Dr. Heller never mentioned his problem, but everyone at the clinic knew about it. We were shocked by how normal he acted afterwards. He didn’t even take a sick leave or anything. A couple of days after his incident, Judy decides to bring in a vase of flowers for his office, some ugly artificial thing with a heavy cluster of lilies and roses and ferns. Dr. Heller thanks her and sticks his face in them and we all laugh because we think he's fucking with us. Turns out, he thought they were real.
Judy later discovers him in his office and we can hear her screams throughout the building.
The clinic is in a state of excitement, the staff milling around. Everyone keeps saying that he was fine all morning. We keep saying, how could this have happened. We keep talking about what we could have looked for, the warning signs. We repeat how much we miss him. A get-well card circulates around the clinic and everyone signs it from their hierarchical order of importance—the surgeons, anesthesiologists, RNs, the receptionists, even the fat, ugly custodian who only creeps in after everyone leaves for the day.
We draw lots to elect a person to go visit him. Our clinic’s been a family for more than ten years and is heavily involved in each other’s lives. We take care of our own. (Only the receptionists get recycled out every so often for newer, younger candidates. We take pride in appearances here.) Also, everyone is dying for more news about the late and great doctor.
No one volunteers to go, so we draw lots. I get chosen. They all clap my back and say, sucks to suck.
He is a beautiful man. His forehead is taut, his eyes etch upwards at the corners. The sides of his nose are perfectly symmetrical lines. With a ruler, you can measure the alignment of his eyes to his ears. Even now, hunched forward with his shoulders drawn up so he looks like a turtle receding into a shell, his flesh is smooth and hard like plastic. He adjusts his position over the edge of the bench as if uncomfortable, and his hands are spread claws digging into the wood.
Smile Dr. Heller, I say and lean closer to him. I take a picture of us on my phone, me with a huge smile and Dr. Heller looking lost.
The sun is out, but it’s cold. The sunshine deceives us. We sit on a bench on the lawn. His personal caregiver is in a chair a few yards away from us and glances at us over the cover of her book.
He is wealthy enough to have escaped the indignity of sanitariums, where they throw together the psychotic and the mentally ill indiscriminately. He has that small mercy for him. His wife is filing for divorce now, I hear, and will soon have sole custody of the kids and house, a substantial fortune built upon the splicing and reconstruction of flesh. Maybe this is his punishment for tampering with natures works, sullied as they are. Maybe this is punishment for playing God.
I take his face with my hands and kiss him. I feel his perfectly sculpted lips with my tongue.
It’s ok, Dr. Heller.
You’ll get over this.
Everyone at the clinic misses you.
Remember Mrs. Lebowitz? She threw a fit when we told her you went on vacation. She says no other doctor in the city does skin as good as you.
It’s dark when I leave. The neighborhood is unsettling in its quiet, undisturbed by traffic or people. I miss the dirty mess and the noise of the city. The stars are like dim, sad echoes of the city lights.
But, if I crane my head, I can see the city lights glow like a distant fire.
“Sixteen... seventeen... eighteen,” I whispered under my breath. Locating my row, I plunked down into seat ‘B’ with a sigh and dropped my backpack onto my shoes.
“You should stow that in the overhead compartment,” said a little voice nearby, and I turned, startled, toward the occupant of seat ‘A’, whom I somehow missed noticing before. She wore a white blouse and a grey skirt that camouflaged with the seat. What sort of little girl dresses like that? I wondered. It looked like a uniform. She had a stuffed bear tucked under one arm, a stern-faced character that looked like a reproduction of an antique bear, the kind with a long, pointed snout and no fur. Its limbs were stiff and unfriendly, not at all cuddly like I thought a bear should be.
I put in an effort to smile. I’d never been comfortable around children.
“I thought I’d keep it under the seat... easier to get at,” I explained, kicking my bag under the seat in front of me.
The girl reached into the pouch in front of her and pulled out the dog-eared airline safety manual. I watched as she studied it soberly for a few minutes. She glanced up at me finally.
“It’s important to know these things.”
I nodded my agreement. “So... are you flying alone?” I asked.
“Yes. I always do.”
“You do a lot of flying then?”
She didn’t seem to want to discuss the matter further, so I gave up on the small talk and sat back in my seat, shutting my eyes until the plane started to move. For lack of anything else to do, I watched the flight attendant demonstrate the safety procedures as we began to taxi toward the runway. I took a deep breath and smiled, feeling the exciting press of force against my chest as the plane built up speed, and then lifted off. I watched out the window, over the little girl’s head, as the airport steadily shrank from sight.
“My name’s Hetty,” she said, smoothing out the wrinkles of the safety manual and tucking it back into its pocket.
“That’s an unusual name.”
“I suppose it is nowadays.”
I grinned at the girl, trying not to laugh at her. She probably had older parents, the kind that didn’t have the energy to play with her. She was a miniature grown-up.
“I’m Chris,” I offered.
“That’s a very... usual name,” she said, smiling proudly at her wit. I laughed politely and shook her hand as she offered it.
“So how old are you?” I asked.
“I don’t really keep track anymore.”
I chuckled silently. “Yeah... after six, it all becomes kind of a blur.”
Hetty folded her hands neatly in her lap, her bear still tucked under one arm. It looked out of place there, as if a mere affectation of childhood. Its black button eyes glared at me. I shivered and looked across the aisle to see who was on my other side. A sixtyish man sat alone, his hands gripping the armrests tightly. The airsick bag peeked out of the pouch in front of him, and he seemed to be staring at it with intent. I decided I was satisfied with the neighbour I had been assigned.
“So,” I began again, “flying alone isn’t scary for you? I think I would have been pretty scared, at your age.”
The corners of her mouth turned up smugly, as if at some private joke. “I’m not scared,” she said, and I knew she wasn’t lying.
Soon the flight attendants began serving drinks. The man across the aisle, now looking a bit pale and sweaty, ordered straight vodka, and his hand trembled slightly as he took it.
“And for you?”
“Would a white wine be possible?” I asked.
“Certainly.” She poured the drink, and then moved on to the girl beside me. “What would you like to drink, sweetheart?”
“Apple juice, please. No ice.”
I watched the drink as it was passed in front of me—only a shade yellower than mine. Two tiny packets of pretzel sticks were dropped onto our tray tables, and the cart moved on. I let my mind settle into a haze, slowly sipping my drink.
“Let’s trade,” Hetty said.
I nursed the small plastic cup of apple juice mindlessly for a few minutes before it occurred to me as strange. I turned to face Hetty; she sipped contentedly.
“Wait... you shouldn’t be drinking that!” I exclaimed, wondering where my head had been when I agreed to the trade. “Here, take your juice.”
She glared at me darkly and took her cup back, handing me mine. “Tasted rather cheap anyway,” she muttered. “Give me your pretzels.”
