Squirrel Magic

 

Squirrel 3

The mushrooms kicked in slow and steady. The room breathed in synchronicity with the wind outside. A pulse of sweat hit my forehead, and I realized skipping breakfast was a mistake. I threw my bedroom window open wide and took a deep breath, trying to remember where my chakras were.

“Hey,” said the squirrel on the windowsill.

“Hey,” I replied. “I’m really not interested in subscribing,” I said.

I heard a flash of light. Numbers shouted into my irises.

“321546568765321659879898799989854654!”

“What the hell was that?” I asked. Red numbers floated before my eyes. The squirrel had some sort of laser device in his little claw.

“Just reading you with the scanner. You are Gerald Nordstrom, correct?”

“Yeah. That’s me.”

“It’s taken us a while to track you down.”

“Well, you know me. Always on the go.”

“Yes, certainly. Always driving. Always moving. Town to town, city to city. We lost you for a while near Phoenix. We’re confident now we can complete your file.”

“Uh-huh. Say, you don’t have any nuts on you, by chance? I’m getting hungry.”

A second squirrel landed on the windowsill next to the first. They squawked in squirrel commotion, and then the damn scanner went off again.

“456565657657651321321656565656565655665!”

I felt pulses of light vibrate through my arms and legs. I couldn’t move for a moment. “Hey!” I hollered. “That was no scanner! I felt those numbers being inscribed on the inside of my eyelids.”

“We have a timetable,” the second squirrel said to the first.

“Gerald,” the first squirrel asked, “do you recall September twenty-one, in nineteen ninety eight?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Let me remind you. A stormy afternoon, the roads were slick; your brakes were inadequately serviced. You swerved, yet could not avoid hitting a gray, North American Sciurini on Eighteenth Street, in downtown Atlanta.”

“Oh…yeah. That.” Atlanta came into a blurry, black and white scene before my eyes. “Well, I tried…”

“Tried? This is your defense?” The second squirrel whined with an irate tone.

“Gerald, he was our leader,” said the first squirrel.

“The oldest and wisest among our tribe,” the second squirrel said. “His name was Fluffy-Nutter Wallow-Wallow.” The second squirrel had some sort of badge on his chest.

“Look. You guys have caught me at a bad time. Maybe we could pick this up later?”

“Your hypothalamus has been super-activated by the psilocybin,” said the first squirrel. His fur looked soft. “This is a window of opportunity for us to communicate your crimes to you,” he said.

“It’s a window all right.”

“This is serious!” The second squirrel squealed. “Read him the charter amendment.”

“Any tribe leader, Gerald,” said the first squirrel putting on little squirrel glasses, “killed in a preventable accident, shall be avenged by virtual scan, where the defendant upon admission or conclusion of guilt, shall live out the death he has callously caused.” He read from a small black book, and put it away after marking it with his little squirrel pen.

“Heavy,” I said.

“Heavy, indeed.” The first squirrel put away his glasses.

“Do you have any final statement for the record?” The second squirrel asked.

“There’s a record, huh.”

“We keep our books as we keep our nuts, Gerald,” said the first squirrel. “We account for each and everything in our lives, because our lives depend upon it.”

“Huh.” I thought about all the things in my life I couldn’t account for.

The two squirrels sat and waited for me to explain. For some reason, I felt I should. A wave of desperation, despair, and loneliness—twinges of confused, bottled up feelings of abandonment surged through me. I wondered how many gears in this world I had damaged with the wrench of my actions. How many lives I had thrown off course or run down.

“I didn’t want to hit the poor little guy,” I said meekly. “I’m sorry. I feel bad about it. I feel bad about a lot of things I’ve done. I feel even worse, about the things I should have done. I keep rushing into new situations. I never get closure with women, or work, because I get this overwhelming sense of anxiety to move on. Then I feel so adrift.” Thick welts of water formed in the corner of my left eye.

Words poured out from a place I didn’t recognize. “There are so many decisions I want to take back,” I said. “Some days, I don’t think I’m a good person. I get so scared sometimes, about where I’ll end up. I don’t understand why I keep making bad choices. Why I keep failing.”

“Why I need to keep moving, even when things are good. Why I rush into things, without thinking them through. I wish I understood. I want to feel connected. Nothing seems to hold me together. There’s nothing grounding me. I wish I could plant seeds, and just let them grow. Just one kernel that I could nurture. A seed that would develop, and root my life. That way, I’d have something, or someone, to ground me. Maybe then, I could trim the dying wood off me that makes me weak, destructive, and downright cruel sometimes. Those seem to be the only parts of me that gets attention.” A chill went into my elbows, and my knees.

“And I suppose,” I said with a sigh, “I would rather be wrong, then alone.” Mucous dripped from my nose. The smell of pine needles was in the air. I wiped my eyes clear, and looked out the window at their fuzzy little features.

Their little black squirrel eyes grew large, filling the window, the room, filling my sight.

The room went dark. Orange numbers flashed before my eyes. A seizure gripped my body, leaving me paralyzed.

The wind turned to rain. Black wheels came screeching at me. I tried to jump. My tiny limbs wouldn’t budge. A flood of adrenaline washed over me. I saw the patterns of tread zigzag above me like a rolling scythe, and then the tire crushed my spine. I heard a squeal. Then I heard a thump, as a heavy weight trampled my backbone. I could feel my heart slow down.

Bump-bump. Bump-bump. Bump.

I got up from the dusty wood floor, and took the needle off the record.

The window was closed. Clouds had moved in.

On the windowsill sat a small acorn.

Carved into its ridges, were fives and sixes.

____________

This story a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due soon!

Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below…way below, yeah at the bottom, yeah look farther down…there you go-
_____________________________________________________

The first volume of Detours Ahead is currently available at:

Amazon

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iTunes Store

“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

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Exorcise

 

Exorcise 4

The Reverend J. Abernathy smiled.

His smile could move mountains. A confident, friendly, southern smile that instantly connected with anyone. While the Reverend smiled with his pearly whites, he also smiled with his eyes, his shoulders, and even his hands. His smile could change the course of rivers. The Revered had worked on his smile since the early age of ten, when he began sharing his gospel. It made the men and women around him relax, and trust him completely.

He took a cigarette out of his vest coat pocket, and lit it with the gold lighter from his black slacks.

The young girl looked at his large, strong hands, watching them for the smallest movement, noting the position of his fingers. She noticed the Reverend lick his lips.

“It’s all in the wrists,” he said, gripping her hips. “The wrists and the hips. You’ve got to feel it. You’ve got to feel it—like a lizard on a window pane, reaching for the sun and then—snap!”

The Reverend raised the golf club high in the air above their heads. “It’ll float like a boat with the wind in its sails.” The young girl, an intern named Ida from Idaho, laughed a crooked laugh, generating a sexy jiggle in her powder blue sweater.

“You’re so skilled,” she said, sitting down in one of the Reverend’s leather chairs. The Reverend’s office was tasteful and ornate. A paisley blue tapestry lined his walls to highlight his selective and expensive modern art. Surrounding the Reverend was professionalism in details that said in a whisper, instead of scream: “Money, and large piles of it, were spent here.”

“Well, that is true, darling,” Abernathy said to Ida. “But I have been bestowed my gifts by our Almighty Deity, and no other. Amen.”

“Amen,” Ida said. She just turned nineteen when she enrolled in the Reverend’s “Academy For the Faithful” a month ago. “Oh gosh!” she said, looking down at her clipboard. “I forgot you have an appointment, Reverend. It’s the CEO of Appomattox industries, a Robert Holstein, and his wife, Elizabeth. They’ve been waiting now twenty minutes.”

“Darling, the things I have been showing you this morning, are just as important as any captain of industry.”

“Gracious!” Ida said. “Reverend, do you mean it?” There were small glittering stars in her big blue eyes. Ida wore tight white pants that selectively revealed every smoldering hot curve of her, which in an inexplicable way, made her look like a young Barbara Eden.

“Darling,” the Reverend said with a puff, “I mean everything I say, and say everything I mean,” he said with a wink. “Send them in.”

The girl blushed, and brushed off her sweater as she opened the office door. “Please, Mr. and Mrs. Holstein, the Reverend will see you now.”

Mrs. Holstein shuffled her husband in the door. She wore large, dark sunglasses complimenting a Donna Karen autumn floral print dress. Her husband wore a crisp, navy blue Oscar de la Renta suit.

“Thank you so much for seeing us, Reverend Abernathy,” Mrs. Holstein said. “I’m at my wit’s end.” The couple sat down in the designer chairs facing the Reverend’s desk.

The Reverend tucked away his golf club in the corner. He dashed the ashes off his cigarette into a marble ashtray as he sat down. “Yes, I received your message, ma’am. I hope to be of service.” He smiled only with his lips, holding a stern look of interest as he locked with Mrs. Holstein. Revered Abernathy calculated the value of a woman’s jewelry using this type of smile. Abernathy looked Mrs. Holstein over. The Reverend made a mental note to perform a deep background check upon Mrs. Holstein for old money; he knew there was more fleece within her wool.

Mrs. Holstein took off her glasses. “I believe this is a case, that calls for your specialty,” she said. Her eyes held back blubbery tears. “My husband’s gone crazy!”
“I see,” Abernathy answered. “Just what has brought you to believe this?”

“He gave money to charity. And he didn’t need the tax write off!”

“Yes,” Abernathy said, slowly exhaling puffs of smoke. “Go on.” His southern drawl was charming, despite numerous, lecherous thoughts about his intern’s white pants.

Mrs. Holstein waved her arms as she spoke. “His board of directors said he stopped his company from polluting the rain forest! Then he ordered raises for the minimum wage staff. Finally, although I don’t have all the details, I have come to understand he has set up a trust, to ensure the poor in our community are fed!” Mrs. Holstein blew her nose into her handkerchief. “I don’t know what to do, Reverend. He would never do these things of his own accord.” She dabbed her eyes with her damp hanky. “You must believe me!”

The Reverend Abernathy stood up from behind his desk. He approached Mrs. Holstein slowly. He got down on one knee, and took her hand, patting it gently. “Now, you don’t worry about a thing, Mrs. Holstein. I know what to do. I’ve seen many cases like this before. Your husband is bound by a powerful force, an influence inside him. An agency swaying him to do these deeds. I’m sorry to say, your husband is possessed!”

“Possessed?” Mrs. Holstein asked.

“Well, technically, it’s a reverse possession,” the Revered said, standing up. “But yes! There is a good, moral, upstanding spirit inside your husband. Working its magic, I’m shocked to say, for the benefit of others. We have to take drastic action, I’m afraid. We must perform a reverse exorcism. It’s a complicated, dangerous, and rigorous procedure. But more serious, I’m afraid, is the fact that I don’t know when I can fit him in, due to my heavy burden of a schedule…” The Reverend ran his index finger across his pencil-thin mustache.

The Reverend straightened his vest, and picked up his appointment book. “Yes, I do believe I can fit him in next month, a Thursday perhaps…” Abernathy leaned against his desk.

“Reverend, I need your help immediately,” she said.

“Mrs. Holstein, I empathize, I do,” the Reverend nodded. He flipped through his appointment book without looking up. “But those already waiting for my help, need my—”

“Fifty thousand.”

“Well, now, I believe that would adjudicate matters to next week…”

“Seventy-five.”

“I believe I could squeeze in the procedure by Friday…”

“Very well,” Mrs. Holstein said with a huff, “one-hundred thousand. Cash.”

The Reverend looked up from the appointment book with eyes, then his smile. “Mrs. Holstein, I believe the seriousness of your husband’s case is something which should be attended to immediately. Please, come with me.”

The Reverend opened the double doors to the room adjacent to his office. The intern was dressed in surgical scrubs along with three others who attended the rectory. The room was a medical office, but decorated like a church. There was a large velvet picture of a demon in between two stain-glassed windows of creatures with horns and wings. A chair was set up in the center of the room, next to a heart monitor, an ultrasound machine, and a tray of surgical instruments. A collection of rare books lined the walls. The Reverend led the couple inside, where he winked at his cute intern. The intern took the hand of Mr. Holstein, sitting him in a large leather chair in the center of the room.

The Reverend Abernathy sat Mrs. Holstein in a chair opposite her husband.

“I’m going to need your help, Mrs. Holstein,” said Abernathy. “Your co-operation,” he said with a serious business tone.

“I’m ready, Reverend,” Mrs. Holstein said.

“When you’re battling an infection of this nature, capable of doing such profound good, there’s a lot of mind games that go on,” the Reverend said.

“No kidding,” Mrs. Holstein said, lighting up a cigarette.

“Oh yes. It’s like a chess game. I want you to stay vigilant, no matter what.”

“Do you think this will take long? I do have a lunch appointment.”

The Reverend turned to Mr. Holstein, who was strapped down to the plush leather chair, his head, and chest covered in electrodes. “I hope you’re ready—you filthy goodness inside him—for I, the Reverend J. Riley Abernathy, am here to exorcise!”

“How do you do,” Mr. Holstein said.

“This is a tricky bastard,” Abernathy said out of the side of his mouth to Mrs. Holstein. The Reverend continued. “I call upon all that is unholy and damned, dark and twisted, evil and despondent, to pull the goodness out of this man, this captain of industry, this warrior of shadow, I compel you, get out of—” The Reverend looked at Mrs. Holstein.

“Bob. His name’s Bob,” Mrs. Holstein said.

“Get thee out of Bob!” The Reverend then placed a gold pentagram on Bob’s forehead.

“But I want to help people,” Bob said.

“No, you want to crush them under your boot, and have them groveling to lick your feet!” Abernathy cried. He pressed the gold pentagram against Holstein’s forehead again.

