BY: ROB SILVERMAN
To find yourself, you must be lost.
Pike Graves, a former boxer who suffers thanatophobia—fear of death—has done everything right. Degree from an Ivy League university, respectable job with a reputable newspaper, and always helping others. He wakes up one day to find himself middle-aged with nothing to show for a forgettable and unexciting existence.
He hasn’t been living his life. Instead, his life has been living him.
With nothing and no one, regimented Pike sheds his skin and sets out on a cross-county pilgrimage to reconnect with a long-lost love from high school, Paige Rhodes, the one he believes is his destiny. She’s his last chance at salvation.
To have a future, he must revisit his past.
Back home, his ex-girlfriend learns she’s listed as beneficiary on one of his accounts. She stands to inherit a fortune if he’s killed and promptly enlists the help of a past lover to hunt him down, thereby setting in motion a coast-to-coast pursuit.
As Pike tries to find himself, someone is trying to find him.
Pike learns life is not black and white but rather a gray mosaic. He uncovers truths about himself and his family. Nothing is as he remembers. Nothing is as it seems. The former boxer discovers that oftentimes the most painful blows in life are not the physical ones.
You can win…but still lose.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Punching at Fog by Rob Silverman, Pike Graves suffers from thanatophobia, fear of death. Even though he has done everything right—from the right schools, to the right job, always helping others—he is now middle-aged and unhappy. He loses his job and finds out his girlfriend is unfaithful and stealing from him, so he decides to go find the one that got away. The journey is long and fraught with peril from mysterious hitchhikers to runaway teens, to deranged muggers. Through it all, unbeknownst to him, he is being chased by an assassin. Can he make to California to reconnect with his lost love, or will he die on the way?
Intriguing, fascinating, and unpredictable, this one will hold your interest from the first page to the last.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Punching at Fog by Rob Silverman is the story of Pike Graves, a middle-aged “failure.” Although Pike has a degree from an Ivy League school, a good job with a respectable newspaper, and a long-time live-in girlfriend, he is unhappy and feels as if he has accomplished nothing in his forty-seven years. Then suddenly his life is turned upside down. He loses his job and discovers that his girlfriend has not only been stealing from him, she has been unfaithful. Disgusted and infuriated, Pike packs his car and takes off for a cross-country road trip, heading to California to get back the girl that got away. It’s a journey that will change his life forever.
Punching at Fog is both fascinating and poignant. I never knew what would happen next, or what strange new character would come into play, and I found it very hard to put down.
Thirty years ago:
Since his first breath he sensed the icy grip of death clawing at his back. And tonight, it had finally come for him.
Moments after Pike Graves entered this life three weeks premature, screaming, and crying and covered in blood, a sibling followed. The fraternal brother didn’t live through the night. Pike obviously had no recollection of this. His father, however, had no qualms about reminding him. Constantly.
“You lived, your brother didn’t.”
Haunted by a memory of something he couldn’t remember.
His earliest recollection was seeing Mom in tears. Sobbing hysterically, she dissolved before his eyes, crumbling to the floor and pulling the phone from the kitchen counter where it exploded against cheap linoleum. It was the only time he saw the woman cry.
Grandma, the squat, pudgy woman who smelled funny and surreptitiously passed candy from her papery arthritic fingers into Pike’s small hand, had keeled over of a heart attack in Toys R Us.
“She was buying you a birthday gift,” Pike’s father declared. Repeatedly.
Five-years-old, Pike was surrounded by somber-looking men and grief-stricken women. Dressed in black, dabbing their eyes, listening reverentially to a bespectacled man with a white collar. Amidst fierce merciless winds and a biting winter chill that penetrated to the bone, a bronze casket containing Grandpa was lowered into the earth. Pike shifted on his father’s lap, wrapped his little arms around the man’s beefy neck. “Don’t cry, Daddy.”