I passed her the package and finished off my drink in a few gulps.
Half an hour into the flight, the man across the aisle used his airsick bag. I tried not to stare. Hetty giggled quietly into her hand. I turned to her, shocked. She beckoned me to come close. I leaned down to let her whisper in my ear:
“That man is going to die next Thursday.”
I swallowed hard, wishing I had another drink. And what happened to my pretzels? “Why would you say a thing like that?” I finally whispered back.
“Because it’s true.”
“Yeah?” I said in a challenging tone, starting to be angry with the girl. “And when am I going to die?”
She studied me in the same serious way she had studied the safety manual. “Not for a while. I don’t know exactly. But it’ll probably be cancer.” She smiled widely at my astonishment. “Do you think I’m strange?”
“To be honest, I do.”
“You just don’t understand me yet. But you’ll get there.” She lifted up her bear in both hands to face it eye-to-eye. “Just like Teddy. He understands me. He never complains.”
“Well, your bear is a little strange too,” I muttered, closing my eyes.
I woke when the pilot announced we were about to land. Hetty pulled out a little paper bag of mints from her skirt pocket and popped one into her mouth. She offered me one and I took it, sucking hard on it and swallowing frequently to clear my ears.
The plane touched down, taxied to its gate, and then the passengers began to unstrap themselves and gather their belongings. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and shoved my way into the crowded aisle. I was faintly aware of Hetty following me as I migrated with the others toward the baggage claim. I yawned silently, watching the hypnotic procession of luggage going round and round the carousel. Finally I located my duffel bag and grabbed it before it could pass me by. I turned to leave, but Hetty stopped me.
“Wait!” she called.
“Oh... sorry,” I murmured, glancing at my watch but not really seeing the time.
Hetty seized a tiny brown suitcase and set it down on the floor, opening it up to check its contents. “You never can trust those baggage handlers,” she explained. Satisfied, she stuffed her bear into the case and latched it shut. Taking its handle with one hand and offering me the other, she stared up at me expectantly. I took her hand and we left the baggage carousel.
The man who had been sick on the plane looked at me and then at Hetty, staring at her with wide eyes. I pulled her closer to my side. She grasped my hand tighter, and we walked together toward the exit.
* * *
This was originally written c. 2007, in answer to the hypothetical question, 'What if a child abducted an adult?'
The endless city stretched far out into the night in all directions, even to the west where the sea crashed against the old shoreline. As far as he could see, the glow of spires and streetlights and landing beacons sparkled like the sands of the ancient beaches, dissipating at the edges of the horizon into a pale orange fog beyond which lay more streets and pods and people.
Keph knew, as he gazed out, that far to the north the city began to dwindle and finally sputter out into small villages and towns and then nothing but the giant redwood forests, that to the east, where the previous generations had leveled the mountains that had contained the original city, it now stretched to lay its tendrils in the vast desert, where it too fizzled out in clusters of prefabricated steel shelters and razor-wire. To the south, the city crawled along the coast, finally butting up against the Border, across which lay the lawless and ungovernable factory wastes of the maquiladoras.
He looked to the west, though, as he always did from up here, his eyes tracing the outline of the old shoreline, now mainly a giant concrete bulwark and a network of quays that jutted their grey fingers out into the sea from the Border all the way up north to the Bay. From certain of these quays, causeways and arc-bridges shot like tracers outward to the Platforms, massive squares of city built on pilings out to sea, lashed together themselves by bridges, tunnels, and skyways into another borough of the gigantic Metropole that Keph was sworn to protect.
He had been born in the west, on Platform Drake. Thirteen years ago. Now here he stood, atop the Spire, off-duty for the night, looking at his past. He didn’t need to come up here to know the layout of his city; it was all in his head, literally and figuratively. The top of the Spire was one of the highest points in this section of the city and it afforded an incredible view; it was where the Administrators often took foreigners to impress the scale of the Metropole upon them, where tourists would come to have their pictures taken.
It was the second night of his second week back on the job, after his partner Selan had been killed in the line of duty. A car-bomb in the Westwood Sector, they hadn’t timed their intervention well enough, and Selan had been torn to pieces by shrapnel and melting metal and fire, not even his bodysuit capable of shielding him from the injuries which termed him.
Inadvertently, his eye wandered over to Westwood, a smaller glimmer in the larger luminescent web of the city. It was a hotbed of terrorist activity, car-bombs being the latest rage, but over the past two years of his service, he had been there to disrupt letter-bombs, snipers, bus attacks, all manner of tricks from the urban guerilla handbook. Selan and he had often joked that they would meet their end in Westwood, but it had been a running joke even among the older generation of Disruptors; the place had been bad ever since the Day of the Hours had brought everything into being.
The night air that came in from the sea, scented faintly with gasoline, helped clear his head. It had been a routine night, hopping from hotspot to hotspot as the sun sank into the ocean, acquiring and terming targets as they came up on his display. A city of three-hundred million was bound to have its share of troublemakers, they always said, but lately, in the days before the Anniversary, there had been a severe up-tick in the number and size of terrorist cells and actions.
Just an hour before, he had been arcing through the air, running high above the streets along tramwires and scaling the walls of towers, leaping from balconies across the canyons between to land like a cat on the handrail of another across the way, pursuing his last target as he snaked his way from the Warehouses through the arroyos and the tightly-packed Wilshires to his base of operations in Orange Tower. Keph had orders only for his target and yet, he knew once the target reached Orange, and he followed him inside, he could term the entire cell. Or at least, he assumed.
He had been on the verge of bursting through the plate windows of the cell’s base, high in the Orange, when the thought struck him that Selan would never have allowed him such a rash maneuver, that he had no idea of what was behind that glass, that he could very well be outnumbered, outgunned, or outfought, and it was just that sort of lack of foresight that had gotten Selan killed in the first place.
He had held back, hanging suspended upside down from an air duct outside the cell’s front door, and as soon as the target had exited, he had dropped silently behind him and slit his throat like a ghost, dragging his body into a trash chute, unclipping the man’s bioplate before sending him hurtling down the quarter-mile long shaft into incineration.
Twelve targets assigned, twelve targets termed. Another night at the office.
In his report he had given as much detail about the cell in Orange Tower as he could recall, which was quite enough, he was sure, for them to appear on his next target list. After filing the report, he had come up here, still in his black bodysuit, sweat dried to his skin, other men’s blood dried in droplets on his face shield and chest. He hadn’t gone down to the commissary to eat, as most Disruptors did after their shift, the work burning through whatever calories they had taken in before they’d come on, hadn’t gone to showers to clean himself of the debris of the lives he had taken. He had come up to the top of the Spire.