“I want to open schools for the poor,” Holstein said.

“No! You want to strip the earth of its resources, destroy all who oppose you, and have the adulation of women everywhere! Right, Bob?” Abernathy pressed the pentagram to Bob’s forehead harder.

“What about a soup kitchen for those down on their luck?” Mr. Holstein asked.

“Be gone, accursed goodness! I cast thee out!”

The Reverend raised his hands to the sky.

Bob Holstein shook. Not because of the pentagram, or anything the Reverend had said, but because the intern had given him forty thousand volts of electricity to his occipital lobe. Bob’s eyes rolled back. His pupils rolled in circles. Finally he spoke.

“What kind of sick porn movie are you shooting now, Justine?” Bob said to his wife. “Get me out of this god damn chair this instant, woman!”

Mrs. Holstein handed her cigarette butt to the intern and put her glasses back on. “That’s him. Untie him, will you sweetheart? I have to get him to back to the office. Reverend,” she said turning to shake his hand, “Thank you so much. I’ll have the money brought by this afternoon.”

“I am but a vessel, doing evil in his name,” Abernathy said, kissing her hand.

“Right. Let’s go Bob, I haven’t got all day.”

The Reverend J. Abernathy was the top reverse-exorcist in New Orleans. Abernathy had cleansed the members of the city council, when they voted for environmental cleanup efforts. He had cleared Judge Reinhold, when his clerk caught him refusing bribes. The Reverend had even un-stricken the Mayor, who was possessed suddenly in a brothel and refused to do cocaine from a prostitute’s tits.

He worked fast. He worked quietly.

He was J. Riley Abernathy, Reverend at Law.

The Reverend nuzzled the neck of the young intern, who cleared his appointment book until after lunch.

____________

This story a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due soon!

Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
_____________________________________________________

The first volume of Detours Ahead is currently available at:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

iTunes Store

“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

 

The Tree Pixies

 

Tree Pixies 1

Peter Dardanelli was a thin, limber man who loved jogging and Abba. He wasn’t gay: His friends admitted to believing he was, after his obituary was posted. After all, he was a theater arts major who waited tables. Peter befriended beautiful women but never dated them; his shirts were pressed and clean. He didn’t watch sports. He was by all accounts a vegetarian. Peter was inexpressive, cautious, and delicate in life—and thus deemed worthless in situations involving strength, or authority.

Peter waited tables like a performer in a play. He got into character with his lint brush in front of the bathroom mirror, repeating the night’s specials while scrutinizing his expressions. He waited tables at Le Bernadin, an exclusive, expensive restaurant. The ornate details in dishes like aroma cucina, followed by flaming shrimp tails, made Peter great tips. Peter exhibited sincere hospitality as a server, and earnest respect for the chef—and so, was allowed the honor of draping the chocolate insouciance on the palatschinken, during the desert course.

Peter blushed when given a soft round of applause by his patrons.

He was the perfect target for the Tree Pixies.

The Tree Pixies were invisible, ethereal, cruel pranksters, who loved to shit on human dreams. They would allow a person within arm’s length of their lifelong fantasies—only to snatch them away. The Tree Pixies lived to crush people. They destroyed their targets by eroding all emotional stability, chipping away ever so gradually at a person’s sanity. They consumed human anguish, they devoured despair; they subsisted on the soul’s ennui. Having watched carefully from the leafy oak outside of the restaurant on Fifty-First Street, the Tree Pixies decided that Peter would become their ultimate illustration of human desolation.

The Tree Pixies formulated a strategy over weeks.

The Tree Pixies scrutinized Peter’s eating habits, his Monday morning yoga class participants, his Thursday afternoon acting class partners. They staked out his Laundromat and the locker room at his gym. Peter’s phone calls were recorded and analyzed. No openings in his defenses were found. Peter even paid the correct amount owed to the IRS from his tips. The Pixies found no incriminating evidence in Peter’s sock drawer.

Peter was squeaky clean.

This infuriated the Tree Pixies.

The spectral beings felt their ethereal blood boil.

The Tree Pixies caught a break on a Wednesday morning. A young playwright from Peter’s improvisation class wrote a part with him in mind. Joe Gillis left Peter a message asking to meet for coffee. The Tree Pixies re-wrote a copy of the script, left in an old Royal typewriter under the snoozing playwright’s nose. Peter’s small part was a snippy waiter who, after over-hearing the details, manages to solve the case of a harsh, roughhewn detective—while serving him Au-jus roast beef. It was classic type casting. Instead, the Tree Pixies cast Peter Dardanelli in the role of the unpolished, obnoxious detective, who takes credit for the case.

They knew Peter ached to be cast as a strong lead.

When Peter met Joe at the coffee house in Chelsea, praise went in both directions. Peter bubbled about the detective. Joe frothed about the cleverness of the waiter. Peter told Joe he’d bought a trench coat at a thrift shop, perfect for the role of the detective. Joe became confused. Joe explained that Peter already dressed perfectly for the part, every night—as the waiter. Peter sat dumbfounded. Peter pointed to the pages with hand written notes about him cast as the detective. Joe Gillis sat in stunned silence. Joe said there was a mix-up. Peter was to be his waiter. It was Peter’s breakout role off Broadway.

Peter stood up. Above him, the Tree Pixies drew out his anger. The Pixies fed off his betrayal. Peter’s mind circled into a loop like a roller coaster. His voice became loud. His face went beet red. He screamed at Joe. Peter threw the script down and pushed his chair over on the sidewalk veranda. Peter shoved the script into the face of the perplexed playwright.

Joe apologized, just as Peter’s fist bludgeoned his nose.

The Tree Pixies had been waiting for this. They focused all their energies upon Peter, turning him inward, twisting his mind. All of Peter’s mistakes in life, all of his missed chances, loomed before him in a pyrotechnic display of Pixie magic. Every friend’s slight became enlarged. All the things denied him, fed Peter’s rage. Peter’s failures, one upon another, were now green lights, signaling him forward on a path of retribution. Peter felt the infusion of shadowy energy from the Tree Pixies, and knew what he must do.

He stood over Joe. “I’m sorry, Joe,” he said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“It’s all right,” Joe said, accepting a hand up from the sidewalk. “Somehow you got the wrong script.”

Peter brushed off the playwright, his mind clear with intent.

Peter apologized profusely. He groveled forgiveness from every pore. It was his best acting ever. Peter wrapped ice into his handkerchief, and gave it to Joe for his reddened schnoz. Peter calmed the people on the patio. Clouds began to darken Manhattan. Perfect, thought Peter. As Peter left the coffee shop, he shook hands with Joe Gillis, who made a quip about his own artistic temperament.

Walking away, Peter decided on a present for Joe Gillis. Peter stopped at an apothecary shop on Bleecker Street. The Apothecary recognized Peter’s darkened soul. The shopkeeper was only one of many, who took shady orders from the Pixies. As a chemist and pharmacologist, the Apothecary stood ready and willing to set Peter’s plan into motion. Peter paid cash, then shook the cold hand of another man dedicated to judicious revenge. Among Peter’s purchase were a bottle of concentrated aconite, a bag of fine white powder, and a special clove cigarette for a celebratory smoke.

Peter then stopped by an upscale stationary store and purchased an elegant fountain pen. Peter strode leisurely up the steps to his apartment, the Tree Pixies surrounding him, permeating his thoughts with their own. Peter hummed a tune they sang to him. Peter grinned while turning his kitchen table into a workbench. A fluorescent magnifying lamp was the studio’s only luminesce. With latex gloved hands, he coated the pen in the aconite, and mixed the bottled ink with the poison. Peter then wrapped the gift in thin, red crepe paper, also coated with the poison, and attached a note:

“With Sincere Apologies, and Best Regards.”

When Peter pulled off his latex gloves, he knew just handling the wrapping paper would probably kill the playwright with the concentration he’d used.

Peter didn’t sleep that night, as the Pixies whispered in his ear until dawn.

That morning, Peter handed Joe his gift, coming into his front door from the rain. Peter wore gloves, hat and overcoat; tie, slacks, and shined shoes. Joe wore a moth-eaten robe. Peter expounded his thanks, and expressed his remorse about the outburst at the coffee house. He asked Joe to open his present. Joe tore through the fine wrapping paper and marveled at the quality and the artisanship of the pen. Joe filled the pen with the bottle of aconite ink. Peter began to see the effects in Joe. The Pixies became ecstatic. Joe began to choke. Peter began to chuckle. The Tree Pixies reveled with Peter, as Joe turned purple and hit the floor. Peter shredded all the copies of Joe Gillis’ script, and scattered the shreds about the apartment like confetti. Peter felt the Tree Pixies pull into evil as a soothing caress, their whispers comforting.

Peter closed the front door behind him.

“One down,” Peter said. “Two to go.”

Peter’s next stop was to a TV director. Marty Polanski had turned down Peter for a role as a FBI agent on a TV series. Peter could have been perfect in the role. Polanski rejected Peter for the role as a rogue agent on the take, telling Peter his eyebrows were too timid. Peter squeezed into Polanski’s loft bathroom through a side-window. Peter took out the fine white powder in a Ziploc bag. He mixed the powder into an old style shaving brush, and then coated Marty’s straight razor with it. Peter snuck back out, and waited across the street on the roof with binoculars. The director awoke, made coffee, and headed for his bathroom. As steam rose from his cup, Marty Polanski ran hot water.

The Apothecary had sold Peter good quality PCP. Peter watched through the eyepieces as Polanski examined his pores. Polanski stirred his shaving brush into a lather of cream, and applied the bristles to his face. Peter watched the man wobble. The Tree Pixies floated above Peter in horrible laughter. Polanski picked up his straight razor and began to shave. After three strokes, the razor cut deep, and then deeper. The TV director then shaved his face off. Blood pooled into the sink from Polanski’s jugular vein.

The Tree Pixies glee filled Peter’s ears. They applauded Peter’s creativity.

“One stop left,” he said. Peter made his way to La Bernadin.

Chef was already at the restaurant. Chef arrived every morning for deliveries.

Chef was a fat, impatient man who spared praise for almost no one. The exceptions were those who followed his directions precisely, those who never spoke back. Peter had been in Chef’s back pocket getting his nose brown, since the moment he’d walked into his kitchen. Chef directed the restaurant like a military operation, barking orders and correcting everyone’s movements. The Pixies savored Peter’s anger of Chef like layered tiramisu.

No one else was in the restaurant. Peter knocked out Chef out with a rolling pin. Peter locked all the doors. He then stripped him, carved him up, and cut him into chunks for chowder. Peter stored his guts in a bucket in the back of the walk-in. Peter simmered the chowder on low for six hours, bones and all—while he cleaned up. He was in full waiter’s attire when he unlocked the doors. Peter explained to the kitchen staff he’d come in early, having received a call from Chef. Chef had a family emergency. Peter told them Chef had faith in everyone, that tonight, they could carry on without him.

“There’s a chowder he had me take out for the special,” Peter added.

That night, as guest arrived and the specials were announced, the chowder was a hit. People marveled at the delicacy of its flavors. At midnight, Peter stood by the back door of the restaurant, and pulled out the clove cigarette he’d purchased at the Apothecary’s shop. Peter’s eyes were open to a new world of possibility. Peter tossed aside his waiter’s apron. The Tree Pixies were ready.

“I’m going for a smoke,” Peter said to his manager.

“You don’t Smoke, Pete.”

“It feels like a good time to start,” Peter said. He strolled out the back door.

Peter lit up the long, slim clove. As he exhaled, his soul became exhaust. Puffs of fibrous, liniment gossamer threads flowed out, becoming ever thinner, finally turning into sparkling green shimmers, until his body dissolved into a fine, particulate dust.

As the newest Tree Pixie, Peter giggled incessantly with the others above the restaurant on Fifty-First Street, watching the hearty chowder be consumed with vigor.

They welcomed his spirit enthusiastically.

____________

This story a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due this spring.

Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
_____________________________________________________

The first volume of Detours Ahead is currently available at:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

iTunes Store

“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

 

The Riokan, Part 1

Riokan 1

At the Riokan, no one knew my name.

I checked in under a proxy. All my charges floated through masked accounts.

While my orders and preferences were carefully tracked, they were held on an impregnable data server. If I wanted to know what sandwich I ordered last week, I couldn’t just look it up. I had to ask a Fly Girl or a Stumble Boy. There were Seventeen hundred identical rooms in each hostel. The blank LED walls, floor and ceiling could be used for displaying work, news, sports, and entertainment from across the galaxy. Beds could be formed from selecting various options, although most slept in the comfort of a gravity free zone. The rooms were blank slates, suitable for wary travellers with varied tastes and temperaments.

Each Riokan was indistinguishable from another, making it ubiquitous. Whether I stayed near the outer rim or near the galactic hub, once I checked in, I could have been anywhere in the galaxy. Anonymity and obscurity was necessary for the work I did. I’m an accountant.  Since I worked with figures, numbers, and digits, I discovered the patterns to people lives. People like those who owned the Riokan. They didn’t think like humans. They didn’t act, breathe, or talk like humans. There wasn’t anything remotely humanoid about the owners of the Riokan. They were as alien as you could get.

They understood humanity, however. They understood our wants and desires.

My hosts never slept. Every interaction I had with them was at a strange hour, which over the years involved almost mystical feats of exchanges and trades. Only after about a decade of performing selective jobs for the Riokan owners, did I discovered the secret behind the cryptic, false front of the Riokan.

The actual owners of the Riokan were the Yakuza.

The Yakuza had built an army of replicants to run their establishments. Then, the Yakuza hired private accountants from a sanctioned guild to maintain their books. I admired the brilliance in their deception. The Yakuza high council had maintained its form and function from ancient Earth, spreading it centuries later throughout the galaxy.