At eight, he and his friends were playing stickball in a makeshift field between two tenements when Eddie Mullins went down rounding second base and began flopping around like a fish on dry land. Eddie was such a prankster. The boys ran over and laughed. Pike prodded him with the toe of his Keds. “Get up, dipshit.” This was when Pike first heard the term Grand Mal Seizure.
Now at seventeen, Death had returned.
First Saturday after graduation, he and his best friend had their dreams intact. Pike would write the great American novel and Dewayne would become a cop. But that was down the road. Tonight was for browsing albums at Tower, racing kids in Dewayne’s souped-up Mustang, and whistling at cute girls.
Decreasing the volume on Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana,” Dewayne announced, “Dude, we should cruise by Grizzly’s.”
Pike gave his buddy a pitiful look. “She’s not working tonight.”
“How do you know?” Dewayne considered that then asked accusatorily, “Yeah, how do you know?”
“It’s our first weekend of freedom, man. I’m sure she’s off.” Leaning forward, Pike searched for a different song. “Besides, like you have a shot?”
“And you do?”
Pike busied himself with the radio. “She’s not my type.”
“Gimme a break!” Dewayne hooted. Pulling a pack of Marlboro’s from the dashboard, he tapped one out and flung the empty box out the window. Pushing the cigarette lighter, he expressed his disbelief. “Molly Ringwald lips, Demi Moore eyes, and Heather Locklear’s bod. And she’s not your type?”
Finding Van Halen’s “Why Can’t This Be Love” Pike leaned back. “You have no shot with Lisa Dufresne.”
“No chick can resist the D-man’s charm.”
“You guys spent four years together in high school. She doesn’t even know you exist, D-man.”
Tramping the gas and running a yellow light, Dewayne took a drag and rolled things around in his mind. “You think I have no chance ’cause Lisa’s white and I’m black?”
“I think you have no chance ’cause she’s hot and you’re you.”
“Maybe she’d like ridin’ the chocolate D-train.”
Pike laughed. At a red light, he added gently, “Just don’t wanna see you get hurt.”
Dewayne grumbled. “Pike Graves, always protecting everyone.”
When Dewayne unexpectedly jerked the wheel right and floored it, Pike nearly ended up in his friend’s lap. The Mustang tore down a side street and bottomed out, rocketing into a parking lot. Slowing to a crawl parallel to the expansive front window of Grizzly’s, he asked “You see her?”
Pike scooted lower. “Jesus!”
Curling his lips, Dewayne muttered, “You’re right.”
“She doesn’t know me.” He parked on the mini-mart’s south side. “But she knows you. You had classes together.”
“Hell, no. I’m not playing Goose to your Maverick.”
“Dude, just go in, see if she’s there.”
“She’s not working. Did you see her? I didn’t.”
“Maybe she’s in the storeroom.”
“Pike, you owe me.”
“Who got you through Berkman’s Criminal Justice class? Me.”
“Who let you copy off him for Palmer’s English final? Me. We’re even.”
Dewayne ruminated. “Okay, look. You’re the one with the fake ID and I need cigarettes. Go in, ask the old guy where Lisa’s at.”
Pike exhaled. “You’re not going to drop this, are you?”
Dewayne opened his palms. “It’s Lisa Dufresne.”
Grabbing the proffered bills, Pike smirked. “You’re a dick.”
The weary fifty-something clerk lifted his large mass from the small stool and suspiciously eyed the teenager.
Offering his friendliest smile, Pike asked, “Lisa’s not working tonight, right?”
“That’s what I figured.” He vacillated. The diligent cashier possessed a permanent scowl and intuitive eyes. Pike knew his phony ID wouldn’t cut the mustard. Screw Dewayne and his cigarettes. He traipsed to the refreshment area to get a forty-four ounce Coke for himself and a sixteen-ounce for his love-struck buddy. Reaching for the lids, he garbled, “Excuse me.”