He watched the flames of Westwood, darker swirls of orange in the phosphorescent glow of the city. He knew other Disruptors were down there right now; if he had wanted to filter sound right then, he could have heard their shouts and gunshots and the screams of terrorists dying or resisting. It was just one part of the city, one small tumor in the body of the Metropole. There were dozens of others, he knew, but this one would always be his; it had cost him his partner and friend, it was where he himself had been wounded the first time. As he remembered, his fingers absently traced the scar on his side, or rather the side of his black bodysuit under which ran the long pale scar.
Selan, he said aloud to the night. It was a violent city, a violent time in the city. Disruptors were lost every few weeks. The past month had seen seven killed; although he had not known any but Selan. Not surprising; there were thousands of Disruptors. All of them like him: boys, twelve to sixteen years old, trained from the age of three in martial arts, assassination, stealth, intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, poisoning, marksmanship, any possible art that could be twisted into lethality for the protection of the Metropole, for as the Metropole was protected, so was the greater Union. Selan had come from the north, a place called Marine City, a place he had vaguely recollected as seeing on a massive, wall sized map of the Metropole, a far-off, almost exotic district on the northern end of the Bay where, according to Selan, the Union had built a needleship port.
Keph himself had never traveled outside the Core of the Metropole; his duties kept him busy here in the deeps of the city. Some Disruptors were sent out as lightning brigades, out into the reaches of the massive sprawl, others were sent deep cover, living for years in far-flung parts of the city, waiting for the signal to dispatch their mission. Disruptors like Keph were the antibodies that kept the heart of the Metropole beating. The terrorist infection was strongest here, despite the years of open warfare waged upon them by the Disruptors and the Union’s forces.
He loved his work, he loved the Metropole. Sometimes, up here, he took in the whole vast scope of everything he could see, and knew it was all under his protection, that his work in the Core kept the rest of what he could see safe. He would look out and try to pick out Platform Drake from amongst the blinking beacons and flashing warning beams and the lights of everyday living out there in the sea, imagining he could see the very tower where he had been born and lived for his first years, before he’d been taken in by the Disruptors and made what he was.
He had not been back since he’d left, Selan had never been back to Marine City. Disruptors never went back, unless it was in the course of their work, and it was highly unusual for a Disruptor to be assigned to a sector even adjacent to where he had come from. Keph never thought of his parents and rarely of his brothers, and on the few occasions he did it was only to recognize some odd affinity with them, for he had no doubt they were Disruptors, too; or had been. They would too old now. He didn’t remember their faces.
Keph pulled back the tight hood of his bodysuit, letting the cool night air run through his thick, sweat-matted black hair. He couldn’t stay up here all night; he needed to get some rest before his next shift. The dormitories were several blocks to the east; he could leap from the observation deck of the Spire and streamline himself down, slicing the air like a knife until he caught a tram cable hanging hundreds of feet above the streets, running along the thick wire until he came to a building‘s outstretched docking quay or slip onto the roof of a passing shuttlecar, pinballing his way east and down, or spring outward as far as his strong legs would propel him and flit across the narrow space that separated tower and spires in the Core and latch himself onto the face of the facing tower across the way and slither down to the ground. All of which would be faster than turning around and taking the elevator down.
He hated walking the streets; his black bodysuit marked him as a Disruptor, and most people respected and feared Disruptors in near-equal measure. He liked keeping to his own kind, other Disruptors. Even when off-duty, they all tended to stay within the Compound, which was itself a sort of self-sufficient enclave that could sustain them all indefinitely. A ziggurat several city blocks wide at its base, it tapered in steps upward; it was not the tallest structure in the sector, not even close, but it was the most awesome. It felt, even to Keph, who lived there, that it was made from pure power. The thick walls and watchtowers bristled with weaponry and satellite dishes and arrays, the blank faces of the layered pyramid made of steel disguised as stone. It was said to delve as far beneath the ground as it did above, and more than one Administrator had bragged that it could withstand any assault, even thermo.
He couldn’t stay out here all night, but he wanted to. Tonight, he didn’t want to go back to the dorms. He was back at work now, had been for a week, Selan was still dead and he was here. He had rarely come up here while Selan was alive, but since he’d been back from leave, he’d been up here almost every night after his shifts. What he was looking for up here, if anything, he couldn’t have said. There was a peace here, though, that there was nowhere else in the city, not even at the old seashore, where he had sometimes gone with Selan after hours, had their targets been in the area.
The Interpreters had sent their reports early in the afternoon, to Selan’s and his targeting queues. The car was parked in the underground of a commercial development along Galvez Avenue, and there was enough explosives inside it to collapse the garage and probably injure the structural integrity of the building itself. There was a timer, set three hours and some minutes from then. Off they had gone, as the sun had dipped behind the tallest towers, giving enough shadow for them to move freely in.
The commercial structure was non-descript, one of thousands of such buildings along the streets of the Core. Several blocks out, they descended into the underground, moving through pipes and conduits toward the development’s own garage, finally emerging from a grate in the floor. Waiting, silent, unmoving, they coordinated and synchronized their plan: Selan would go and defuse the bomb, Keph would move through the garage, terming who needed to be termed, moving to safety anyone who was in danger, keeping their way of exit clear, doing all the unglamorous work that went into getting them out alive.
Selan had crept like a living shadow through the dim of the garage, slithering snakelike between parked vehicles, staying in the shadows, even sliding beneath them until he reached the target car. Keph watched him from his hiding place, as always transfixed by the way Selan moved, like liquid blackness. He watched as his partner slid his body beneath the target car. The plan was for Selan to cut the wires of the bomb, eliminating the prospect of a detonation, but something must have gone wrong. The Interpreters’ report had indicated a wire-type bomb, one which could be interrupted by just the maneuver they had planned. But something was not right. In his earpiece, he heard Selan whisper. It’s not a wire-bomb, he had said. It’s touch-trigger.
Touch-trigger. Far more dangerous to work through. It would take longer than they had planned, maybe even longer than they had. Keph checked his synchrometer; the bomb had seven minutes left before it went. He knew Selan was working in a confined space, doing something he had not planned on doing. But, like all Disruptors, he had been trained in such eventualities. He heard Selan’s breath in his earpiece, heard the faint metallic clicks of his tools tapping lightly against the bomb.
At two minutes remaining, Selan’s voice had sizzled into his earpiece again, breaking the tense silence. Keph had emerged from hiding, creeping now through the dimly-lit garage, peering for any signs of movement, although there were none. They had not expected the terrorists to come down and view the bomb going off in person. Keph was scouting for cover when he heard Selan. It’s taking too long, his partner said. There’s too much left to do.
Keph started toward the car, but stopped. Get behind something, Selan said in his ear, and Keph had turned and run as fast as he could up the long ramps of the garage. Into a duct, up and over pipes, finally crashing into the backroom of one of the commercial shops, he burst through the door, shouting at the startled onlookers to evacuate the place immediately. They knew who he was and .what it meant, and they were gone almost before he had finished yelling. He went from shop to shop, but the words had traveled and people were scattering.