The Yakuza were dangerous, methodical, and persistent.

Two of those things I understood well.

The last of those things I would come to understand during my last stay at the Riokan.

As I wandered from one accounting job to the next involving things money laundering or tax evasion, staying at the Riokan became a necessity. The lobby and the bar of the Riokan were hubs for all sorts of transactions. Whether it was investments, sales, tourism, construction, sex, gambling, everyone could always use a skilled accountant. I turned down more work than I picked up. People may live longer than they did back in the Yakuza’s time on Earth, but not long enough to spend what I’d already made. In the past few weeks, I’d even taken time off. I’d gone sightseeing to the galactic hot spots, hitting the exclusive spas. When I got bored, I hopped a transport, and landed at the first Riokan.

A new job was always waiting.

One night I sat in the bar at waited.

“Detective Giles,” a grim man introduced himself, sitting down at the barstool next to mine.

“Hello,” I said.

“I require your assistance,” he said. “Let’s take a table.”

I sat across from the stern man’s face. The room was lit by electric candles as jasmine incense burned. The Detective’s face was disappointment carved in marble. I could see the edges of his Y incision through the fabric of his crisp, white shirt, just beneath his tie. A man who held the autopsy scar: The mark of the Yakuza Special Branch. The only way to become a member of the Yakuza Special Branch Police Force, was to survive a live autopsy.  Doctors cut you open with a Y incision, pulling out your organs one by one.

The survivors were rumored to withstand anything after the procedure. Even molecular disintegration had been reported not to kill them. The Special Branch were keen hunters and fierce fighters. They inhaled a rare noble gas to sustained their brain function, since their blood had turned solid. Their brains had been fused into a plasma, giving them a hotspot connection to the Yakuza mainframe, where they could draw on the real-time reports of the galactic network and the information stored there.

This was the most dangerous man I’d ever met.

“There’s a monster I’m looking for,” Detective Giles said. “A Neskarate.”

“An Angel-Demon,” I heard myself say in astonishment. “I thought they were extinct.”

“One has survived. It is feeding off humanoid pleasure, draining their victims until that pleasure becomes suicidal sorrow. The one I’m looking for trades in a particular currency. The YK has tasked me with finding and eliminating this beast.”

This was no small task. Moreover, certain currencies were extremely dangerous.

Especially the currencies the Yakuza traded in.

“Detective, you’re asking me to break the confidences of the very people you work for. If I could trace the monster’s monetary trail, what’s to prevent the beast from seeking protection from the Yakuza itself?”

The Detective smiled in acknowledgement. “That’s true, you know your business. This is not a sanctioned request by the YK, but a request by the high council itself.” His smile faded.

“Then you have no warrant.”

“Not for the Neskarate, no.”

“It’s been nice chatting with you, Detective. I’ll be leaving now.” I stood up. I gambled he wouldn’t kill me in public, and if I made it out of the bar, out of the Riokan, maybe I could get on a ship and disappear until he lost interest in me. It would be tricky.

I calculated my odds at surviving the next hour at one in six hundred.

“Wait,” Detective Giles said. “I do have a warrant for you.” He set his phone on the table where the text of my name was bold on his screen. “Not a capture warrant either. It was the only warrant I could get sanctioned from the council. It was not easy to come by. Apparently you’ve made a lot of friends over the years.” He leaned back and sipped his drink.

“Apparently, not enough,” I said sitting down.

“The warrant is voided on the contingency of your help,” he said.

I felt my lungs take a deep, frustrated breath. “This Neskarate it isn’t going to be easy to find. They supposedly live for centuries. These Angel-Demons were reported to have enclaves everywhere, as well as being able to hide in plain sight.” As my words jumped out with loathing, I felt my lungs empty as adrenaline coursed through my veins. Fear. Pure, instinctual fear held control over me. “The have anonymity down to a science,” I said with a gasp.

“So do you.”

“Yes, because my work with numbers demands it. I’m trusted because I’m sanctioned by a very select guild, not just the Yakuza high council. Numbers tell you everything about a person—their ambitions, their passions, their plans. The first thing anyone would do after being tempted by Angel-Demon, would be to pay in cash. That eliminates any trail of finding them.”

“I believe you have records which will show a pattern of the Beast’s kills,” he said.

“Why is that?”

“Because five of your clients are dead.”

“I would know if five of my clients were dead.”

“Not if they were part of the Yakuza. Not if the council hid the details of their deaths. Not if those at the very top wished to keep it secret.” His tone was stern and certain.

“You said the Neskarate trades in a particular currency. What currency?”

“Fire-Blood.”

I felt myself slump into my chair.

Another wave of loathing crept over me like insects.

“The people who trade in Fire-Blood,” I said, “do not want their identities known. It’s one of the few outlawed trades still left on the books.” Perhaps the detective was crazy. Perhaps this was some mistake. The look on his face made me believe otherwise. “I’ve never seen any blatant attempt to purchase Fire-Blood,” I said after a gulp of my brandy, “but I have come across records which suggest its purchase.”

“Then we have our first lead.”

Detective Giles focused his hardened stare at me like a laser pistol.

“You’re asking me to be killed by you or my clients,” I said, “if not my guild. They each take particular care in guarding their transactions.” I could feel sweat building across my forehead. “Perhaps you can understand the dilemma I face?” There was a smell of death about the man. Whatever traces of empathy or pity in him had died on the dissecting table.

“That dilemma does not concern me,” he said. “Nor should it concern you. The Neskarate will continue to pick off clients of yours. Then, you will be taken over by it, becoming a living corpse, infected by its parasitic nature and made a slave, or one your clients makes the connection between you and the beast, and kills you themselves.” He described my predicament with a hypnotic tone. His words rolled over me in nauseating waves.

I finished the rest of my brandy. “If we can trace the monster,” I said turning my mind away from fear to working the problem, “if we can find a pattern to the trades, and if you discover an actual purchase of Fire-Blood—how do you intend to stop the Neskarate?”

“That is an excellent question. One which I will not answer until you help me.”

My mood shifted from fear to anger. Again, the detective smiled.

“Shall we get started?” he said. He stood up.

I walked over to the bar and ordered a bottle of brandy. I held it to my chest as Detective Giles and I took the lift to my room. A Special Branch agent had found me at a Riokan. He’d had help from on high, that was certain. I couldn’t help wondering if he was also getting help from someone very low. Someone in the murky, galactic shadows, where secrets are the most expensive currency.

-To Be Continued-

_________________

This story a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due this spring.

Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
_____________________________________________________

The first volume of Detours Ahead is currently available at:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

iTunes Store

“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

Charging

 

Charging

 

I sat in the corner watching her.

A cord connected the back of her neck to an outlet, while a little blue light flashed on the wall.

The blinking was hypnotic.

Here’s the thing: When a man has to wait for his wife to re-charge, it makes him take stock. Re-evaluate his life, so to speak.

Her eyes opened wide, like a doll come to life.

“Hi,” Melissa said, in a calm, dreamy voice.

“Hey,” I said, forcing a smile. “How you feeling?”

“Good,” she said. She had a mischievous smile. Her irises were as blue as I’d ever seen.   It was an overcast day in Seattle, and I swear—it was like her eyes lit up the room. More than her eyes, her energy radiated from across the room.

I couldn’t help it. She creeped me out.

“I didn’t think you’d be done so soon,” I said. Seeing her eyes open like some sort of doll, it weirded me out. Since she got back from New York, with her implant, a lot of things had been freaking me out.

Her diagnosis had devastated me. Before her operation, she would have these sudden mood swings, or cravings. She would go off on rants, bursts of anger from out of nowhere. She would break out in tears. I’d hear her sobbing in the bathroom with the door locked.

Before she had her operation, things were bad, I’ll admit that.

I loved her. She was my wife. As mad as she got, as frustrated as she got, as sad as she got, I still recognized her. Even when she was confused, which just before New York, was often.

But now? Things were just weird.

I didn’t know how to react around her. What to say. How to feel about her.

“I still need a few minutes to optimize,” Melissa said. “Maybe you could start dinner?”

She said it like she had laundry in the hopper.

“Yeah. Okay. Dinner,” I stammered. I found my pulse racing, because all of a sudden I felt like I was talking to someone other than my wife. “Chef’s Salad? How’s that sound?” I asked, noticing her eyes were still wide open, taking everything in. I wondered if the artificial part of her brain was taking in the light like a lens left open too long on a camera.

Did images ever get blurry for her?

Was light streaking or smearing across her mind?

“You do make a mean salad,” she said. Melissa didn’t blink.

“I’ve got some chicken slices I can grill and toss into it. Sort of spice it up. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds great,” she said, closing her eyes.

“Okay,” I said, getting up and entering the kitchen. My fists were clenched. I wanted to punch a wall or something, but what good would that do? I tried to remain positive. I opened my tablet as I put together the salad. I tossed the chicken slices onto the small grill on the stove. I was looking up info on this procedure she had. I must have looked at two hundred sites. I read all kinds of data I didn’t understand: Charts, graphs, testimony, studies, it went on, and on, and I’d lost track of the times I wanted to throw my tablet out the window.

How this all started…right. I probably should have mentioned that. Okay. There’s a small percentage of people who are pre-disposed to a rare form of Alzheimer’s. An early onset disease, which basically turns a person’s brains into Jell-O, and their loved one’s into lunatics. There’s a genetic test, for a lot of things actually, which they run during your annual physical.

My wife, Melissa, went in for a physical five months ago. This little blue dot showed up on one of those pre-disposition tests. She’s a graphic artist, by the way. A talented one. She works on high-end advertising. For the past decade she’s been so in demand, I told her she should go out on her own, start her own firm. Be the boss.

She was always good at telling me what to do.

Melissa liked where she worked, though. She like her job, and she didn’t want to hire and fire, all that jazz. Fair enough. Her company, once they found about her test results, they went into freak-out mode. Me? I was wondering why they knew about her confidential test results in the first place, but apparently, she told them. She wanted to be upfront. She wanted everything out on the table, in the open, which is exactly the opposite of the way I wanted to handle it.   Her boss was supportive. Looking back, I have to say, almost too supportive.

I will admit, I’ve had a hard time handling things. Even the salad I was working on.

I grilled the chicken slices, I threw in my patented Caesar’s dressing, I diced the tomatoes, I even sautéed the onions. Melissa came into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of wine, and then sat down at the dinning room table. I brought out the salad, and split it into two bowls for each of us, as I sat across from her in our little nook of a dining room.

“Could you pass the pepper please?” she said.

“Sure,” I said. I handed her the pepper. “Don’t ever remember you liking pepper on your salad,” I said.

She tilted her head at me like a dog hearing a whistle I couldn’t hear. It was like something in her head was clicking or skipping or mis-firing.

I may have been imagining things. I’ll admit that.

She smiled. She dashed herself a little pepper and handed it too me.

“Don’t you like a little, honey?”

“You know I do,” I said.

She leaned over and kissed me spontaneously.

She tossed her napkin in her lap without a care and dug in.

“It’s great,” she said. Her long, curly brown locks caught the fading daylight from the west window. All I felt for her was love. Then, she stopped chewing. She looked at her salad, dug into it with her fork, and then looked at me. I swear, for whatever reason, the look on her face, the fading sunlight through the window at that moment—she wasn’t my wife. Then, just as quickly as the moment had come, her smiled flashed back, she slapped me on the thigh, and with the same smile I fell in love with all those years ago, she asked me, “Want to watch a movie tonight?”

It happened so fast, I figured I was over-reacting.

Let me explain a little about what they did to Melissa.

They took out a large chunk of her brain.

Then, they put a ball into her skull that looked like a sponge.

This was a ball of “synthetic synapses,” they called it, which after running PET scans and tests, and monitoring her for a week, copied all her memories and synaptic patterns, all the data from that part of her organic brain. Then, the top surgeon in his field cut out the part of her brain that was damaged by this disease, the part of Melissa that was dying. He substituted the organic, original part of her brain with this new, synthetic, electric, artificial brain.

Ain’t science amazing?

She passed all the tests after the surgery. She recognized all the right visual cues, her language wasn’t impaired, she even went back to work after a month of training this—machine, to integrate with her natural, original brain. Everyone at work said it was an amazing recovery.

They were glad to have her back. Her boss Lillian said she was as sharp as ever.

Last night, I cornered Lillian after hours and confessed I was freaked out. Lil and I had known each other over ten years. I’d seen her drunk as a skunk, she’d seen me baked on good weed, Melissa and I had a thousand dinners with her and her husband Ted, so I trusted her judgment. I sat last night in Lillian’s office, and we drank from the bottle of bourbon she kept in her bottom desk drawer.

“Sometimes, she looks at me, and I don’t see her,” I said to Lillian.

Lillian refilled my glass with another two fingers of the smooth, smoky bourbon. “She’s working like she always has,” she said. “She does need a two hour lunch break to charge,” Lillian said, “but she’s hit every deadline. She hasn’t skipped a beat in any meetings.”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Nothing’s off about her behavior?”

Lillian leaned back. “Is it the sex?” she asked.

“No!” I said. “Well, maybe. No, really—it’s not. In fact, that’s not even what I’m getting at. It’s this thing in her skull. I don’t know if it’s really her or not.”

“How do you mean?” Lillian asked.

“Well, they took out, what—about a third of her brain? How could she still be her?”

“I’m not a doctor, Cal,” Lillian snarled.

“No-no-no,” I stammered. “There has got to be a moment, okay, just a moment when it’s maybe you, and her, and suddenly, it’s like you’re looking at a stranger. I mean, just for a second. Tell me I’m crazy, please,” I said. My fingers gripped the glass of bourbon like it was a life raft, and I was lost at sea.