His brows came together. The diminutive girl with a fawnlike gaze, thriving blonde hair tapping her shoulders and a swan’s neck looked vaguely familiar. “Hey…you.”
“Right, Paige. How’s it going?”
“Good, good.” She stepped aside so he could reach the lids.
Pike nodded his appreciation.
“You don’t remember me.”
Fiddling with the straws, he replied, “Sure, I do. Paige…”
“Right, Paige Rhodes.”
“We had Rosen for Economics.”
“Sure, right, Rosen. Of course.”
She emitted a syrupy giggle. “No, we didn’t.”
He adored her laugh. “Okay, you got me.”
Pike felt himself drifting away, swallowed by mesmerizing basset-hound indigo eyes and thin lips that curled into a guiltless radiant smile. Time stopped. The outside world irrelevant. Nothing mattered. It was a flash, an instant. But something foreign rose in his chest. Something he’d never felt before.
He’d seen Paige Rhodes around school. Sitting alone in the cafeteria, getting shouldered aside in the hallway by bigger classmates, her books clutched against her chest like a shield. Embarrassed. Female students were becoming women while she remained trapped in the body of a girl. Pike preferred more on top. And taller. And brunette. He never gave the flat-chested, short, blonde a second glance.
But unexpectedly, her physical attributes were now irrelevant. And here she was at Grizzly’s, their lives intersecting as if bound together by some invisible tether.
The prolonged stare was broken by tolling bells announcing a customer’s arrival. Assuming it was Dewayne, Pike rose to his tiptoes and peeked over the shelves. Nope, some other customer. When he faced forward, Paige hadn’t taken her eyes off him.
“An angel just got their wings.”
After a moment, he laughed. “It’s a Wonderful Life. It does kinda sound like that.”
She wavered, debating saying more.
Pike found her innocence endearing, but hey, his buddy was waiting. “See ya around sometime.”
Her expression was a mixture of abandonment and rejection. Pouting, she lowered her eyes. “You too, Pike.”
Maneuvering the aisles, doing a double take at the condoms, he stood a respectable distance behind the hulking customer angling over the counter. Through the front window he spotted a late-model Chevy crammed with Paige’s friends. For some reason, he was relieved not seeing any guys. Swiveling his head forward, he knew he was about to die.
Pike had only seen a firearm up close once before when a friend picked his father’s gun safe. He didn’t like it then, liked it less now as he stared down the foreboding barrel. The broad-shouldered customer outfitted in a dark hoodie, dark jeans and dark footwear resembled the Grim Reaper. Through a constricted throat, a name fell from Pike’s trembling, parched lips. “LaMarcus King?”
The gunman’s eyes enlarged like saucers.
Shit. I just IDd him.
“Who are you?”
“Pike.” He managed to swallow. “Graves.”
“Who the hell’s Pike Graves?”
Hearing a sound, LaMarcus spun and brought the cashier into his sights. “Don’t get no bright ideas fat man or you’ll leave here in a box.” Proficiently waggling the weapon, he ordered “Get your ass out from there.”
The clerk momentarily glimpsed down. Silent alarm? A bat? Thinking better of it, he slinked out from behind the counter.
While LaMarcus focused on the cashier, Pike scanned the store in search of Paige. The refreshment area barren. Empty aisles. A corridor that likely led to an office and probably a rear delivery entrance. Was the rear door locked? Could Paige escape that way? Would she unintentionally trigger an alarm and send the gunman into a frenzy?
And why am I so concerned about her anyway?
When the employee was ordered to stand alongside Pike like two prisoners facing a firing squad, he knew the brief window of opportunity had closed. LaMarcus had half a foot and sixty pounds on him. Even without the gun, there was no way he could take the guy.
“How you know me, kid?”
Pike was again staring down an ominous cylinder of death. He stammered. “Laf…Lafayette High. Everyone knows LaMarcus King. You took us to State last year.” And now you’re holding up a convenience store? What the hell happened, man?