Long after the time it seemed like it should have taken, he felt the building shake and rattle, the floor below his feet rolling like a wave. He kept his balance and ducked out of the way of a sheet of glass that had come loose and fallen from an upper storey, grabbing a young woman as he did and tossing her out of the way. Alarms rang loudly and water began to spray from the ceiling, and people continued to flee all around him. He yelled at some, directing them to safer places, leading some outside. Somewhere in him, he knew Selan was dead, but he also knew that somehow he had succeeded, for this entire building should have collapsed around him.
He’d gone back to the Compound by foot, flanked part of the way by a crowd of terrified survivors who peeled away the closer he got to the ziggurat. Going the other way, a Forensic team passed him to assess what had happened, what had gone wrong. One of them nodded to him as they passed, but Keph had glazed over, barely even seeing the tall, white-clad Interpreter in their midst, barely registering the stricken look on his strange, elongated face.
As required, he’d been assigned to a week of leave, but he had gone stir-crazy staying in the dorms. He’d tried going out once or twice in civilian clothes, but he didn’t know how to act like one, and found himself on perpetual alert as he walked the congested streets of the Core, nearly having a panic attack in the throngs the moved in Pershing Plaza.
So he’d come to the Spire on his first night back, the totality of the Metropole spread out before him, to the edges of the world. Three-hundred million people were down there, counting on him to protect them. It was the largest city in the history of the world, it was the jewel in the crown of the Union, the capital of an entirely new system that had swept out the old classes and strata and conflict in a wave of blood and horror. It was a city devoid of history because it encompassed everything new.
Somewhere, far below him, he heard a gunshot, or an old-style car backfiring. His body tensed, his enhancements tingling. He forced himself to relax. He was off-duty, he told himself, although even the greenest Disruptor knew he was never truly off. He missed Selan, he missed having a partner; he’d worked solo since he’d been back, as was often the case for those just off leave. And the worst part was, was that he liked it, he liked working alone. Selan and he had been partners for nearly two years, almost since his induction into the Disruptors. They had become friends, not uncommonly, and he had loved him like a brother. His death had been unnecessary, an error in Interpretation, but there was some part of it that made the whole not so painful: he had done something right. The building had not fallen down, thousands had not died. In fact, Selan had been the only fatality of the car-bomb.
Three days later, he had been out on the streets, wearing a sweatshirt with a hood up over his head, because he felt naked with his head exposed, and tight jeans and boots, crossing Las Palmas, weaving between rickshaws and bike and rattling old-styles, his head down, carefully watching where he was going. At the very edge of the kerb, he glanced up and saw a girl staring at him. It was the girl he had tossed from the path of the falling glass in the shops. She recognized him, somehow. He froze, she froze. An old-style honked at him like a dying goose; it was trying to make a turn and he had halted before sidewalk began. He stepped up and the girl unfroze, her eyes wide and her lips quivering.
He wanted to run, but she was there standing before him in what seemed an instant. She was older than he was, maybe seventeen. He noticed she had freckles spangling the bridge of her nose and a little scar on her forehead, and again his fingers went toward his side before he knew they were moving and he had to force himself to stop them.
You, she had said, her voice almost lost in the racket of the city. He had a cut on his chin, he knew, something had caught him across the face in shops, but he didn’t remember anything about it, but right then it was all he could think of, my chin is cut, my chin.
What were the odds, he wondered later, after they had parted and he had eventually doubled back toward the Compound, ducking into the underground tunnel to get out of the daylight. What were the odds we would meet like that?
You, she had said, and he had said, Me.
They had been still and silent for what seemed an hour before she reached out and touched his chin, the cut on his chin. He flinched, but not from any pain. A man on a motorized bicycle careened past them, cursing them out for just standing on the sidewalk, leaving behind him a foul stink of diesel. A woman with a cart of pale green vegetables wandered past, half-heartedly calling out in Mandarin. Overhead, shuttle cars and trams rattled, popped and zipped. This city is alive, he thought, strangely, it never stops.
He had reached up and taken her fingertips from his chin, wrapped his own lightly around hers and pulled her hand away, as though his face was something she should know better than to touch. He let it go and stepped to the side, ready to sprint away from her. She half-turned but seemed to sense he was almost gone. She said something, but this time it was consumed by the noises around them and then he was off, running faster than anyone ever could have run, dodging and weaving between people until he threw himself down the gullet of the tunnel entrance.
Up here, he thought of Selan and the girl in almost equal measure now. At first of course, it was Selan, but little by little the girl had crept into his thoughts. He knew nothing of her and did not want to, she was part of the city, part of the work he did. But something about how she had reached out and touched his chin, something about taking her fingertips in his own, had placed her in his mind alongside his best friend.
He let the night wind unstick his hair from itself, from his forehead. His hands gripped the cold metal of the handrails and he felt the chill move up his forearms. His internal synchrometer told him he had four hours before sunlight, when he would be required to return to the Compound. He needed food. He needed to rest and let his body recover from the night’s work. Every night was a punishment to the body, to the mind, every Disruptor knew it, and also knew that maintaining the self was the primary line of defense. He was risking his very effectiveness by being up here and not in bed asleep.
A minute longer, he told himself. Keph closed his eyes and the city disappeared, although the pinpricks of its light still imprinted themselves on his eyelids. He took in a deep breath, smelling the salt air and the gasoline and the human throng below. He held the breath for one minute, then two, then three, finally letting it out in a slow, controlled rush. With a quick, fluid motion, he leapt onto the handrail, perfectly balancing himself. He looked out at the tower across from the Spire; an easy leap. He wanted something hard. He looked down. His eye picked out the silver thread of a tram cable, several hundred feet down and still several hundred above the street.
Keph let himself tumble forward, rolling in the air into a swan dive, hands outstretched, wishing he’d pulled his hood back up as the air tore at his face and hair and the hood flapping behind sounding like an attack of birds. In his peripheral vision, he was shining glass swimming up in sheets of glowing light as the towers on all sides rushed past him as he fell. His body screamed through the air, he was gaining speed, he had streamlined himself into a javelin, and the cable was coming up fast.
The cable would be slick from the oil that the tram cars used to grease their way, and as he fell he keyed through his bodysuit a new polymer surface for the palms of his gloves to reduce the slip, to gain him some traction. He was falling fast. The wind whistled in his naked ears, the sensation so foreign it was like he had never done this before, although he had, hundreds of times. He felt the air rushing over and around him like water, like a blanket, like the caress of a lover’s hand, or a lover’s body against him. He kept his lips sealed tight, although the whole thing made him want to smile.
A jolt like a frozen knife juddered up his arms as his palms crashed into the cable and his fingers instantly gripped the thick woven-metal strands. He jackknifed and swung around and around several times, controlling his momentum and letting it dissipate until finally he hung above Chavez Parkway, looking down on the rooftops of old-styles, omnis, the odd low-flying shuttlecar. He hauled his lower half up and crouched on the cable. The wind sent vibrations along the wire and he felt them from his feet to his groin. This cable held the Yellow Line, and he knew the next was due in three minutes fourteen seconds.
