My brother was scowling as we drove through Harper’s Ferry, up into the green-gray hills of Paw Paw County, the kind of lonely hills you only ever see far away on the horizon. “He would’ve never come so far for us,” he spat, gunning the rental car as it lumbered its way up a steep, pebble-riddled dirt road. I just nodded silently and watched the world as it slowly vanished the higher we climbed. First, I stopped seeing other cars, and then, as the farmlands gave way to deep forests that loomed up on either side of the road like black walls, the buildings started to disappear, too.

“The goddamn boonies,” my brother grunted. “Why’d he ever move so far out in the middle of nowhere?”

“Mom was the one who wanted to move down here,” I told him.

“Like he ever cared what she had to say. I told you last time we were out this way that I never wanted to come back. And look where we are.”

After a long quiet, filled only with the crunch of gravel under the tires and the thrumming of the rental car’s motor, a little gas station came into sight on the side of the road. Red Jack’s Auto read the ancient sign, eaten half away by rust. A sable-skinned old man, Red Jack himself, I presumed, sat outside by the pumps in a dilapidated lawn chair. He sat so still and silent I thought he might have never moved at all, but the instant he saw us he rose slowly and smiled a gap-toothed, withering smile that would have frightened me had I only been a little younger. Whether it was the lawn chair creaking or his joints I will never be sure.

“You Joe’s boys?” he asked huskily.

“We are.”

“Here’re the keys.” He passed me a tangle of keys and cards and little iron tools, all hanging off of a copper ring. I tried to put them in my pocket, but they wouldn’t fit.

“Shame you boys couldn’t come sooner,” croaked the old man.

“We got the news late,” I replied.

He scratched his balding head, spit, and nodded. “I been keepin’ an eye on the place, you know. You boys need anything don’t be afraid to holler.”

We thanked him and carried on our way. I didn’t look back, but I could tell old Red Jack’s eyes were lingering uncertainly on our car as it snaked its way further and further up the hill, deeper and deeper into the dusk. He was judging us, I was certain; judging a pair of indifferent sons, a pair of buzzards come to pick the bones clean.

The sun was only a swarm of amber flecks through the branches as it sank down beyond the edge of the planet and into some far off sea of black when we pulled into the driveway. Dusk crept gloomily into the hills like a dense fog and smothered everything in a thickly witching light. We looked up at the house, a geometrical black silhouette cast away in a world of bending trees and matted underbrush, and sighed. My brother was still scowling. He’d been scowling ever since the plane had landed, all the way through Morgantown and Harper’s Ferry.

The house had always been a quiet place when dad and mom had been alive, the sort of quiet that the elderly exude. But that quiet had been a full-bodied vivacious sound; every nook and cranny of the old house had been brimming with it. Now, the whole place sounded hollow. The old clock on the piano was still ticking, though, ticking just as steadily as the day mom had bought it, as the day she had died. And now it was ticking on, in the wake of another passing, like the dripping of water in an empty cave in the deeps of the darkest pits of the earth. Steady. Rhythmic. A drawn out bong bong to envelop every hour.

“He always liked these stupid things,” said my brother, gesturing down at the dining room table where a jigsaw puzzle sat, its nearby box depicting a lighthouse and a sailboat off in the bay beyond it with its sails like sheets of pearl in the sun. The puzzle itself remained unfinished, only the border and a few of the inlying areas had been completed. There was a little pile of blue pieces on one side of the table, the ocean pieces, and another pile of white pieces on the other: the sailboat. I could hear my father humming a country song, his throat clearing, his teeth working a toothpick as he sorted and made sense of the 1,000 pieces. There was a sleeve of cookies, too, the kind of cheap cookies you buy at the drug store. Only half of them were gone.

We prepared supper as best we could from some old pasta that had been hibernating in the cupboards and ate in silence, listening to the clock on the piano as it tick-tocked away in the semi-dark. My brother went and shut the thing off as I washed the dishes. I didn’t tell him not to. I didn’t tell him much of anything. Beside the sink there was a little notepad with phone numbers scrawled neatly across it. One of those numbers was mine.

We tried to sit up for a while and talk, despite the weariness of travel that had been gnawing at the both of us all day. “You see anything you want?” asked my brother, glancing around disapprovingly.

“Maybe some of his old books. You?”

“Nothing. I don’t want anything that belonged to him. Remember that mitt he gave me when I went to college? I threw it away when I found out what he did with that broad from Chicago.”

I nodded quietly.

My brother just kept muttering. “I don’t know why mom stayed with him. I don’t know how she stayed with him. How do you keep sticking with somebody when they go behind your back like that?”

“She had to,” I told him. “Besides, they got happier when they moved down here. Out in the woods like they always wanted to. But she had to stick with him.”