“Well,” Lillian’s voice drifted off.

“I knew it! You know what I’m talking about.”

“It’s not like she’s forgotten anything,” Lillian said. “I think this mechanical thing in her head needs an extra…beat, I guess, to process what the hell’s going on around her. She still loves you, for Christ’s sake.” Lillian looked at me with the judgment of an old friend who knew all my bad habits, dirty secrets, just like I knew hers. She looked at me and without saying it, gave me that look. That look, okay? Like, how could I be the one to be unsupportive and ungrateful, when my wife, her best friend, had this terrible thing happen to her, and here I was complaining they had saved her? Lillian sipped her bourbon.

I nodded, as if to admit my shame. “Yeah, okay. I’m the bad guy. I’ll admit that. But listen, you know I’m the last guy to be…religious, or whatever. But what if, that part they took out, what if that was her—”

“Her soul?” Lillian cracked a wide smile.

“You said it. I didn’t.”

Lillian chuckled. “How can you, the most atheist guy on the planet, suddenly feel this way? You don’t believe in anything!” She poured us another finger’s worth of bourbon and put the bottle away. Lillian’s southern accent always kicked in after a little bourbon. Black, strong, beautiful—Lillian was a career gal, and never apologized for being sharper than any man I’d ever met.

“You’re right. I don’t believe in anything,” I said finishing my drink.

“But this is your thinking—that somehow, now, she’s soulless.”

“No. I don’t think it’s like that. Well, actually—I hadn’t even thought of that.”

“Cal, they saved her life. She would be in hell right now, if they hadn’t performed this procedure. You know how emotional she was before, and the disease had barely manifested at that point.”

“I know! Why do think I feel so shitty about this?”

“I see her everyday. I’ve seen no changes in her personality. If anything, she’s more herself than ever.” Lillian stood up. “Go home,” she said. “Go home, have a drink, make love to your wife, and stop imagining things.”

I stood up. I set my glass down and thanked her. She gave me a hug, spanked me on the ass, and called me silly. I felt my hand on her door as my mind was racing. I craned my neck back towards Lillian. “You ever watch her charge?” I asked.

“No!” Lillian said. “It’s like an invasion of privacy, isn’t it?”

“But you’ve seen her do it. I know you have. I can tell by that look on your face, Lil—I’ve known you too long. You’ve peeked in at her while she’s charging at lunch, haven’t you?”

Lillian shrugged. I put my hands on her shoulders. “Yes, you have! Tell me! Did it, or did it not, creep you out?”

Lillian looked me in the eye, we were face to face. I could smell the bourbon on her breath, and I know she smelled mine. “Yeah, it creeped me out a little. Okay?” Lillian said quietly, and her eyes looked down to the floor. I could feel the guilt creeping into her shoulders.

“What the fuck am I suppose to do here?” I asked.

“Go home, Cal! I already told you.”

“Just please, if you see her doing anything, weird…I don’t know, call me, all right?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not paranoid.”

“Yes you are.”

“Okay, a little.”

“Get out of my office.”

“Lil, I love you. Thank-you. Let’s do dinner with Tom this weekend, all right?”

“Yes. Oh, shit. Tom’s out of town this weekend. Next weekend, all right?”

“I’m holding you to that.”

I replayed the conversation with Lillian in my mind as I slowly chewed chicken and watched my wife eat her salad. She was still my wife, right?

The sun had gone down, it had become what the old time directors called “the golden hour,” when light is evenly dispersed. The glow from her face, and the breeze coming in off the shore, my hand reached out and touched hers, and I felt for the first time in weeks, that maybe I was just imagining things.

She looked at me. Then her blue eyes flashed.

Her irises lit up, just for an instant, like she’d had an overload.

“Something wrong, Hun?” Melissa said, tugging on my hand.

“No,” I said taking a bite of my salad and trying to act calm.

My heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest.

The rest of dinner was spent in silence.

I washed up the dishes, wracking my brain, trying to think of a way to talk to her. After I finished, I found her lying in bed watching a silly Sit-Com. She patted the mattress, and I slowly sank into the softness of the foam next to her. She took my hand and kissed it. I smiled at her, and turned away, trying not to stare.

“You all right, babe?” Melissa said.

“Yeah, sure. Just thinking about work.”

“Deadline on an editing assignment?” she asked still looking at the screen. I was trying to use my peripheral vision. I was trying to spy on my own wife while she was lying next to me. I was trying to figure out what, exactly, was different about her. Lillian had been right. I had gotten lucky. I had avoided watching the woman I love descend into madness and hell. I felt guilt, like worms in my gut, crawling around inside me, making me nervous to be around a woman I’d shared the most intimate moments of my life with, and it was making me crazy.

“Yeah, just over-thinking it, like I do sometimes.” I let my comment sit there, between us, like when a waiter brings you the wrong meal. Then it was like the waiter had left, and I was sitting there, too shy to bring up being served the wrong thing.

She muted the television. “We don’t have to watch this, you know,” she said with a sexy voice. She leaned over and kissed me. I could feel her passion, and her arms around me, and then—like an electric shock from the tip of my spine, something opened my eyes and I found myself looking at her. Her eyes were open. Wide open. My heart raced. My adrenaline spiked through my veins and suddenly I had hopped off the bed and found myself breathing fast like there was no oxygen in the room.

“Honey? Are you all right?” Melissa asked.

“Yes. No. Christ, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a lunatic, but-”

“But ever since my operation…you’ve noticed something different about me.”

“Melissa, sweetheart, I love you, okay? I do. I just have to adjust to this. It’s not you, it’s me. I know how stupid I’ve been around you at times, how clumsy and awkward—and I feel terrible about it, I do.”

“Cal, it’s okay. There are times I feel awkward myself,” Melissa said.

“But, you still feel like yourself, right?” I said.

“What do you mean?” She tilted her head again, and it was like the dog whistle had gone off again, the one only she could hear.

“I don’t know,” I said after a long pause.

“Cal, talk to me,” she said.

I sat down on the edge of the bed. “Like just now, when you were kissing me. And your eyes were open. I’ve never seen you do that before. Well, actually—I have. When you’re charging, actually. I’ve seen you keep your eyes open, and you stare at the wall, and I realize this is important, it’s how your new synapses are re-charging, and catching up with the information for the organic parts of your brain. I get that, I do. But—”

“But it freaks you out.”

“Yes.”

“So, you don’t think I’m me, because I have to plug in to an outlet twice a day?” She held those big, blue, beautiful eyes open at me and didn’t blink. And we both started laughing. I took her hand. I kissed her lips. I rubbed her hips, and before I knew it, I was making passionate love to my wife, and it was her, there was no doubt in my mind.

I feel asleep next to her, with the television still muted. I was spooning with her, and I got up to get a drink of water. I looked down at her, lying so peaceful, her eyes closed, the steady rhythm of her breathing, she was almost snoring, and that comforted me. I felt un-burdened that I’d blurted out the stupid feelings that I’d kept bottled up inside all these weeks.

When I went back into the bedroom, I found her lying in the dark, with her eyes were wide open.

“Melissa?” I asked in a whisper. “Are you awake?”

I noticed the long, black cord plugged into the back of her neck.

“Hey!” I said. “What are you doing? I didn’t think you had to charge in the middle of the night?”

She smiled. “I’m fine babe. Really.”  Her wonderful, blue, loving eyes were looking through me, past me, beyond me, never blinking.

I sat down on the floor, and I held her hand as tears rolled down my cheeks.

____________

This story a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due this spring.

Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
_____________________________________________________

The first volume of Detours Ahead is currently available at:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

iTunes Store

“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

 

January Girl

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

She awoke with the sun winking in her eyes, lying on a large green meadow.

The first thing she focused on was the rose tattoo on her inner wrist. Smooth, elegant lines bordered the deep red luscious pedals flowering from an indigo stem. The tattoo was such a contrast to the paleness of her skin she noticed, as she sat up and looked about.

Nothing looked familiar. Not the park, the trees, or even her tattoo. Nothing about her surroundings held any memories for her. She tried to recall where she was or where she’d been, but her mind was blank. She felt a chill of fear run down her arms and legs as if emanating from her tattoo. She watched in stunned silence as people went about their business in a calm, customary fashion.

Yet where she was? Why couldn’t she recall her name?

She was alone. She could find no clues what she was doing there.

Standing up, she found a tan leather jacket she’d been using as a pillow. The morning dew felt chilly, so she slipped it on over her black Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Her jeans were faded, her boots were black, her hair was shoulder length and sandy blond—though none of her features felt familiar. She had no phone, no wallet, no keys, and no memory of where she belonged. She walked slowly, zipping up her jacket as she approached a coffee cart on the corner.

“Good morning,” the old gentleman in the cart said. “What can I get you?” His dark hair was slick, and his teeth were yellow. His incisors seemed to flash as he spoke, making his fat, unshaven face look feral.

“I’m afraid I’m a bit lost,” she said. “Can you tell me where I am?”

“One of those nights huh?” The old man chuckled. “I envy you kids with the drugs you have nowadays. MacArthur Park, that’s where you are.” The man had a slight Cockney accent.

“I see,” she said. “Can you tell me what day it is?”

“Tuesday,” the man said. “You sure you’re all right, Miss?” The dark circles under his brown eyes emphasized his concern.

“Not really. I can’t remember a thing.”

“Some bounder must have dosed you,” the old man huffed. “Damn these kids and their drugs these days! Here, let me get you a coffee and a donut, on the cuff. Least I can do seeing the day ahead you’ve got.” The old man poured her a large coffee and handed her a glazed donut.

“That’s very kind,” she said. “I don’t even know what month it is.”

“Well, it’s June,” the man said wiping his greasy hands into his smeared apron. “However, the weather’s been cold. They’re calling it the January effect. These weather folks and their crazy mixed up terms, trying to explain why the weather machine doesn’t work right anymore. I do envy them their free time to make up such nonsense.” The man’s overgrown moustache bristled as he handed the girl paper napkins for her donut. “You go on and drink that, now. It should clear your head.” The man’s hanging jowls and baggy eyes made him look old and tired, but honest.

January in June, she thought. “Thank-you,” she said. “January,” she said after biting into the syrupy donut and swallowing the sugar with a rush of pleasure. “That sounds like a good name for me for now,” she added, taking a sip of the hot coffee and feeling better for it.

“Why, it’s a lovely name, for a lovely girl,” the cart man said. “Why, you kids, being able to rename and reinvent yourselves all the time! I think that’s what I envy about you the most.”  The man smiled a wide, walrus like grin, and then his face disappeared behind his paper, where strange headlines about events made no sense at all to Jan.

“Jan,” she said aloud as she walked away from the cart. “At least I’ve got a place-holder until I can figure out who I am. How exactly do I go about figuring that out?” She pondered a moment as she exited the park. The city streets were starting to hum and buzz and snarl with traffic from the brakes of cars, the squeals of busses, and voices from every direction.

A wave of panic went through Jan’s chest, making her heart beat fast.

“It’s all right, Jan. Just…one thing at a time,” she said to herself. She tried to sound brave. She took a deep breath, a drink of coffee, and then sat down on a bus stop. Jan finished the last bite of her donut. “This is no good,” she said. “Nothing looks familiar at all!” Jan was about to cry, when her eyes caught the green print of a billboard.

Bold red colors similar to her tattoo spelled out hope against a dark green board.

“Lost? Confused? Feeling like the Whole Wide World is Out of Sync! We Can Help!”

She found herself reading it aloud, and looked around to make sure nobody heard her.

Posted next to the words, was a bald man’s smiling face. Somehow, Jan thought, the man’s face appeared trustworthy. The address from the advertisement appeared to be the street she sat on. Suddenly, Jan had a destination. “Calvin J. Hobbs,” Jan said read off the sign. Jan glanced about timidly. “World Wide Wizard, Inc.” Jan couldn’t understand what the billboard meant. Perhaps though, a wizard was just what she needed.

Besides, it had to be within walking distance, she thought.

And since the billboard read, “Free Initial Consultation” in smaller black letters, it convinced Jan he could at least send her in the right direction. Finishing her coffee, she stepped out onto the sidewalk, where she realized she had no idea if she was supposed to turn left, or right.

She turned left, and then spun on her boot heel to take three steps right. She tried to read the numbers on the buildings to determine if they followed a pattern, but the building numbers seemed to be random. A white building read 114, while the blue building next to it read 2022.

Jan found herself at a crosswalk, where a bus was stopped but running. The uniformed driver sat on the bus stop bench, reading a paperback novel. The cross street was named Monty. To make matters worse, the building on the corner didn’t have a number, just a strange dog picture on the mail slot.

Jan thought if anyone should know if she was headed in the right direction, it must be a bus driver.

“Excuse me, Sir, are you a bus driver?” she asked the man.

His skin was a light brown and his hair was curly black. He wore blue slacks and a white shirt with the slogan “Take me There!”on his sleeves.

The man glanced up from thick reading glasses. “That’s what the passengers tell me on the bus,” he said.

“Well, I was wondering—”

“You realize I’m not driving a bus right now, you see that though, right?” The man licked his index finger and turned a page without looking at it.

Jan could feel her face scrunch up. “I’m just lost is all.”

The man’s eyes turned from Jan back to his book. “I hear what you’re saying,” he said. “People get lost in this city everyday, I just can’t figure out why. They suppose they’ve got a route in mind.” He looked up, licked his finger again, and turned another page. “By the time a passenger determines the route to their destination, more often then not I’ve observed, they’ve changed their minds about where they are going.” He glanced back down to his book. His unshaven face was dotted with light brown specks and spots. Jan thought this made him look like a cat who’d been out all night.