He scuttered along the wire like a cat, running on all fours to the nearest pylon, wrapping his legs around the cable as he reached out for the nearest rung on the ladder leading down. Fingers latched on, he unfolded his legs and let his lower half swing against the pylon. The rungs were spaced too far apart for a boy of his stature, perhaps to thwart vandals. Instead, they were a twice his size apart. From the ledge of each rung he had to let go and drop his own length down to the next rung. This he did some fifteen or so times before he reached the station platform.
At this hour of the night, there were few commuters, just a handful of late-shifters milling on the scorched, unadorned steel of the high-perched Red Line platform. The Red and Yellow ran parallel, at different heights, across most of the Core. They all looked up at him as he dropped like a feather into their fringe, pulling up his hood as he landed. One or two backed away.
One of them was an old man, probably in his sixties, a rare sight at this time of night. Keph stood in the shadow cast by the pylon, while the others were washed in the pale orange of the platform’s floodlights. The old man kept his eye on Keph, and eventually approached him.
Keph was on alert; even the elderly could be terrorists, he knew, remembering the Pavilion Hotel Incident. His body was ready to spring at the least sign of danger, but he held himself like a statue, calmly watching the approach of the old man until finally he stood just out of Keph’s reach.
Far down the line, Keph could hear the rattle of the oncoming tramcar, and saw from the corners of his eyes the others shuffling forward. He waited for the old man to do something. The squeal of the tramcar’s brakes sliced the night, and he automatically dampened the sound through his earpiece. From the shadows, his eyes watched the old man, who stared back at him, hands tucked into the pockets of his coat.
Finally, the tram squealed up to the platform, a brief blistering of sparks and a rush of air. The doors clanged open but no one got off. Quickly, the others went in, but the old man stood motionless, waiting it seemed for the next tram.
“You’ll miss your tram, sir,” Keph finally said from the darkness.
The old man started, as though he had not expected that Keph could speak. From inside the tram came the low, insistent burping of noise that indicated the doors would close and the tram depart in seconds. A hiss of air and then Keph saw the tram doors behind the old man sink back into their tracks. Just then, the old man pulled his hand from his pocket so quickly that Keph darted to the side into a crouch, to avoid whatever attack the old man had initiated. He was about to spring onto the old man, when he realized he was gone, dashing past the closing doors of the tram just as they slid shut and the car began to roll away toward Vaquero Square.
Keph stood, adrenaline rushing through him, wondering what the hell he had just seen. No old man he had ever seen could have moved like that. He watched the tram disappear along the wire and in the blowback kicked up by its departure, he saw something on the ground where the old man had stood.
Bending down, he saw it was a data card, a small rectangle of robin’s-egg blue, perforated by tinier rectangles and dots. With his gloved hand, he picked it up and turned it over; there was nothing unusual about it, no strange markings. But one thing was certain: it had not been there when he had landed on the platform. The old man had dropped it before he’d rushed to the tram. On purpose? Keph zipped the card into his side pocket and glanced around the platform for any other suspicious sign.
There was nothing. Nothing but the blue data card. Keph called up the man’s face in his memory and committed his description into voice/text. Then, with a deep breath, he ran to the edge of the platform and jumped into the tram cable, running along it as though it were a broad avenue, sprinting.
The brisk night wind cut through the tall pines, whistling the haunting call of this lonely harsh environment,— deep in Alaska’s interior. Trees cracked and groaned under the stress as the relentless song wavered up and down its random melody, with each gust followed by a subtle lull in nature’s remote symphony.
Joshua pulled an oiled leather glove from his right hand and unbuttoned a deep pocket pouch to retrieve a piece of dried moose jerky as he studied the cloudy sky. Tonight’s storm would dump a few more inches of dry powder and possibly make travel even more difficult as he chewed the tough spiced foodstuffs. It was time for him to make a decision.
The restless pack of sled dogs whimpered and whined at the unwanted pause as Joshua replaced his glove, but continued to gnaw on the meat, unconcerned at his animal’s anticipation. They had been acting unusual for the last couple of hours, but the man guessed they knew they were almost home. He was a day ahead of schedule as this week’s hunt proved less than successful, but he was in no hurry to return empty handed. He considered heading to a small lake just a little north of his position as an icy breeze cut through his leather parka around his unbuttoned neck strap. Shifting his hand to fix the nuisance the lead dog began to bark defensively at something to the right, followed by the entire pack voicing defiance. Joshua pulled his rifle from its boot and cocked the weapon. He had run across Kodiaks before, but in the past, they had never made a direct confrontation with a pack of sled dogs putting up such a fuss.
Squinting he tried to see the antagonist, but could discern nothing when an unusual roar erupted from his left. Turning at the new disturbance, Joshua raised his rifle and fired at the sound hoping to scare the intruders away; but a screaming howl resounded behind him and the man knew he was surrounded by something out of his experience. Re-cocking the repeater, he then placed his left hand on the sled and yelled, “Mush!”
The lead dog spurred to the command and the sled charged forward as Joshua ran for a short spurt then stepped onto the back while looking behind. To his chagrin he could see three dark shadows moving through the trees behind and too the side of him. It was too dark to determine what the animals where, but the gait of the foremost creature didn’t appear to be a bear. Besides, bears don’t normally travel and hunt in packs.
“Mush!” The man shouted again as he hopped off the back of the sled and ran to quicken the pace.
Joshua again looked back. The lead creature behind was keeping pace.
“What the hell?” Joshua barked as he hopped again to his ride, and looked back. “The damn things are playing with me.”
The man slid his rifle back in its boot, pulled a side arm from his belt, and aimed at the foremost creature. The pistol fired: once, twice, three time at his antagonists; but the motion of the sled defied accuracy and the noise had no effect. Joshua cursed and holstered the weapon.
Breaking through the woods the trail left the trees and continued out over a white blanket of icy tundra. The minimal light of the night sky reflected of the crystalline landscape and removed some of the barriers to sight as the man looked again over his shoulder while running behind the sled. To his amazement, they appeared to be cats,— huge cats — as large as a bear.
I thought tigers roamed the Siberian north,— not here:— “Not in Alaska.” Did tigers hunt in packs? He considered the thought. Could they have migrated here? Joshua gave a desperate look over his shoulder as the sled topped a tall drift. His adversaries appeared to be following at a leisurely pace, not gaining nor falling behind. They were just going to exhaust their quarry then attack. He had seen wolves use the same approach often when hunting caribou. A pack would separate an old or sick animal, and then take turns chasing it until it was exhausted.