LaMarcus weighed a heavy decision. Pike’s life hanging in the balance, his destiny in the hands of a washed-out former high school running back whose dreams never materialized.
“Get outta here, kid.”
Pike didn’t move. Couldn’t move. Not without Paige. He barely knew the girl but yet felt…something. How could he go on living his life if hers ended?
“I said, Go! Get the fuck out!” Spittle flew from his taut lips. He halved the distance between them and coiled his finger like a snake around the trigger. “Don’t be a hero, Pike Graves.”
The stifling humidity exacerbated the queasiness in his rolling stomach. On spaghetti-like legs, he staggered along the sidewalk fronting Grizzly’s, chastising himself. Just last week he went to see a movie titled Die Hard in which a NYC cop saves dozens of hostages from machinegun-toting terrorists in a Los Angeles skyscraper. Meanwhile, Pike couldn’t save one girl from a mini-mart.
Dewayne jumped from his Mustang. “Dude, what took so long?”
Pike doubled over and vomited.
“Ah, man. That’s not cool”
Pike slid the back of his hand across his mouth, unable to shake off the fear seizing his soul. In a voice that didn’t sound like his own, he mumbled a name. “Paige…”
Crazed screaming of a desperate young man at the breaking point split the night. LaMarcus King backpedaled out of Grizzly’s, shouted into the store “Don’t try anything stupid,” and jostled his hostage forward.
Pike completed the name in a whisper. “Paige Rhodes.”
Panicked shrieks came from the gas pumps. All four doors on the Chevy opened. Paige’s friends looked on, helpless and horrified.
LaMarcus brandished his hand-cannon at the cluster of girls. “Get back in the car!”
The piercing wail of sirens drew nearer. Red and blue strobe lights bathed the area in an eerie glow. Two police cruisers bulleted into the lot and screeched to an askew stop thirty yards away.
Decision time. LaMarcus could drop the weapon and turn himself in. He could make a break for it, but he’d seen enough episodes of Cops to know he’d never get away. Or he could stand his ground and use Paige as a bargaining chip. He chose the latter. Cocking the hammer, he placed the barrel of the firearm under her chin.
She bawled, powerless against the football player towering over her.
“Is that…LaMarcus King?” Dewayne murmured disbelievingly.
Pike didn’t answer. Couldn’t make a sound. He took one tentative step forward. Stopped.
Paige was on LaMarcus’s right, dwarfed by the colossal All-State running back. Pike chewed his lip, narrowed his eyes. He could cover the distance in five seconds, six tops.
A yellow stain appeared on her white jeans.
Respectfully, Pike looked away. He recalled LaMarcus’s warning: Don’t be a hero, Pike Graves. He gave his friend a prolonged look.
And then Pike Graves ran forward.
Seconds, yet an eternity. Rapidly, yet playing out in slow motion.
Hurried footfalls had LaMarcus turn. He brought the gun around, took aim on the charging kid. Paige dived left. The girls in the lot screamed. A cop barked an order that sounded tinny and muffled.
Transforming himself into a human battering ram, Pike tucked his head into his shoulders and threw his full weight against the gargantuan chest of the gunman.
The former running back effortlessly darted left, as if avoiding a defensive lineman. But he’d lost a step since being on a gridiron.
Pike didn’t tackle him directly but made enough contact to send LaMarcus stumbling backward.
The kid who’d gone from a can’t-miss NFL career to robbing a convenience store in one short year lurched backward, did an awkward dance, tripped over a concrete parking bumper, and went down. Pike somersaulted across the pavement, came up, and regained his bearings.
He felt a rush, realizing Paige was safe. But the triumphant feeling was short-lived.
LaMarcus King convulsed once, twice, then stopped moving. A crimson puddle widening below his shattered skull.
A cop guardedly approached, crouched beside the body, and wistfully remarked, “Shit, it’s not even a real gun.”
© 2019 by Rob Silverman