“About where they’re going?” Jan asked a bit bewildered.

“Or why they are travelling at all,” the bus driver replied. “Sometimes, when you get somewhere, it turns out you want to turn right around and go home.”

“That’s actually where I’m trying to get to.”

“But don’t know the way.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Proves my point, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose…”

“Rembaldi said it best when he explained his theory of relativity. If your perspective on the distance between two objects changes, the actual relationship between those two objects changes as well.”

“I don’t recall that at all, I’m afraid.”

“I’m not surprised. People need to read more, and stop trying to pick up how the universe works from the Discovery channel.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what that is,” Jan replied with a sigh.

“If you can’t discover the Discovery channel, how do you expect me to direct you to a unknown place in relation to where you are now?” The bus driver turned his head and stared at Jan with pressed lips. He stood up and closed his book, adjusting his loose pants on his wide belly. He wiped his nose with a finger and stepped onto the bus.

“Wait!” Jan cried. “I’m just trying to find World Wide Wizard, Inc.”

The bus driver sat down in driver seat of the bus. The brakes hissed as he took his position behind the wheel. “Why didn’t you just say so?” he asked.

“I’m sorry. I’m having a bad morning.”

“It’s all bad until it’s all good,” the man said with a cryptic smile. “You just keep going up this here street. You’ll be there before you know it. That is, if that’s where your sure your going. Are you sure?”

Jan was puzzled by the question. “Yes,” she replied timidly.

“Then if you’re sure about your relation to the destination, the destination is sure in its relation to you,” the bus driver said. “That’s the way all roads lead. You hear me?”

Jan nodded as the bus driver closed the door and pulled his bus into traffic.

Jan stood waiting for the light to change as she crossed the street, noticing the cars were all shaped like bugs, with curved roofs painted in neon colors. The traffic lights were green and red, but appeared a different tint somehow to what she thought they should look like.

She walked another block, crossed another street, and tried to keep her eyes open for a sign of where World Wide Wizard Inc. might be. She approached a tall, thin brown man who stood in front of a folding table. On his table was a colorful and strange assortment of wristwatches. Jan thought it was curious with his dark sunglasses and wool cap, he looked familiar somehow.

“What time is it?” the man asked Jan. His voice seemed to come out of nowhere.

“I don’t know,” Jan said, unconsciously stopping in front of his table.

“My point exactly. There’s a reason you don’t know. There’s a reason the knowledge of time is being kept from you. Do you know what that reason is?” The tall man began to sway rhythmically, as if hearing music.

“I don’t—” Jan said as the man waved his hands in front of her. His fingers fanned out and he spun in a tight circle. He moved his hips and torso like a noodle in the wind, which stunned Jan into staring at him. His green jacket, green cargo pants, and narrow sunglasses, made him appear a bit like a cobra, Jan thought.

“That reason,” the watch seller continued, “is because time is the most precious commodity a human being has. Yet!” The watch seller made a dramatic pause as he waved his arms in front of his merchandise. “Man has to waste his precious time on pointless, routine, trite, and if I may be completely honest—worthless expenditures of his time.”

The watch seller paused his dancing and took off his sunglasses. He moved close to Jan with piercing green eyes. “There is no getting back the time you save,” the watch seller said, his voice becoming a horse whisper. He moved close enough to kiss her. “If your time is simply wasted on the wrong people, or the wrong beliefs, or the wrong car, or the wrong job! Wouldn’t you agree?”

Jan tried shaking off his gaze. “Well, I—”

“Thank-you for agreeing with me,” the watch seller said interrupting once more. “It’s people like you who have vision. You know where you’re going and what you’re about. You have no time to waste. That’s why you, my girl, need this watch right here.” He selected a bold silver watch covered in glittering diamonds and held it in front of her. “If you are going to use time, you must have the right instruments with which to measure it, wouldn’t you agree?” he asked.

Jan paused her thinking for a moment, noticing people were walking past her. “I suppose,” she said.

“The value of one’s time is in fact the most under-rated commodity on Earth. Were you aware of that?” The watch seller asked. He picked up a gold watch from his table and held it against her wrist. “Money, jobs, information, friends—even lovers, these are things which an individual experiences in reverence to time,” the watch seller added. “The end of all things and the beginning of all things, is marked and measured by what we value most, yet most do not value it enough to ensure they are making the proper use of it. This, young lady,” the watch seller said smoothly, “is why you need to know what time it is.” He smiled. The watch seller held up the diamond watch, and then the gold against her wrist, alternating between the two in a hypnotic display as the gems and metal gleamed in the sunlight.

“I can’t argue with you,” Jan said.

“I know,” the watch seller said.

“But I’m afraid I have no money,” Jan said.

The watch seller took a step back.

“Then why you wastin’ my time, lady!” The watch seller dropped the two watches on the table and began to focus on a group of people approaching Jan from the direction she was headed. “Yo-yo-yo—you don’t know what time it is, bro! Get your watch here! Deal for you and the Misses!”

Jan found the watch seller’s spell broken and began walking again.

She kept looking at doors and windows, where strange names and smells seemed to trigger recollections she couldn’t make sense of. After crossing another street, Jan could feel the humidity rising. She took off her jacket and tied it around her waist. It suddenly occurred to her there were two sides to the street she was on, and she didn’t know if World Wide Wizard Inc. was on her side, or the opposite. Panic broke out sweat onto her forehead. She thought about going back; but then, how far ahead could the street go?

Jan approached another cross street. On the corner stood a perfectly cubed wooden booth, which had the words “Information Booth” carved in bold blue letters on the side.

Inside, a young man with a yellow goatee sat staring from his chair. He rested his chin on his fist with his elbow on the counter. He looked very sad.

Jan couldn’t tell what the young man was staring at.

“Excuse me,” Jan asked. “Can you—”

“Can I?” The information man asked.

“I’m hoping you can,” Jan said with agitation in her voice.

“People ask me questions all day long,” the man said. “I’ll bet you didn’t know that. Did you?”

“Well, aren’t you working in an information booth?” Jan said.

“Where is this? Where is that? That’s not information,” the information man said.

“I don’t see how answering those questions isn’t giving information,” Jan said.

“Of course! Because you don’t work with information, do you?”

“Well, no. But I am looking for some.”

The young man hadn’t stopped staring at the same spot. Jan finally turned and tried to see what he was looking at. When Jan turned back, she found the information man was standing up, looking at her. She took a step back.

He rolled his eyes. “So, you think the information you’re looking for is here?” he asked. “Because I’m going to be honest with you. There are a lot of questions I don’t have the answers to.” The young man seemed depressed. His yellow goatee, blue eyes, and yellow tie-dyed shirt made him look a bit like a leopard. Or a jackal, Jan thought. As she was trying to figure out exactly what he reminded her of, the information man pointed to the pamphlets on the counter and behind him.

“All this here, this is information,” he said with a sigh. “But unless you know what you’re looking for, the precise information—like say where something is—boy, do I get that question a lot, it’s like trying to find a map without a map to the map. Somehow, people think I’m a map. Tell me, do I look like a map?” The information man waited for Jan.

Jan shook her head. “No, ” Jan began to say, but was interrupted.

“A human being,” the information man said in a depressing tone, “is not a map. I am not a map. But people think because I have information, I must have the information they’re looking for. See, people don’t understand that who they are, is as much where they are going. They would know this if they understood how information really works. If I don’t know who you are, how can I really know where it is you need to go?” The information man paused.

He waited while Jan awkwardly tried to answer his question, but couldn’t.

The man picked up a pamphlet. The writing was in a language Jan didn’t recognize.

“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Jan finally admitted.

“Of course. Because there’s information you don’t posses.”

“That’s true,” Jan said. “All I’m trying to do is find—”

“You know what the problem is?” The information man interrupted again. “The problem is, people don’t know where they are. That’s the problem.” The information man began stacking the pamphlets into a house on the small counter of his booth.

“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly my problem,” Jan replied.

“You’re just a victim, that’s all. I don’t blame you.”

“Thank-you,” Jan said mystified.

“No, the problem is that information about where we’re at, specifically on planet Earth, is being kept from us. Sure, there’s GPS, satellites, tracking software, not to mention—maps. But that doesn’t really tell you where you are now, does it?”

“I’m afraid not,” Jan said.

“See? That’s exactly what I mean. You’re a victim, not simply because destinations are being kept from you, but because you don’t know your present location to the destination in question. Information is hidden from you. The things you don’t know don’t get you. It’s the things you do know that get you, because actually, they get you off track.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“That’s another excellent point,” the information man nodded and his tone got even more depressing. “Everybody’s following when nobody is leading. The politicians tell big business they need to lead, while big business tells the politicians they need to lead, while the little guy—or gal in your case—they get lost in the shuffle. People are left out on the street, not knowing where to go, or how to get there, or why they should go anywhere at all.”

“But I am trying to get somewhere, you see—”

“And you don’t know how to get there, do you. See? You’re the perfect example. A victim to a so-called victimless crime.” The information man set one more pamphlet onto his creation.

Jan surprised herself by pounding her fists on the information man’s counter, crashing his little house down. “I’m just trying to find out where World Wide Wizard Inc. is!” Jan yelled. “That’s all!” Jan found herself tearing up.

The information man frowned. He handed her a tissue. He scooped together the scattered pamphlets and pushed them into a small waste bin.

“I see,” the information man said. “It’s right up the block there after the crossing. You can’t miss it.” He stood waiting, Jan finally realized, for her acknowledgement.

“Thank you,” Jan said exhaling. She tried smiling at him, but he looked sadder then ever. In looking at him, she decided he most certainly looked more like a leopard like than anything else.

“Don’t thank me,” the information man said sitting down. “Just doing my job.”

The information man slumped back into his chair and stared off again.

Jan walked away still not seeing what he could have been so intent on looking at.

After crossing the street, three doors up to her right, was the sign “World Wide Wizard Inc.” on a glass door.

The lights appeared to be off. The door was locked.

Jan stood at the glass door of the entrance.

She read the “Sorry, Closed For Lunch! Back at 0.00 pm!” sign repeatedly, wondering if she could be misinterpreting its meaning. Jan heard a rustling noise from a pile of garbage bags next to the doorway, and realized a man was lying there.

An orange-faced man in a dirty brown tattered suit wearing a trucker cap sat in filth and muck. On his hat was printed the word “Slump!” in bold red letters with a blue exclamation point. The man leaned up against the brick wall of the building and wiped his dirty face. Jan noticed his arms and legs slowly bobbed about in a strange, mechanical movement.

“He’s not in,” the man said to her.

His voice reverberated with a strange, East Coast drunken accent Jan seemed to recognize. “Even when he’s in, he’s out,” the man said loudly. “You can trust me on that one. I know what I’m talking about.” The man gurgled a drink from a glass bottle wrapped in a paper bag.

“I see,” Jan said. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Back?” The man’s bloodshot blue eyes circled about and then landed their gaze on Jan’s face. “When the tides go back, that’s when he gets back. When the gravitational effect of the moon stops, and things go back to normal, that’s when he’ll be back.” The orange-faced man scrunched up his eyes. There was a narrow white band over his eyes where glasses should go. Perhaps the man had sunglasses on when he’d been hit by a rogue paint gun, Jan thought.

The sign still puzzled Jan. “Does that mean he’s out to lunch?” she asked pointing to the sign.

“Out to lunch is exactly what I’m referring to,” the man said. “I mean, your average postal employee on any given day is out to lunch, because of high taxes and government bureaucracy. But this man, I would argue, is so far out to lunch, it might as well be dinner.” The man took another long, loud series of gulps from his bottle and scratched at his crotch.

Jan turned to her left and found the man from the billboard was standing at her side.

“I wouldn’t listen to him.” The man was bald and had the first pleasant disposition she’d seen all day. “He’s a bit lost,” the man said as he reached into his pocket for keys and opened the glass door. He asked Jan to hold a plastic bag for a moment as he flipped the sign to read, “Open! Come on Up!”

The food in the bag smelled delicious, and Jan found herself salivating.

“Thanks,” he said taking the bag back from Jan. “You hungry?”

“Starved,” Jan said.

“The whole world’s starving for truth you know, you hypocrite,” the orange-faced man lying in the garbage yelled. “Truth in advertising!” Drool ran down the orange man’s chin.

“Stop scaring the poor girl, Don. I’m Calvin Hobbs, by the way,” he said to Jan.

“World Wide Wizard Inc.?” Jan asked.

“The one and only,” Hobbs said. “Follow me. ”

Hobbs climbed the stairs after turning on the hallway light switch.

The glass door slowly swung closed behind Jan. The air conditioning felt good on her skin. She climbed the staircase behind Hobbs, who apologized for the man’s behavior.

“He’s one of our local colorful characters,” Hobbs said. “You may have noticed this town is chock full of them,” Hobbs added as he reached his office. There was a rack of digital equipment behind a plain, wooden desk where Hobbs set the bag of food. Hobbs took out plates and containers of what appeared to be tacos, more than enough for Jan and himself.

“I usually eat dinner here as well, since I work late,” he explained. “But I’m happy to share.”

“I appreciate it,” Jan said. “I’ve had the strangest day, and I haven’t had anything to eat since I woke up in the park not knowing where I am.”

Hobbs remained silent as he divided up the food. Careful glances from the man appeared to take in Jan’s appearance and behavior with a keen, analytical eye. Jan found herself self-conscious as she ate. She hadn’t realized she’d asked for the hot sauce as Hobbs was simultaneously handing it to her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to be rude,” Jan said crunching loudly into her taco.