The sled went airborne at the pinnacle of a drift and flopped with a muffled thud in the powder under the frozen wave, like a boat cresting a white top on a stormy sea. Joshua jumped off the back and dragged his feet to keep from going over the dogs bogged down in the soft drift. Turning the sled the man called to the team and began a course parallel with the tree line. The dogs were unnervingly quite as they followed the lead dog almost as if in fear of their plight.
Joshua pulled his knife and slit the ropes holding his cargo, consisting of skins from the week’s trapping and foodstuffs. The hindquarters of a young caribou shot earlier in the week to feed the team rolled from the sled; it came to rest as the dogs with renewed energy pulled free of the soft drift, and jerked the sled to even greater speed. Joshua again looked behind as he increased his distanced from the contoured wind swept hill.
“If you’re just hungry try some caribou!” He shouted back at his antagonist; but to his chagrin, the lead cat ran right by the cache. “What the hell?” For the first time in his life, Joshua was fearful he was going to die. Animals hunt for food and he had, in essence, just dropped dinner in their laps; but apparently, they were more interested in desert. The more he thought about it the less he like the thought of, Joshua kibble on the damned tabbys' food buffet. "You're going to have to work for it!"—— “Mush!”
The wind picked up on the open terrain and Joshua knew out in the open the pack behind would eventually wear his team down then attack. "Shit!"— Out running them bitches is going to be a problem; as they matched his progress in a steady pace over the miles of tundra and the intermitted powder, dropped in pockets by the wind, which bogged down the sled and the dogs for short intervals allowing his adversaries small gains.
The cats bounded over the soft drifts with ease. Ahead and to the left, the dark shadows of a northern tree line broke the endless field of white and marked the borders of a large river twenty miles southwest from Joshua’s cabin. He was five miles off course from home and thirty miles from a small village and trading post to the northwest where he did most of his trade. The river would be heavily ice this time of year and more than likely, wind swept,— making travel easier; but the dogs would need to stop for a rest long before he could reach the village. His cabin was closer, but the terrain would be more difficult. Joshua made a life and death decision as he veered the team west,— heading for the river.
Danger (one of my first pieces ever, 2008)
My heart was hammering. At any moment it would rip right out of my chest. I was trying to ignore the sick feeling that was building in the pit of my stomach. It was hard, but not impossible. I focused on counted the steps as I took them…”105, 106, 107.” Each step I took carried me further away from the horrific accident. All I wanted to do was forget everything that happened today. No, not forget, I want to never have happened in the first place.
A high pitched shriek from somewhere above, pulled my thoughts back to the present day. I looked up to find the owner of the voice but all I could see was dense leafy greens that made up the amazon jungle. This made me nervous. Was that a warning call for some hidden danger? Ha! Danger. After today, I can face anything.
My foot caught on an exposed root and I hit the ground with a thud. Pain exploded from my right ankle. I instinctively pulled my leg as close to my body as I could. “Great!” A broken ankle was all I needed right now! As if being lost in the jungle by myself wasn’t hard enough. After all I’ve lived through today, I was going to die from a broken ankle. How pathetic. I wonder what people back home would think.
My fingers glide smoothly across the cold ivory keys, finding comfort and solace in the only object I can touch with passion. The musical melody reaches my ears, but my mind is already lost inside of itself. The swift notes come out of my piano's innards, their colors swirl out giving the breath of vibrancy inside a pitch black room. They surround me in their lustful fragrance, wiping away my tears of frustration and making my lips part into a sad smile. The colors blind me as my fingers swoop faster; up and down my painter's palette. Harmonies and chords intertwine, creating my perfect lover.
Her eyes, the color of a blood red rose entrance me, her arms taking me in their bright embrace. Those warm seductive lips caress my cheek, my forehead, but it is when they touch my lips that I react. Breathlessness evades my whole being, my heart beating frantically to the rhythm of the musical spell I have cast upon myself. I shut my eyes tightly, trying to control my breathing.
I know where this leads and it is not pleasurable. The small sense of familiarity is enough to bring me over the edge. I feel the blood running through my veins heat, bringing sensual warmth to my face. My breath comes in short hot gasps, I feel the sense of weightlessness flood me, the colors disappearing as I collapse, fall into myself. I forget everything for a moment as I plummet through miles and miles of loneliness. A sudden stop. I stand up slowly before opening my eyes.
Everything looks familiar, yet at the same time so different. Blackness stretches out in all directions, a cold amber light illuminating the nothingness. I see a silhouette in the distance, soles clicking against nonexistent tiles as it walks toward me.
I could see his face, yet I could not. He was me, and it is impossible to gaze upon myself. Eyes glittered devilishly, bright, confident in his, MY own power. Lips curve up into a challenging smile, uttering in a clear, confident voice.
"Oh my. We can't keep going on like this. You're a mess. Is that the way you want to find a pair of lips, a world to conquer, and bonds that will never tear?"
Eyes look down into the darkness, the hazy amber light entrancing into the spine, making the nervous system spasm in pleasure as if met by beauty. Lips open, a new voice, melancholy harmonizing with the new tone.
"Barely. I am still walking through a path. A blind path. Surely this is the best way to not hurt at all, to forget her eyes, to create my own divine?"
Useless, her face lights up the world around through a sensuous flicker. Blue eyes pierce, cinnamon skin tears, a crystalline voice brings a tiny stab of despair.
Eros' passion drapes warmly over sweet melancholy. Primordial instincts tinge the blackness a boiling scarlet, a blood rose's scent reaching nostrils. Devilish glitter comes back, a hand smooths hair covering the shy mirror back, gallantness inside gestures articulate.
"A small seed flies in the breeze, mindless, with no direction. It is at mercy with the mild wind," Lips are licked as eyes look longingly upwards, "It blooms in life's intersection, warmth of the sun finally making it blossom. Longingly, it tries to reach up through blissful rays. Sweetheart, can't you feel the buzz run through your veins?"
Curving lines, their origins rooted inside the epicurean, beautifying. Soft rose petals hiding the beauty of lustrous pearls. An aroma of vanilla wafts through, breathing life into the canvas of God's most beautiful inception. Wisps of hair fall back, hiding dull eyes. Voice is lost as it tries to slither through blocked vocal chords. Thoughts charged with evasive circumvention fire out of the mind into this world, a frantic fusillading arpeggio.
"Cordial, gracious, diversive, social; I can't understand. I can't rush through and make a fool." Realization comes, dexterity lost. "I never dealt with exclusion. The potentiality is not welcomed in. It frightens, the possibility of turndowns. Eros, fear deafens me to your airy tune."
The image inflates in a steady crescendo. She is the Goddess. Worshiping for years through the windows of visual orbs her steps. A sharp slap interrupts rhythm, orange pain lightning tinging black velvet for a split moment.
