."

A moment later, at the noise, a tiny flock of birds lit out from the tops of the birch trees like pepper thrown into the sky. Then all was quiet.

Sammy and Joey made their way back down the hill in silence. The leaves hissed and growled under their feet. The sun had almost completed its run to the horizon, and a chill had crept into the air of the forest. It would be dark soon.

They reached the edge of the woods and emerged into the soft yellow sunlight and the field of buttercups. The space station was visible again, spinning now down toward the far horizon on a course that would intersect the sun.

Joey's eyes found the space station and stayed on it as they crossed the field. Right as they reached the road and the car again, the space station crossed in front of the sun in a kind of eclipse. For a long moment the sunlight flickered and flared through the spokes of the ring, spraying spectrums through the glass of the buildings, dazzling beams off the steel. Joey blinked against the sun, pointing, his mouth open again.

Sammy glanced in the direction Joey was pointing. "Let's get out of here," he said. He reached for the door handle.

Joey stood still, watching the spectacle. The eclipse passed quickly, and the light on the other side was colder somehow. The station slid free of the sun, a flat ring falling to the horizon. Joey closed his mouth and turned to Sammy. "What do you think about that?" he asked.

"What?"

"That what Frankie was saying. About heaven. Do you think, maybe—"

"Shut up, Joey," Sammy said.

Sammy lit a cigarette while Joey went around to the driver's side. At the door, Joey paused and looked back at the field of yellow buttercups. The flowers had already swallowed up the path of their footsteps. On up the hill, the silver birch woods showed no sign of their presence. Sunlight glittered green and yellow as a breeze lifted the leaves.

"Frankie knows," Joey said suddenly, quietly.

Sammy looked at Joey with cold eyes, spat into the dirt, and got into the car.

Joey took one last look at the western horizon. The space station was a black ring now, plunging behind the hills below the sun. He watched until it had slipped from view, then got into the car. The sun would be gone soon. It would be very dark out here in the country.


T.F. Torrey

T.F. Torrey is an emerging fiction writer living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. His work has appeared in serial format and in a number of small publications both on- and off-line. At present he is focused on completing and marketing his trilogy of dark novels about the hapless Jack Trexlor. More of his work appears at his Web site, www.tftorrey.com



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