Hobbs laughed. “You’re fine,” he said. “No worries.” Hobbs’ teeth crunched with zeal into his own taco, and he poured half his soda into a coffee cup to share with Jan.

Jan looked around at Hobbs’s office.

Besides the complicated equipment behind the man, the office held a couple of filing cabinets, and a workbench and table in an adjacent room. Hobbs’ open demeanor seemed to invite her to look about, and take in her surroundings. Her eyes drank in the photographs to the side on each wall. One portrayed a mountain, the other a beach. Both seemed eerily familiar to her.

“You recognize them, don’t you?” Hobbs said wiping his hands as he finished his taco.

“They are the first familiar things I’ve seen all day,” Jan said. She sat back in her chair facing his desk, her neck craning from one landscape to the other. “But…I can’t tell you why,” Jan said.

“That,” Hobbs said with a grin, “is one of my very favorite songs.”

Her ears seemed to recognize the words, but she couldn’t place them.

“That’s a very nice shirt you’ve got on,” Hobbs said reaching for a toothpick. “It’s very rare.”

Jan looked down at her Led Zeppelin t-shirt. “Really?” she asked.

“In Through the Out Door,” Hobbs said slowly. “Not my favorite album, but it was their last. See where it says ‘cancelled’ over the artwork? I haven’t seen that shirt in thirty years.”

“What does it mean?” Jan asked.

“It means,” Hobbs said finishing the last of his soda, “That you don’t belong here, and that I know where you’re from. It also means that whatever fate has in store for you,” Hobbs said with a small smile as his left hand wandered across his temples and then his bald head, “That I’d like to see you get home.”

Jan’s eyes widened. “You know who I am?” she asked.

“No,” Hobbs answered, “But I think I know where you belong. I think I know that, because once upon a time, I lived there. You may not have gotten here like I did,” Hobbs said after a pause, “but seeing you, in that shirt, reminds me of home.”

Hobbs looked at Jan and moved his eyebrows up and down to break the tension. “A home,” he said, “I’ve wanted to get back to for a very long time. Maybe, just maybe, I can help you get back.”

Jan set her empty plate down on his desk. Questions flooded her mind. How? Who? Where? Tangled and emotional thoughts raced through her as Hobbs came around from his side of the desk and slid his chair next to Jan. She could feel a tear on her cheek.

“It’s all right,” Hobbs said. “It’s okay. Listen; maybe if I explain about the band, it’ll make more sense. Not that much will make sense right now. See, where I come from, history remembers Led Zeppelin breaking up right after their drummer, John Bonham, died.

“When I was younger, oh god—much, much younger—my friends and I had plans to see them. We were Led Zeppelin fanatics. We listened to Zep day and night while playing Dungeons and Dragons. Led Zeppelin had just scheduled their North American tour with the release of “In Through the Out Door.” Dates for concerts had been posted. When Bonham died, though, all the promotional stuff, like t-shirts and posters that had been run off, were stamped cancelled. Since only a few were run off, they became collector’s items. The band, they couldn’t go on. That was it. They couldn’t replace their friend. They couldn’t imagine touring without him.

“Where you and I are now, history went a little differently. John Bonham died, but not alone. He was in a freak accident as a guest of Pete Townsend, who was killed at the same time. Pete Townsend, who wrote all the songs for his band The Who, well, they couldn’t go on without Pete. So, their drummer, Keith Moon, got sober. Keith then went on to replace John Bonham, and Led Zeppelin was reformed. They still put out albums over here,” Hobbs said brushing taco shell crumbs from his tie. Hobbs looked at Jan with soft, kind eyes, the same eyes that had triggered her instinct to seek him out from his billboard photo.

“For those few of us who have found ourselves here, there are very strange, but subtle differences,” Hobbs said. “That’s why the posters seem familiar to you,” he added. “Geographically, they are identical to our world. But they are not in the same places, or surrounded by the same things,” Hobbs said with a laugh.

“I’ve had that feeling all day,” Jan said. “Out of place,” she said with a crack in her voice.

Hobbs handed her a napkin so Jan could wipe her eyes.

“For me,” Hobbs said squeezing her hand, “Zep was never the same band after Keith joined.” Hobbs stood and motioned Jan to follow him next door. “But for you, none of this has happened. You just got here. Your memories from the other world haven’t stabilized yet. You’re kind of a blank slate, in between understanding how this world is different from your world. From my world. Our world.” Hobbs turned on a workbench light above a turntable.

“I’ve been working on a way to get back for a long time,” Hobbs said, “without luck. But for you, young lady, I think there just may be a way to send you home.”

Jan sniffled and smiled. “How?” she asked.

Hobbs took her hand, and inspected the tattoo on her left wrist. He patted it in a fatherly way, and she sat down at his workbench.

“This, this is not a tattoo,” Hobbs said. “Here, let me show you.” Hobbs showed her a picture of tattoos from a folder he opened. “This is the research I’ve been doing. This is technology being developed here, as well as in your world. This tattoo isn’t just ink. It’s a special wearable microchip, that monitors your heartbeat and blood pressure, while making you look hip and sexy and all that. The thing is, what they didn’t tell people, what they didn’t realize until it was too late, on your side and on this one, was the Nano-technology they built picked up broadcasts from other dimensions. These tattoos interfere with the neurons in the brain, to unintentionally re-focus human consciousness on the frequency of another, separate, parallel dimension. That’s my theory, anyhow—based on what I’ve been able to uncover.

“Now,” Hobbs continued, “since I got here a little differently, I can’t go home. But! Since your tattoo is a part of you, I think we can reconnect it to a signal from home, from the other world, and have it pull you back over. If I’m right, and I hope I am, we can use your tattoo should to send you home.”

Jan spontaneously hugged him.

“Hey now,” Hobbs said. “I have to be honest.” His faced looked serious for the first time. “This is tricky. It’s dangerous. This might kill you, rather than send you home.”

Hobbs looked at Jan as she took a deep breath and made up her mind.

“I don’t belong here,” Jan said.

“Neither do I. Nevertheless, I’ve made things work here. There are good people here, despite what you may have encountered so far. You can make a life for yourself here.”

“A life where I don’t know what I’m suppose to be? Who I’m supposed to be? That’s not a life I can live.”

Hobbs leaned back and rubbed a hand over his bald head once more.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll try. I believe that music is the answer.”

Hobbs took out a record, and blew off a tiny bit of dust. He put it on the turntable, and set the needle onto track three, side two. “Going to California” came through speakers, clear and loud. A ringing acoustic guitar and soothing voice put Jan into a trance.

Hobbs slid a lever on a small equalizer and the voice became distorted, the guitar warbled. For Jan, the room began to dim. She felt herself fading from existence as Hobbs began to push buttons, flip switches, and turn dials. There were geometric shapes and bouncing balls of light that floated into her chest and back out again. Images of people and places floated before her.

Jan saw a fire waterfall and a lake of molten glass turn black and then shatter. She was no longer in Hobbs’ office, but she could hear his voice over what appeared to be creatures gathering together in a cave and grooving with a Pict.

“What do you hear now?” she heard Hobbs shout.
“It sounds like Jar-Jar Binks eating pussy,” Jan shouted.

“Okay. Let me turn the knob the other way. What do you hear now?”

“Now it sounds like Thor giving head. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

“I think so. You’re starting to remember!” She saw Hobbs smile.

Jan was back in his lab but the sounds were now familiar. It was Led Zeppelin, but sounding like a barbershop quartet. The sounds morphed into pelicans laughing in a cocktail party.  Then pulses of the baseline pumped with her heart, as images of streets and faces flashed before her eyes. Information about her life flooded into Jan’s mind.

Hobbs yelled over the squalling sound of rain and a dancing vibraphone. “How about now?”

Jan yelled. “I don’t want to remember! The pollution and the politicians, the crime and the pain!” The music was Led Zeppelin, but the room was now a mystical green, filled with mist.

“Listen,” Hobbs shouted, “I know it’s hard. But I’d give anything to see my wife one more time. And I divorced her before you were born!” Hobbs flipped a blue switch and the room turned red.

“This deal’s getting worse all the time!” Jan yelped.

“It’s not my fault!” Hobbs hollered with a wide grin.

There was a flash of brilliant yellow, and a pulse of red-indigo waves went into her eyes and down into the deepest parts of her. She found herself walking within her mind’s eye, stepping carefully down the path of the outlines of her tattoo. She stepped onto the stem as Hobbs stood before her smiling, then gently faded away.

She opened her eyes. She stood on a large meadow as the sun was setting, and she recognized immediately where she was, and where she was going.

____________________________________

This story is a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due this spring.  Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
_____________________________________________________

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“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

Explain it Again

 

The alarm sounded. Thompson ordered general quarters. The intruder alert sounded over the loudspeakers. Guards with M-16’s roamed the corridors of Stanton Air Base, as Major Tom Thompson stood in the security annex scanning monitors. Thompson tapped his impatient fingers on the console, as men in fatigues ran down corridors in a rampant search. Thompson silenced the alarm. On the monitor, two armed guards were dragging the intruder into the holding room.

Sergeant Wilkins came into the annex and stood next to Major Tom.

“How long was he in the lab?” Thompson asked.

“At least an hour,” Wilkins said. “He was building this.”

Wilkins set a device on the table.

Thompson and Wilkins stared at it for a long, breathless minute.

“Any idea what it is?” Thompson finally asked.

“Nope,” Wilkins said.

“Oh come on, Bob,” Thompson said. “You’re the guy who plugs everything in around here. You’re telling me you can’t figure out what this Radio Shack reject is? It looks like a radio. It’s probably a radio.” Thompson picked up the device and felt a mild eclectic current in his fingers.

“It’s not a radio.”

“But there’s a dial and everything.”

“No.”

Thompson sat down in a chair. “I hate my job,” he confessed. “I do. Most nights, I’m here just to avoid going home to my wife. But this job, it just keeps getting weirder.”

“Your wife’s pretty hot, Tom.”

“Sure,” Thompson said with a sigh. “But you ever have a gorgeous woman in lingerie complain for an entire hour about you not picking up her dry cleaning? Or stand there in a thong bikini while she makes you look for shoes in her closet? I’d rather have my fingernails pulled out.”

Wilkins smiled. “Another fundraiser this weekend, huh?”

“Save the pumas, I think.” Thompson looked at the readout from the computer as the guards took the prisoner’s fingerprints. “Bowman, it says. Roger Bowman.” Thompson pressed print.

“Sounds like a real asshole,” Wilkins said.

“Just call everybody, will you? This guy works for NSA or DOD and he’s testing our defenses. I’m sure of it. I just want to go back to my office and finish my comic. Then, I want to go home, and hear my wife complain how I’m not doing enough around the house.”

Wilkins slapped Thompson on the back and squeezed his shoulder. “Hang in there, buddy,” he said with a mock whisper. Thompson walked into the holding room where the prisoner sat in handcuffs. The cuffs had a long chain attached to a steel loop on the table.

Thompson sat down in front of the man. His face seemed familiar.

“Look,” Bowman said, “there’s no way you’re going to believe me. But you have to. People’s lives are at stake.”

“I’m Major Tom,” Thompson said scribbling on the printout he’d attached to a clipboard. “Mind telling me how you got in?” Thompson looked at Bowman carefully for tells.

“That’s the part you’re not going to believe,” Bowman said. “Wait. Did you say your name was Major Tom? Is that supposed to be a joke?”

“No. My commanding officer is a die-hard Bowie fan.”

Bowman looked Thompson straight in his eye. “I don’t believe you,” he said.

“I don’t give a shit,” Thompson said. “How’d you get it in?”

“The same way I found this place. Remote viewing.”

“Okay,” Thompson said. “Who sent you? CIA or NSA?”

“Neither. I found this place on my own.”

“It’s a simple question. Tattaglia, or Barzini?” Thompson scribbled a little picture of a puma on the page next to Bowman’s picture. Thompson read more about Bowman.

Bowman was from a little town in Virginia. Coincidently, the Major had been camping near there nine years ago, when heavy rains had driven him in-doors. There, in a cozy little bar, Thompson had met his wife, who had turned his sex life into something strange and provocative. Thompson took a long look at Bowman and thought maybe that’s why he looked so damn familiar. Maybe he’d seen him there, at that bar.

Bowman was dressed in stolen Air Force fatigues. He would have passed for a soldier, except for his shoulder length brown hair and his three-day beard. “You can quote the Godfather all you want,” Bowman said, “but I’m telling you—I came here on my own. I need your help.”

Bowman’s voice exerted a quality of earnestness, a dedicated sincerity. Sincerity and dedication made Thompson sick to his stomach. Thompson was a true cynic. He didn’t believe in sincerity, he thought it was all an act. Thompson thought the only reason people ever sounded sincere, like politicians, was because they had a cause for every dollar in your pocket. People who expressed sincerity wanted to save the world, so they could take it home and shake all the money out of it. Thompson wanted all the sincere phonies rounded up, so they could be clubbed like baby seals.

“Just take it from the top,” Thompson said. “Start with explaining how you found this place.” Thompson got up and went to the corner, where he poured tea from a thermos into two paper cups. He sat back down across from Bowman, sliding one cup over.

Bowman took a sip of his tea. “You ever heard of Zeta Reticuli?” he asked.

“Sure. They’re like a Starbuck’s chain, right?”

“Not exactly.” Bowman paused. His stare was intense. “It’s a star system.”

“Oh,” Thompson said. “That Zeta Reticuli. Of course!” Thompson slapped his forehead. “The one Betty Hill drew after she’d been abducted. The one people claim all the gray aliens are from. The one the ancient alien nuts point out that while it’s fifty light years away from earth, it’s only twelve point five light years from Zeta Reticuli A to Zeta Reticuli B. Since they’re just a hot minute from each other, they must play backgammon every Friday. Why, tonight is Friday, isn’t it? That explains everything.”