"Release the blindfold on yourself, foolish Metus. Atheism is the cure to your Goddess. A single drop of perspiration released into the ocean will only be recognized by the sufferer, even then, it is lost even to those pair of eyes. You will never know the elucidation to your caress, the echo to your furtherance, the backlash to the taste of our lips. Missing abounding events that can be created through the musical instrument given by Nature Herself. The future will no longer have its bright occurrences and wanton expressions."
The seductive voice filled the ambience with warmth, making blood running through veins sizzle. Each word made the portrait shrink, making it become a statuette. The form walked over, brushing my skin ever so slightly. Eyes forced themselves to look up into the deep pools of cerulean. The familiar sense of words being caught in the throat appeared, but Eros, the talented tongue user, was the crucial crutch in this new action. I felt control over my whole self now, sapphire and cherry infusing into a whole being of harmonious lavender. I looked into those eyes, her scent intoxicating in my nostrils. My lips parted, fighting back the strong impulse to lower my face, to let my throat be choked off.
"Excuse me, haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
The first word was enough to shatter my shell. It plunged like a stone into the atmosphere, disrupting the statuette and my whole consciousness. The piano's notes were caressing my ears now, my fingers in turn dancing and twirling over the keys. My lips stretched into a smile as I finished in a small flourish. There was another musical instrument I had to master if I wanted to keep playing the melody that is life. One instrument I had been neglecting since I was a child.
I got off the small bench and settled into my bed, closing my eyes. My lips parted, speaking in Eros' clear, confident voice.
I see her everyday on the train to school. Her long auburn hair curtains her in all her perfection. I always catch myself staring at her, but as soon as those eyes meet mine, I pretend to be looking into the distance, lost in whatever music my headphones are playing. She must love books, I always see her reading one with a contented smile. I relax, letting those eyes meet mine. As soon as they do, I smile at them contentedly. To my surprise, she smiled back for a few seconds that passed by in slow motion before going back to her book. Sighing softly, I cranked up the volume to the Melody I was playing last night and relaxed against the train's soft seats.
The train hissed to stop and I picked up my schoolbag, wading through the crowd towards the station's exit. A familiar scent hit my nose and I looked to the side, lowering my headphones to my neck.
"Excuse me, haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
She stops and looks at me with a puzzled look. I fight back the choking feeling and force myself to smile apologetically, my hand instinctively ruffling through my hair.
"You know... besides the train."
Her laugh, a beautiful song I had never heard up close at such an astonishing quality made its appearance. She breaks out into her adorable smile.
"Yeah. I go to HCA High too. I don't think I've ever seen you around though."
My finger reaches up to touch the school ID hanging from my bag's strap.
"Yeah, I'm almost always in the library." I roll my eyes sarcastically. "The perfect definition of fun."
She laughs again, her hand reaching up to play with her hair. I smile again.
"What's your name?"
"Kevin. What group you in?"
"I'm in 10-F."
"No way! You're in the same grade as me! I had you figured out to at least be a freshman."
"Oh, shut up. You don't look too mature yourself."
The two of us kept walking in stride, her eyes sparkling whenever they met mine. How is this even possible?
Eros' laugh rang deep in my head. I couldn't help but answer that entertained chuckle.
We get along well, huh? Talking isn't so hard after all. I should let you do this more often.
His clear voice rang sharply, making me inwardly flinch.
You idiot, I am you. You just got out of that shell for something that's actually interesting.
Krystal smiled, handing me her number, waved, and walked away to her home room, the class bell ringing.
This school year is going to be interesting.
“Alex, for Chrissakes, move your elbow. God, you eat like a pig.”
Alex turned to his partner, his face full of pizza. Tiny dregs of pepperoni and cheese lay scattered down his uniform like ghostly remnants of confetti. “What? You wanna slice?”
“Nope, Sally made me a sandwich. I already told you.” Eric pulled out the brown paper bag containing his dinner. He opened the bag and looked at the salad and tuna sandwich glumly for a few minutes, then he glanced at the remaining slice of pizza sitting greasily on Alex’s lap. He suddenly had no appetite at all. He screwed up the brown bag carefully, mindful of any crumbs. He wound down the window to heft the rubbish towards the bin at the side of the car. Missed. Grumbling, Alex opened the door and went to retrieve the bag before picking it up and dropping it into the bin. A light mist was falling and the street lights glowed dimly through the shroud of drizzle. He shivered and turned the collar of his uniform up a little. He glanced towards the building. The doors were firmly closed and the curtains were drawn.
“Here, throw this out for me, will ya?” Alex was leaning out the car window, the empty pizza box in his hand.
As Eric got back into the car and pulled the door closed Alex burped and farted simultaneously, loudly and fragrantly. Eric grimaced. Oblivious to his companion’s distaste, Alex took the sheaf of documents from the dashboard and flicked through the papers. He hummed under his breath. Eric watched as Alex's greasy fingers left orange-colored stains on the pages.
“She’s a bit of a looker,” Alex commented. He was staring at the page printed with an image of Krystal Lee, tonight’s assignment. “I wouldn’t mind introducing her to a bit of corruption and debauchery myself.”
“Chrissake Alex, she’s seventeen years old. Get your mind out of your pants. We have a job to do. It has to be done efficiently and effectively. No room for error or diversions. And pass me the air freshener. The car reeks of pizza and stomach contents. It's making me feel ill.” Eric bent his head to peer through the window at the building they were watching. “No sign of any movement in there.”
Alex yawned widely, the action exaggerated. “God it’s boring, all this waiting. Why do we need two of us anyway?” He squirted a few sprays of Nil-Odor towards the dashboard, the droplets hanging in the air for a moment before settling on the faux leather trim.
Eric sighed. He picked up his hat from the back seat and placed it on his head. He checked his reflection in the rear vision mirror. “It's a safety factor. I’ve already explained. If it’s too boring for you, you don’t have to come out again. I can find myself another partner.”
Alex turned the rear vision mirror towards himself to pick at a piece of pepperoni caught between his teeth. "Nah, it’s alright. I can do with the extra dollars.”
Eric glanced at the time and picked up his phone. He scrolled through the list to find the contact and texted a message: “Due to enter building to collect Krystal Lee. Thank you for choosing Eric’s Professional Taxi Services, the secure personal collection and superior safety transport service for your teenage son or daughter.”
“Pass me Krystal’s photo, Alex. I’ll never find her among all those giggling teenagers otherwise. Back in a minute. And put your hat on. This is a professional organization.”
The Murder of Madison Autumn Powell
The curtains open to a young couple in a dark bedroom of a two-story Oklahoma apartment. The girl, a British sixteen year-old named Susanna, sobs on the floor next to the bed. The boy, a tall slender sixteen year old named Tyler, paces the floor nervously. Around them, the room is in array. There are books and clothes thrown everywhere all doused in a thick layer of blood. Tyler turns to talk to his crying girlfriend, careful not to be loud enough to awaken his sisters sleeping the other room.
