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Fiction Contemporary Suspense

Athens, the oldest capital of the modern world, was a city of rectangular, gray-white buildings, all of them slammed against each like the lockers we had at Tremont High, except these buildings seemed to be constructed haphazardly, as if it was an anything-goes type of architecture. People crowded the streets, going in and out of the shops and avoiding the Volkswagens, Toyotas, and Volvos that honked and battled each other at every intersection. But what really struck me was the lack of wind in the city, like the air was resting because Zeus was still in control on Mount Olympus and had taken the wind away.

            Looking from my hotel window, I sensed that all the streets seemed to climb to the Acropolis, which stood above Athens. The Acropolis, according to Marta's library books, had been built mainly for Athena, but now the pillars and monuments looked bleak and crumbling. Construction scaffolds bordered some temples. 

            The temples, though, were still pretty awesome, especially the Parthenon. They were perched on the Acropolis like huge stone watchdogs over the city. The modern buildings that surrounded the Acropolis at its base looked strange in comparison. Athens had no skyscrapers, like Chicago had with the 108 story Willis Tower and the St. Regis buildings, only a lot of domed churches, apartment buildings, and multi-level stores. 

            My breath made a little fog on the glass as I viewed the city from the Hotel Agora window because I couldn't pry open the handle of the sliding glass door that lead out onto the balcony. I tried for ten minutes, but the stupid thing stayed stuck.

            According to the map I found in a bureau drawer, beyond Athens were the hills of Imitos, which were laced by dirt roads leading to their summits. Above me, the sky was the color of the sea, a royal blue that dirty Lake Michigan could never look like in a thousand years.

            Even the long time it took to go through customs at the airport, to have my passport checked, and my luggage scanned, wasn't as lousy as the feeling of being lost and alone in my stuffy hotel room. I had Jack Darcy's address and phone number in my pocket, but that didn't change anything. I felt tired, confused, and mostly lost.  

            Jet lag and exhaustion forced me to plop myself on the bed where I studied the map which was full of names I couldn't pronounce and places I'd never heard of. Everything about this journey to Greece to find my dad had made sense back in Marta’s family room. Everything Marta and I discussed and planned there had logic to it, but here it was a different story. I pulled my Greek-American dictionary, a going away present from Marta, from my duffle bag and skimmed it, reading the confusing words and expressions, trying to say some of them out loud. 

            I started with the words on my medallion. “Agapi . . . Mitera.” Then “chairete” (hello) and “voitheia” (help).

            I also tried to text Marta, but the screen said my message could not be delivered, apparently reminding me I was in a place I didn't belong, searching for a man who didn't want to be found. I set the map and dictionary on the night table and leaned back on the bed. The same questions came back:  How could I find Dad in a country of nine million people? What if he flew into Greece but was in a different country now? What if he was, in fact, dead?  

            My return flight to Chicago was in ten days. That's how long I had to find him.  To talk to him. To find out why he left us. 

            It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.   

            The jet lag caught up to me, and I fell asleep covered by a blue bedspread, and the dream came again. That stupid river and mountain dream, but this time it was Marta's voice, not my mom's, calling to me, telling me over and over, “He's there! He's over there!” and the whole time I'm swinging my hockey stick at all the pebbles on the ground, trying to move the black puck, while frantically looking up the hillside for Dad. 

            But I couldn't see him. I couldn't see anything but slabs of white rocks and stone columns and gray dirt. Marta's shouting got louder and louder until I started running, thrusting my stick forward like a spear, certain that some Greek warrior would jump out from behind a boulder and attack me. Somebody started screaming – Marta? – and I was spinning to see who it was, except I couldn't see anyone, and I couldn't stop spinning.

            When I finally woke up, the bedspread was on the floor, and taxis were honking like crazy in the street below. The room was dark, but colored lights glimmered across the Acropolis, giving the temples an eerie, yet magical look. I could see the flashes of cameras going off as tourists milled around its base.  

            That's what I was – a tourist, a dumb kid with $5000 and a stranger's phone number in his pocket. What was I doing here? Why did I let Marta talk me into this? Why couldn't I just forget about my father?

            I went into the bathroom, musty from the damp shower tiles, and splashed cold water on my face to scare away the desperation I was starting to feel. In the mirror I studied my face – my eyes, actually – for signs of fear and exhaled with relief when I didn’t see it. I did see something else though.

            Loneliness.

            Yeah, that was it. I felt lonely. The kind of loneliness you get the first day at hockey camp when you don't know the other guys yet. “Go home,” a voice inside me advised, and I watched the water glisten for a moment on my cheeks and forehead before I shook my head at the voice, splashed more cold water on my face, and rubbed the moisture off with a coarse towel. 

            Then Coach Mac’s ruddy face and gruff voice came into my head, and I heard, “A quitter never wins. A winner finds a way.” And I realized he was right. 

            I turned off the water, straightened up, reached into my jeans pocket and pulled out the paper that had Jack Darcy's address and phone number on it. Folding it neatly again, I returned to my room and punched the numbers on my cellphone.

March 13, 2021 13:25

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9 comments

David Antoine
03:34 Mar 24, 2021

I love the opening description of Athens through the eyes of a high-school hockey player. And now that you mention it, I don't remember feeling any wind when I was there either! The story is perfectly parsimoniousness in detail, and the writing conveys well the protagonist's frustration and loneliness.

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Keith Manos
18:31 Mar 24, 2021

David, I certainly appreciate this positive comment, and I’m glad your recollection of Athens matches my character’s. Your insights about my protagonist also are on target. Thanks for substantiating my intended effect.

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Cathryn V
00:32 Mar 23, 2021

Hi Keith-- I really enjoyed this story of loneliness and perseverence. I like the way you built the character with flashbacks. And some of the specificity is wonderful, like this: My breath made a little fog on the glass as I viewed the city from the Hotel Agora window because I couldn't pry open the handle of the sliding glass door that lead out onto the balcony. I tried for ten minutes, but the stupid thing stayed stuck. I can see this person in a lonely situation. What could be more lonely than being in Greece by yourself! I chose the...

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Keith Manos
19:37 Mar 23, 2021

Cathryn, This is the best comment I’ve ever received after submitting a story to a Reedsy Prompt. Thanks!

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Keith Manos
19:37 Mar 23, 2021

Cathryn, This is the best comment I’ve ever received after submitting a story to a Reedsy Prompt. Thanks!

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Keith Manos
19:37 Mar 23, 2021

Cathryn, This is the best comment I’ve ever received after submitting a story to a Reedsy Prompt. Thanks!

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Cathryn V
20:40 Mar 23, 2021

Hi Keith, As writers, the best thing, I think, is to have feedback from other writers. That's one reason I am on this site. (Another is the incentive to create.) I hope you keep going. As David Sedaris says, the best way to improve as a writer, is to write, write, write. Or maybe that was Stephen King. Anyway. It's true.

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Vanessa Queens
17:26 Mar 22, 2021

Lovely story Keith. It was a little sad u didn't have a good time in Athens though. Maybe next time :)

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Keith Manos
18:30 Mar 22, 2021

Hey Vanessa, I do have the goal to return to Athens, but in this story the narrator isn’t me. The narrator is my protagonist.

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