“You’re not working with them, are you?” Bowman asked in his sincerest tone yet.

“I’m a pilot in the Air Force, asshole. I have to fly by the stars.” Thompson’s face scrunched up. “Can we stop with the games?”

Bowman looked at his watch. “I have less than an hour before I get dragged back to a place you couldn’t imagine. All I’m asking for is five minutes. That’s all I need. I’m almost done. You looked at what I was doing. It’s not explosive. It’s not communicating with the Russians. Please.”

Bowman rubbed his eyes.

He looked tired.

Thompson took a deep breath.

Bowman continued. “I’m sure posted here, you’ve seen strange things,” he said. “You’re probably not cleared for it, but you probably suspect the government is working with them. The Air Force has since Kitty Hawk. You must have seen things you can’t explain, I mean—with your attitude I’m sure you always get the night shift…” Bowman’s tone waivered from confidence to fear. It was as if two people inside him were fighting for control.

“Who are they?” Major Tom asked.

“You know.” Bowman put his hands over his eyes like binoculars and blinked like ET.

“Uh-huh,” Thompson said. “Eliot is not going to save you on this one, buddy.”

“Can I talk to the person in charge?”

“I am in charge.”

“Sure. But you’re only a major. Where’s your commanding officer?”

“I’m the Major. It’s after ten, so my Colonel is home in bed,” Thompson said. “Not that he knows how to run this place anyway. So that’s where he’s staying. Bob Dylan said it best, you’ve got to serve somebody.” Thompson turned his attention to the clipboard.

“I get the feeling you’re a guy with issues,” Bowman said.

“It says here you did two years at Virginia Tech—then, you dropped off the grid. That’s a little suspicious. I’m thinking schizophrenia, and I’m thinking recruitment by the CIA. Now, you snuck onto a top-secret military base to put together a toy radio. This leads me to believe that you’ve either done a tremendous amount of drugs, or you’re working for the company off the books. Which is it?” Thompson looked over his clipboard at Bowman.

“I was recruited,” Bowman said. “I was trying to be patriotic. They used that old line about aptitude. I’ll let you in on a secret: Everybody’s got aptitude.”

“So they did send you here, to monitor our response.”

“No. I needed access, and you were the closest facility. We’re running out of time.”

“How long were you inside before we caught you?

“Nearly an hour,” Bowman said.

“So, you got past my guard dogs, and three million dollars of security, and all our top notch man-power—”

“Top notch, really?”

“Fair enough. Then, you climb into the side of a mountain, down an elevator shaft into an underground installation, which maybe three or four hundred people know about. Why didn’t you just rob a bank?”

Bowman drank the rest of his tea and crumpled up the small paper cup. The chained handcuffs didn’t give him much mobility, but he tossed the crumpled cup over his shoulder and hit the little wastebasket in the corner dead center. He flattened out his palms on the table.

“I’m telling you, if I’m here when they come, there will be residual damage. Let me finish my work. Then it’ll be like I was never here.” Bowman didn’t look crazy.

The Major studied his face. Bowman wasn’t shaking, or sweating. His eyes weren’t dilated. Bowman seemed like a regular guy with a sharp vocabulary, and he wasn’t afraid of being caught. The Major thought he could be a scientist, a con man, or a skilled thief—probably all three, if he’d been hired by the company. So, what was with the device he’d built? Something in the Major’s instincts told him Bowman was dangerous, but he couldn’t see how.

Sure, every once in a while, someone had stumbled onto the periphery of his base—lost hikers, wilderness freaks, pot growers. But the Major’s base wasn’t advertised like area fifty-one. Just to figure out there was anyone inside of the mountain you’d have serious homework. Maybe, the Major thought, some lowly corporal, after cleaning the toilets, had leaked information about this place in some coffee shop after one too many espressos to impress a cute girl. But no soldier here would risk his pension and prison to brag, not for a piece of tail.

Bowman reached out suddenly towards the major.

“Every time they come for me,” Bowman said, “they make me drink this sour, viscous fluid. It’s like drinking molten brains. It takes over my nerves, so I can think like they do. I can see the universe like they do. You don’t understand reality, until you’ve seen it through their eyes!” Bowman had small tears coming out of the corner of his eyes.

“I hate that,” Thompson said.

Thompson leaned back in his chair. “You know what else I hate?” The Major pulled out a pack of smokes from his front shirt pocket and lit up a cigarette. “My wife, she comes from money. A lot of it. It’s not like I’ll ever see a dime, because her father and mother, they’re going to leave it to all charity. Fuck it, I don’t care. Because they have piles of money, though, she drags me to these charity events every week. I have to put on a suit, I have to shave, and almost every single time I go—right before I go—I have to take a dump. Maybe it’s nerves or something. I’m in a hurry, my wife is yelling that we’re late, I’ve been eating the lousy food on the base, and so, every week I’m squatting in my suit while she’s pounding on the door. So then, under pressure, under duress, sometimes I forget to roll up my sleeves. Then, you know what happens? I get shit on my sleeves. I never think I do. I check! I do. I look, there’s nothing there. But then, I’ll be sitting next to some old woman who’s wearing a fur stole, and she’ll ask me to pass the butter. And out comes my sleeve, and there it is…dookie! Right there, and the old woman can smell it, too. That’s what I hate.”

Thompson leaned back and puffed out three rings of smoke.

“Sounds like you’ve got problems,” Bowman said.

“Oh, but I do. Nevertheless, I don’t have the problems you have, Bowman. I get crack heads wandering around the mountain every once in a while, or doomsday preppers, or people looking for buried treasure. They think nobody’s surveyed this goddamn mountain before. Like Google Maps somehow missed an entire mountain. Like the US Geological Survey was a hoax or something. Everybody tells me they’re the first. I’ll bet you thought you were the first asshole to find this place.”

“As a matter of fact…”

“Oh, no. Thanks to the Internet, Anonymous, FOIA, pot growers, and Bigfoot hunters, I get an asshole wandering in here about every month. Now, just give me a story I can believe. You were tripping balls on mushrooms. Your girlfriend made you walk home and you got lost. You heard about a yard sale up the hill and you fell down a well. Something I can put down in my report except aliens. Anything, besides aliens. Because my Colonel, he hates that alien bullshit even more than I do. He’s not going to buy it.”

“Can I have a smoke?” Bowman asked.

“Sure. Why the hell not.”

While it was true that the occasional kook, or student hiker wandered off the trail and stumbled “technically” onto the base, there were actually several posts of Air Force personal in civilian clothes that caught and re-directed them. No one had ever made it inside the compound, let alone deep into the restricted labs at the lowest levels of the base, where Bowman had been caught.

Thompson knew Bowman was way too sharp to be crazy. This left sabotage and spying. He seemed too candid to be a spy, and too desperate to be a saboteur. Maybe that’s why he gave Thompson the creeps: Even more than an old woman at a fundraiser after two martinis telling him he looked just like her dead husband.

“All right, cards on the table,” Bowman said after a long drag of his cigarette. “I’m from an alternate universe.”

“Well, now we’re getting somewhere,” Thompson said.

Thompson stepped out of the room and slammed the door behind him. Sergeant Wilkins was waiting for him in the hall. Thompson approached him and fished out another cigarette from his pocket. As Major Tom fumbled in his pocket for his lighter, Wilkins smoothly lit up his zippo and leaned back as the Major inhaled.

“Tell me you got something on this guy,” Thompson said with a mean, raspy exhale.

Wilkins shook his head. “I called Langley, I called Homeland, I called Joint Forces. I called everybody except your mother-in-law. There’s nothing on this guy. Nobody’s heard of him, nobody knows him.”

“Well then he’s a rogue spook is all. The CIA just fucked up. Some general will be calling any minute with the training exercise excuse.”

“I don’t think so,” Wilkins said.

“Why? Why do you do this to me in the middle of the night when I could be getting my Netflix on? You know what I was binging? There’s this series on burnt out porn actresses. You’re taking away quality time from me, Sergeant.”

“Tom, I’m telling you, there’s something disturbing about what he was working on.”

“Did you talk to Sia over at the Farm?”

“I did. She said no, he’s not one of hers. Officially, unofficially, cross her heart—he wasn’t sent here. I’ve also tested that thing he built, and I can’t tell what the hell it’s for.”

Major Tom exhaled again and kicked his foot against the wall. “Yeah, okay—it’s not a radio. It’s not a transceiver. It’s not a Transformer. So what it is?”

“How is it still putting a signal out after we pulled out the battery?” Wilkins asked.

Thompson turned around and faced the Sergeant. “Really? That’s weird. What about someone here leaking our location?”

“C’mon. Everybody here is hand picked. They wouldn’t risk telling anybody. Even if they could, what would they say? They work inside a mountain? Like a coal minor for the Air Force? I don’t see that getting a soldier laid. Besides, I’ve been here longer than anybody, and I still don’t know what the hell we’re doing here.”

Thompson laughed. “Tell you the truth, Wilkins, neither do I.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No shit.”

“What? You mean you run the place, and they don’t tell you what we’re really doing here? Who puts a reconnaissance base in the middle of a mountain? What, we’re supposed to be on mole patrol?”

“My theory,” Thompson said handing the Sergeant a smoke after he asked for one with his fingers, “was always that we were a fallout base for high level rich folks.”

“And all those abandoned labs that our friend here wandered into?”

“Budget cuts?”

“Really?” Wilkins said inhaling. “When exactly was the last budget cut for defense, anyhow? Even when they say they’re closing a base down, they open up five more. I’ve been on the job thirty years. There’s no such thing as a budget cut when it comes to defense. Especially the super-secret hollowed out mountain kind of defense.”

“You’ve got a point.”

“I always do, Major Tom.”

“Fuck you.”

“What are you going to do with him?”

“Well, I don’t think holding him is going to—” Thompson was interrupted by a loud thump. All the base alarms went off. The walls started to shake and the floor rippled like it was taffy.

A huge crack appeared in the wall just above Thompson’s head. The floor split open, and Wilkins fell through. Thompson heard a scream. He ran into the interrogation room.

“Explain it again,” Thompson said, looking at Bowman.

Bowman was holding his head and blood was coming out of his nose.

“Make it fast!” Thompson yelled.

Another rumble shook the room. The walls seemed to merge, and then double, and then split apart once again.

“They’re here,” Bowman said. “Get me my device. You don’t have to believe me. Just evacuate the base, leave me here, and get out. All they want is me. Get your people out of here. If you don’t, the reality of their universe will be slipped over this one. Since I haven’t finished the device, there will be ripples in the overlay. Cracks. It’ll crumble this base down inside of the mountain.”

Thompson looked at Bowman, and for the first time believed him. He un-cuffed Bowman. “The device is next door. Come on.” Bowman stood up slowly.

Thompson ran into the security annex, where the monitors were flickering. Bowman was behind him, picking up his device and adjusting it. Thompson opened a cabinet and threw a tool kit on the table.

“Attention,” Thompson said picking up the intercom. “All personnel evacuate the base. This is Major Thompson. All personnel evacuate, now!” The floor shifted violently. The walls continued to shake.

“I have to make sure they get out,” Thompson said. “When I get back, we’re going to finish our conversation.” Thompson ran out of the room. The men were heading out the east wing, which exited onto a plateau. Thompson waited until all the men were out to safety. Another earthquake hit, and the exterior fire door flew down the stairs at him, narrowly missing him. The stairwell crumbled. Thompson was trapped inside.

The quakes stopped.

Thompson ran to the annex.

Bowman was gone.

The device was still on the table.

From it came strange high-pitched noises, and a language Thompson couldn’t recognize.

_________________________________________________________

This story is a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due this spring.  Contact the author by:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
_____________________________________________________

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“Whatever happens, happens.”

Speigal B&W

-Spike Spiegel

 

Shimmer

Shimmer 1

I was walking down the stairs at the train station when a bolt of fire went past my head.

Wait.

What?

I heard a woman scream. Another chunk of red fire hit the man next me.

“Get down!” A woman shouted.

My instincts kicked in. I crouched down on the stairs near the platform. The man next to me was moaning. His chest had turned to goo. Men and women were scrambling up and down the stairs, bumping into each other like a herd of buffalo stampeding. Steam rose from the dead man’s chest. His eyes rolled back. The whites of his eyes looked like mirrors. There was a burnt smell, like toast and bacon and a house on fire, and then I saw flames. The stairs were burning. I snuck a peek through the railing and another man fell from one of those little balls of fire.

I traced the direction of the shot. A beautiful woman stood with a gun in her hand. It wasn’t like any gun I’d seen. The woman was unlike any other as well. She was pale, with long blond curly locks of hair. She wore a blue sweater, jeans, leather jacket, black boots, and blue eyes—she was looking right at me. She motioned for me to come to her. I thought about running. I looked at the man next to me and reconsidered.

I put my hands up and walked down to meet her.

“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” she said. She holstered her gun beneath her jacket.

“We need to leave. Now. He came to kill you. Others will follow.”

That’s when I noticed her glow. I’d been so stunned by her looks, I’d dismissed the shimmer that surrounded her. This glow made her seem like an angel from the underworld, or maybe some kind of demon from heaven. It was like a miniature aurora borealis surrounding her. I wonder if it was her aura, because I’d never seen one: People tell me all the time they see mine.

If she wanted me dead, I’d be dead. She turned around and started a brisk pace out the south entrance of the train station. I found myself jogging beside her. “I guess this means my ski weekend is cancelled,” I said.