Tyler: (angrily) Are you satisfied yet?
Susanna looks up into his angry, stone cold eyes.
Susanna: What? What are you talking about?
Tyler kicks a bloody purse that smacks into the wall. He curses again and turns back to his girlfriend.
Tyler: You know what I’m talking about. Are you satisfied yet?
Susanna: No I don’t. What the hell are you talking about?
Tyler: You wanted her gone, and well, now she’s gone.
Susanna: (shouting) This isn’t what I asked for! I said humiliate her. Pull her pants down. Trip her. Push her into the hottest guy as hard as you can. Not this!
Tyler: What the hell were you trying to gain from this? You and I both know that people are going to find out. I don’t want to go to jail for you!
Before Susanna could answer, there was a tiny knock at the door. Tyler flung it open to see his younger sisters, Emily and Angelina, standing at the door. Emily held Angelina’s hand and cradled a bunny in her hand. Both the girls had wet eyes.
Emily: Ty, can you read us a story? We can’t sleep no more. There’s too much yelling going on.
Angelina: (Nodding) Yes, please.
Susanna: You should go, Tyler.
Tyler: (picking Emily up) Come on, girls. Let's go. You wanna hear Rapunzel again?
Tyler takes his sisters into another room down the hall. The door closes behind them. As soon as they are gone, Susanna drops to her knees and lifts up the blanket. Under the bed lies a girl who has been beaten to death. Susanna smiles and covers her back up.
The Volunteer Leech (circa 2002)
Consider the following quote: “The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry.” Now, what does a leech do? It latches on to someone and demands more and more blood, never giving anything in return. Sometimes we view service like this, that there are all sorts of organizations and people that demand our money, our abilities and our time. It seems they only want to use us to further their own goals, to suck us dry and not offer anything in return.
Yet sometimes we put up with this. We give of ourselves because we’re expected to, or it’s our duty, or it looks good on a college application. Maybe we feel guilty, or find these incessant demands so annoying that we give to get the leeches off our backs. In each of these situations, we serve because we feel that what we get out of it makes up for what we have to put in. With this attitude, both parties act only for their own benefit, and the leech is never satisfied. This is not a productive arrangement. This is not true service.
When we use our time, skills and money for others because we want to and not because we have to, that is genuine service. We see someone in need and we truly care about them, and then we act on that concern. This type of service does not leave us feeling hollow or used, but gives us a sense of fulfillment. Two people may do the same act, but it is the motive behind the action that separates emptiness from fulfillment, false service from true.
How do we generate that desire to help others? Well, that’s the trick now, isn’t it?
Barney K. Jackass, Sr.
Granted, I'm not a morning person and I don't appreciate sounds of nature at 5 a.m. On the other hand, my wife could be mother natures poster child, hands down. Nicky's morning soap opera, turned yoga routine makes me a tad bit sick. I'm not knocking it. It's a woman thing and Nicky is most definitely a woman. I try not to badmouth my wife's transcendental meditation or pooh-poo her activities.
Just try waking up at 5 a.m. to the sounds of your mother-in-law gargling and I think you'll understand. "Barney," she says, "Could you please be a doll and drop my slacks off at the cleaners on your way to work? You know how I hate looking wrinkled when it's ladies night out. I simply cannot imagine what Thelma and Pratchett would think."
I suspect very little words would leave the ladies mouths. For one thing, Thelma is known for forgetting to wear her glasses and turning her hearing aid off. Pratchett? Well, let's just say that Pratchett is a mere personality or two short from being Sybil Dorsett, the famed mental case who was treated by the famed Dr. Cornelia Wilbur.
In fact, all ten of the ladies in Priscilla's book club\therapy group are bits and pieces of
people I hate. Ma-Law says, "Barney, you are so negative." OK, I'll bite. At age-67, living as the only man in a house of eight women and fifteen cats, I could write a book on the subject. The title would be, "Why I Sneak out Of the House and Go to the Bar" by
Barney K. Jackass, Sr.
Nicky and I met in 1968 when we were flower children. I deflowered her and we had three little darling children together. The oldest, our son Barney K. Jackass, Jr. is sitting in the penitentiary right now. What was his crime? He liked to smoke marijuana, "Mary Jane," and his life went up in smoke. The cop working the beat didn't take too kindly to my boy. Barney Jr., a then 20-year old, was caught stealing five boxes of Cracker Jacks from the friendly Piggly Wiggly store. He was apprehended and the cops found drugs on his person. Not only that, Jackass Jr. was driving a stolen vehicle.
I said it to Nicky a million and one times. I said, "Honey, that boy is headed for trouble in his life." Our son learned how to say the word "No' long before he learned how to say,
"Yes." I remember my son's childhood as though it were yesterday.
"Barney, Jr., you clean up your room. It's a mess."
"Barney, Jr., you get back here. I'm not done talking to you."
"Barney, Jr., we know you're stoned. Hand over the drugs."
"Barney, Jr., did you keep your appointment with the guidance counselor?
Our two girls, Linda and Lisa, (the two L's) have turned into Linda, the loud mouthed lawyer and Lisa, the in-your-face- big city dentist. One studied the law and became an almost well paid prosecutor. The other went on to study tooth and teeth, inventing a
mouth wash. Lisa is our family dentist now. Linda, on the other hand, will never be hired by a Jackass. She, in turn, has made it clear that she will never legally represent any member of her Jackass family. Not even Barney Jr.
I wonder if you're wondering who the eight women I live with might be: Meet Nicky, the wife, and her BFF, Nancy. Also meet, my mother-in-law, Priscilla, and her two darling girls, Amanda and Kelly. Then there is Kelly's friend, Sara, and Sara's godmother, Jill. Last but not least, Miss Flora rents a room a room with us. She is my mother-in-laws hairdresser.
It's not like I come home from work the way Ward Cleaver from "Leave it to Beaver" comes home. "Honey, I'm home" isn't a necessary utter. No one cares. It's more like, "Honey, I'm home and now I'm going back out." This explains it in a nutshell, why
I titled the first chapter of my book, "I Desperately Need a Drink and I Deliberately Forgot to Bring Milk for the Cats And Kittens."
"Go to Piggly Wiggly and pick up that half gallon of milk," my wife commands.
Oreo and Milkshake, the two blue eyed Himalayan cats are Persian fat Mama's that care. The more dominant cats, Charlie and Angel, are Somalis and Siamese. Charlie tolerates me and Angel wishes very bad things to happen to Barney K. Jackass, Sr.
The two rexes, four ocicats, and five Abyssinian cats aren't much fun, either. Every single one of our kittens and cats have "issues." Not only that, they are all milk addicts that go to any length to supply their need.
"I'll get the dam milk but it might take awhile." I say to Nicky.
Which brings me to why I'm sitting in a bar right now, nursing a beer. It's not easy being a Jackass.