He glared at me.

“She had to,” I said again. “If they had split, we would have had to drop out of college. You know that.”

“Don’t say that to me.”

“Well it’s true.”

“I don’t need to hear that kind of crap. It’s not our fault that—” His voice trailed off suddenly, giving way to quiet, ragged heaves.

I put my hand on his shoulder and let him cry. My brother was a smart man, two years my elder. He worked as a geologist for an oil company down south, but he still liked to think of himself as a roughneck. And roughnecks don’t cry often. So I just let him.

He told me he didn’t want to take dad’s room. “I’ll sleep in mom’s bed, if it’s alright with you,” he said and then, without waiting for an answer, slipped off down the inky shadows of the hallway and vanished.

An old pair of glasses, an extra set of dentures, and a copy of a worn-out Cormac McCarthy novel. That was all my father had left on his bedside table the morning the ambulance took him away. His bed was stiff, stiff like a board, and smelled of old age, neglect, a deep and unwanted solitude. I shuddered the instant I pulled the sheets over my head. There was something ghastly in the room, an ominous feeling that ought not to be there. I tried to calm myself by cracking the window and listening for crickets and peepers, but the silence that pervaded the house was much too strong for anything, even the quiet murmur of night, to overcome.

Suddenly I was longing for that damn clock. I wished my brother hadn’t shut it off. I wanted something, anything, to puncture the hollow black of emptiness that had its hands around my throat and over my mouth. I wanted to cry out, to holler down the hill for Red Jack, but another cry sounded out before I could make a peep. Down in the valley in the midst of all the hills where some signs of civilization yet lingered, there came the long and lonely wail of a coal train chugging dutifully through the night. Like a banshee cry it came and made me shiver uncontrollably.

I threw off my sheets and raced down the hall, down the stairs, and out into the night. There was air outside, breathable air that filled my lungs and stung my eyes with grateful, bitter tears. The moon behind the mountains on the horizon had rimmed them all in silver so that they shone out like opals set against the deep and satin violet of the sky. “Them’s the silver streams,” I could hear my father’s voice saying from his old wooden seat out in the garden.

“The what?” I had asked him, so long ago.

“The silver streams,” he had replied plainly. “When them mountains get all outlined in moonlight like that, I like to pretend that there are rivers of silver running down their sides. They run across the county, across the state, across the whole damn world. Let out into the ocean eventually.”

“What ocean do they let out into?” I had jokingly asked.

“The big faraway,” he had said, and opened his lips to say something else, but let them close again after a long moment without so much as a sound.

Now, as I stood alone in my father’s garden by night and stared at his empty chair by the hydrangea bushes, I wondered what he had meant all those years ago. Where was the faraway? Where was it now?

The next morning I slept in. I slept and slept and slept till at last I heard my brother cry out, “Aw, Jesus!”

I found him standing by the front door with his hands angrily on his hips, shaking his head. There, just outside the screen door, were a pair of dogs: a big black lab and a little Yorkshire terrier. They were waiting patiently.

“I told him to stop feeding the neighbor dogs,” my brother grumbled, and traipsed off back into the house. I remained by the door, staring at those two dogs through the glass, wondering what I could give them. Then I saw it. I saw the bowl of dog biscuits by the umbrella stand. Something about that bowl of treats got to me, so I sat down with those dogs and cried my eyes out as they ate their cookies. “He hasn’t come to give you your treats the last couple of days, huh?” I asked them. “Well, eat up, because—”

I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t bring myself to tell those two neighbor dogs. All the hate, all the anger, all the stabbing, slicing pain that had been ravaging my insides since I was only a young man, was suddenly gone, evaporated like a thin morning mist. Gone entirely. If only for a moment. I just wanted to tell those dogs that he’d be back tomorrow with more treats.

My brother left the house that evening to head into town and pick my sister up at the airport. But I remained. I remained. That’s all I could think. I remained. He was gone, and I was not, and that was all. Did that mean we’d won, my brother and I? Outlasted the old codger who’d broken our mother’s heart? I didn’t feel victorious.

I fled the house frozen in time that night, fled all the artifacts and empty legacies, to sit outside in dad’s old chair by the hydrangea blossoms. The neighbor dogs came by and sat with me. We looked up at the violet mountains in the sky, watched as the streams of silver came cascading down their sides and bounded off across the inky world, into the faraway beneath the beady, pale stars. I reckoned the dogs were still wondering where dad had gone. I myself just kept watching those mountains.

Evan DeCarlo is a junior honors student in SVA’s Screenwriting Department. He is the author of the Children of The Noahtrilogy of young adult novels, and he is an improvisational theater teacher in New Haven, Connecticut. You can find out more about his work at www.evandecarlo.com