She glanced at me as we made our way out the exit. Cops and security were rolling up and detaining people. She took a hold of my hand. Her fingers were like ice. Then it was like a curtain of electricity had gone up around us. I could feel a buzz. We walked past the security guards and the mob trying to get out of the station to safety. Nobody seemed to notice her. She turned the corner and then another. The streets looked abandoned. She adjusted a switch on her watch and the curtain came down. We got into a black SUV and she fired up the engine.

The dashboard was impressive. All kinds of readouts from integrated screens, including my heart rate, which was one thirty.

“Take a deep breath,” she said. “We’ll be somewhere safe soon.”

There were too many questions to ask.

Where did I even start?

“What’s your name?” I finally asked.

She turned the car down a road leading to the foothills of the Sierra’s.

“Miranda,” she said. “That would be the closest translation, I believe.”

“Thank-you for saving me, Miranda.”

She looked at me. The intensity of her gaze wasn’t simply knowledge and experience. There was a power in her observation of me, which didn’t seem human. “I haven’t saved you yet,” she said.

“Great,” I said. “Just great.”

She drove in silence. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to say. She approached a cabin on an isolated road. She parked the SUV in the back. She dialed a number on what looked like a phone, and the door opened for us.

“Smart home, huh?” I said.

“Something like that.” A smile went across her face for the first time.

The cabin was sparse, but clean, modern, and newly renovated. It looked plain on the outside but the furnishing was expensive. Something about the chairs and the tables didn’t scream Ikea. She started a fire and hung up her jacket, suggesting I should do the same. She mentioned food and I found myself starving. She handed me bottle of water and told me to drink it.

“You’re really used to being in charge, aren’t you?”

“There are things you don’t know.”

“Oh, I get that. What I don’t get is the glow that’s around you. Not only is it sexy, Miranda—if that is your name—it’s making you look like you’re not from around here.” I opened the bottle and drank the whole thing down. Damn. I was thirsty.

She looked at me defensively. I noticed she had taken off her gun holster as well. “You see a glow about my person?” she asked. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

“Very possible. Very becoming. Do you want to start with that? Or why the guy in the train station was trying to kill me. Or maybe why all your gadgets look so advanced. You don’t have to start on one particular topic, but I sure as hell want to get around to of all them before I trust you.” I set the empty water bottle on the counter. I decided to make a break for the bathroom as I’d obviously surprised her.

There, I threw up.

She asked if I felt better. I mumbled something and felt light headed. She handed me a cup of tea, and I noticed there were eggs cooking. She made two plates and sat next to me at the counter. There we ate, like an old married couple who done breakfast every day for forty years. Finally, after my last bite of eggs, I was about to ask a question, but she poured me another cup of tea. This time I reached for the little sugar bowl and put two heaping teaspoons in my cup.

I found myself staring. A delicate texture of light surrounded her, moved with her, and seemed to adjust to her expressions. A faint aura of blue-green that captivated me. She was beautiful, yes. Her inquisitive blue eyes saw everything. Her high cheekbones, and the smoothness of her skin against the curled locks of her long blond hair, they were all classic marks of beauty.

“Royalty,” I said under my breath. I waved my hand away indicating it was nothing.

“Most people never see it,” she said.

“Why do you think I can?” I said.

“Maybe like me, you don’t belong here.”

She sipped at her tea and let my next question linger inside of me. Did I belong? I never felt I belonged anywhere. There was no good explanation. Out of place or out of time, I simply decided it was how one feels when they seek solitude instead of company. The artist’s life was one on the fringes of society, caught between the cracks of the past and the future. As I straddled the present, no place was home for me.

“If I were to ask you directly, would you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“Whether I’m suppose to be here or not.”

“Well, you are here. I don’t see a way out of that. Do you?”

“This game of yours, it’s not amusing. You blend in well enough, on the surface. Yet the decisions you make, the choices you’ve selected, they all have a pre-courser of knowledge. You’re from the future. I can’t have been the first one to figure that out.”

“All of what you’ve said is true,” she said, putting her teacup on the counter. She got up and stoked the fireplace. Outside a fresh blanket of snow had covered the Sierra’s. Her slacks and blue sweater; it was like a uniform, somehow.

Was she on a mission? Was I her mission?

“There’s only two reasons to travel in time,” I said. “One is to observe. The other is to change.”

“Do you believe that’s possible?” Miranda asked.

“I don’t know. At a certain point I think anything’s possible.”

“That’s very open-minded of you.”

“And probably very foolish.”

She smiled. It was a radiant smile. It was contagious. A guy couldn’t help but falling for her. The trouble was her tactics. Every statement, every glance, there were multiple interpretations and subtle connotations which I couldn’t see far enough in advance to counter.

She was either a master manipulator, or I was making her out to be one.

It wasn’t in how she acted, the tone of her voice, the calm movements of her hands. There was a sureness, a certainty she possessed. I feigned my way through my troubles. I stumbled, and caught myself from disaster either by sheer luck, or a clever twist of reasoning grasped at the last minute.

She was tactical in everything she said and did. There were always two more steps involved in her thinking than in mine, and I admired that about her.

“You have questions,” she said sitting down and pouring us full glasses of her herbal tea. The tea held cinnamon, nutmeg, and some kind of mint; the potion spun my senses to the point of feeling drugged. She looked at me and took another large sip, indicating for me to follow.

As I swallowed, I felt a pulse of relaxation hit me. It wasn’t a druggy sort of slurry high, rather it was like a nurturing calm, the touch of a lover’s hand on my chest that felt warm. The words escaped my mouth before I could shut my lips. “Why now? What made you seek me out in this time, at this place?”

“Time is fluid,” she said, “but there are bubbles in the flow of time. These can be ridden until they burst. These pockets can be used for travel, for one who has been trained.”

She looked at me with a strange familiarity. “There are moments between moments,” she said, “which can be utilized to jump from one place in the stream of time to the next. There has to be a precisely plotted course, or a traveller will get lost in the stream, unable to return. This was the closest I could get, but it was not close enough.” She took a drink of her tea.

“You came to help me.”

“Yes.”

“I may not survive the day.”

She paused. “I am not certain. However, yes. A man will come with others. You will either kill him, or he will kill you.”

“For whatever reason I trust you,” I said. “I just need a reasons why I have to kill this man.”

“He’s not a man.”

“That’s not important. You don’t seem human either. I value your life as I would any other. The trees and the wolves and the snow outside, they have just as much right to be here as I do.”

At this, she smiled again, and her shimmer grew bright. “You’re right,” she laughed. “You speak the truth.” She took her hands and folded them her lap, leaning back in her char.

The snow came down a little harder and the wind picked up.

The tea and the fire felt so good, I never wanted to leave.

Perhaps because I knew I couldn’t I stay.

There was a moment when I reached out and I couldn’t help myself; I kissed her. Her lips tasted like pomegranate. She kissed me back.

“There’s more I have to tell you,” she said, gently pushing me away.

“Of course. Later.” I moved closer.

“No, Rick. Please. Now.”

“All right. What?”

“Why they are after you.”

“So, it’s a they? There’s not just one thing out there hunting me down. There are multiple things?” Suddenly I was not in the mood. “More good news. Thanks for the update.”

“No, the reason they are after you. It’s important.”

“Believe me, there is nothing important about me. I wander around a lot. I’m a loafer. I loaf. I hate work, when I can find it. Then when I’ve squired away a little cash, I’m off to the next time zone. I’ve never been important to anyone for more than five minutes, when they were hungry and I was working a grill somewhere.”

Miranda looked at me with hesitation and what I thought was fear. She took my hand, and we sat down on the floor in front of the fire. “A little more than a year from now,” she said, “You will discover a huge, ancient, hidden statue of Buddha that you will climb. Once you have climbed it, and enter its eye, you will find insight into discovering the next. These statues are connected. This Buddha network changes humanity’s perspective. Those who climb them and survive, they go on to lead a spiritual revolution that lasts a millennia.”

“Buddha network? I don’t understand. I’m not religious.”

“Which is all the more important why it was you who discovered it. You don’t believe in anything, not even yourself. When you discovered the first statue, you were overwhelmed. The technology that built and hid these statues was ancient, some say long before the Buddha himself appeared. These are not religious temples. They are mechanisms to clearly interpret reality. Or, what you would define as reality.”

I was trying to take in what she said. Here was this strange proclamation from this woman whom I felt a serious connection with. A powerful, magnetic, animal attraction to this woman, while her words seemed so ridiculous, I found myself laughing. I found myself on my feet and rubbing my eyes, and laughing so hard, I couldn’t stop.

“I don’t see the humor,” Miranda said.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s not funny. It’s ridiculous.”

“You will find it. You will be the first. Should you survive.”

“That’s like telling me I’ll be the first man on Mars. It’s preposterous.”

“It’s the truth. If—”

An alarm went off. Miranda went to a panel on the wall and a screen appeared.    “They’ve found us,” she said. “We have to go.”

She tossed me my jacket and put hers put on. She handed me a gun. It wasn’t like hers; it was a Sig Sauer with a seventeen-bullet clip. “This won’t kill them, but it will slow them down,” she said.

She opened the door and a red fire bolt blew the top left corner off the door. She crouched down instinctively. She fired a volley of rounds and I could see the shimmer of men in the snow, at different sides of the cabin. I focused, and found I was looking through the cabin and seeing them. There were four men in suits, two to the north, and two to the west. I pointed in the two directions where the men were. I motioned with my fingers to split up and surround them. I ran into the trees to the west as she covered me.

The forest was cold. The daylight was fading to darkness and my eyes took a moment to adjust. The wind and the snow had stopped with an eerie silence. I could see a man’s shimmer to the north, a blue green waver of flickering light. I pointed my gun and I fired twice. I moved fast and fired another two rounds. I saw his light flicker, and then fade like an old television screen going off. I ran to where I had aimed.

The man was on the ground. I couldn’t make out his features. He seemed more mechanical or animal than human. My eyes couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. I heard an exchange of fire in the distance as it echoed through the trees. I spun around and fired four rounds before thinking. Another man faded.

“Miranda,” I said aloud and ran to the cabin. She was pinned down. She stood to the east in the trees on the other side of the cabin. I made my way behind the first man. He turned as he heard me coming. His shimmer was different. His was more orange than the others.

He held up his gun and his free hand above his head. “Whatever she’s told you,” he said calmly, “You can’t believe it.” He took slow steps towards me. “She’s here to trick you. I’m with the government. I’m here to help.”

“No you’re not,” I said. I fired four shots into his chest.

He collapsed. When I approached his body, his gun and his suit were gone. He had transformed from a businessman, to a creature covered in a metallic mesh of wiring and fur.

“You won’t make it,” he said.

“Wrong again.” I put two rounds in his head.

His body disappeared.

I made my way to Miranda. She was exchanging shots with the last man. One bolt hit her shoulder and I found myself running towards her. I fired the rest of my rounds at the man just as Miranda’s last shot tore through the assassin. She collapsed in the snow.

She was bleeding. “Miranda, can you hear me?”

I tossed my gun on the ground and looked at her wound. Life was draining out of her. “I think he hit an artery. I need to get you to a hospital.”

“It’s all right,” she said. “Just believe in yourself. You will find your path.”

I took off my jacket and pressed it hard on her wound. I tried to pick her up, but she collapsed. She was dying. What could I do? None of this made any sense.

I cradled her in my arms.

She reached up, and her cold hand stroked my face. She kissed me.

There was a shimmer of light, and she was gone.

So was the cabin. The trees and the snow were gone as well.

Wait.

What?

I found myself in a desert. Night was falling as a few stars twinkled above.

I noticed those stars shimmered a little like she did. As if the light from Miranda had taken a thousand years to reach me.

I sat down in the sand, and waited for the rest of the stars to come out.

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This story is a preview of the upcoming second volume of “Detours Ahead,” due this Spring.  Contact the author through:

Email: ReachLrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi

Or leave a comment below-
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Short story collection

Detours Ahead Volume One is currently available at:

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“Whatever happens, happens.”

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-Spike Spiegel

Detours Ahead: Flash Fiction available Now!

I know.  Another flash fiction book on zany science fiction scenarios because the attention span of America is dead? Too bad, suckas!  Cause we’ve got crazy alien robot zombie parallel dimensions, and they’re ready to get you motivated and hungry for more.

Detours Ahead, Volume One is currently available at:

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Everywhere

 

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The time travelers are everywhere. They are all about me as I go through my daily business. You may think your day is going smoothly. But the mailman knows about the letter you get tomorrow. He’s been examining and recording your reactions, and is aware of your blood pressure issue. As part of his assignment in this timeline, he’s waiting for you to stroke out once you win the Publisher’s Sweepstakes, in order to absorb your identity for a time-share in Tahoe.

The cute girl at the Starbuck’s counter you have a crush on is from 2029. She has a cyber-brain connecting her to an enormous computer network. Her irises contain lasers. On a Tuesday in September, she’ll put Visine in your latte for checking out her ass every morning. You’ll vomit like you’ve been riding a roller coaster for a week.

Buck, your best friend is not from Ontario. He’s a future resident of a white dwarf star system that turns people “Norwegian” from a vitamin D shortage. On his home world, due to over-crowding, every square foot is condominiums. He brushes his teeth with molecular nano-wires to ensure his molars shine. Why do you think he smiles so much? He’s sending signals back home with his shining molars, transmissions that take ten thousand years. That’s how long his reports about you take to reach their documentary channel.

The people from Belford 3, a future political think-tank in the Orion belt—they think I’m hysterical. They keep inviting me to their cocktail parties. The last time I went, a warlock from fourteenth century Spain was able to track me, and sick troglodytes from the Paleocene era on me. During after-parties, sometimes their spaceships land in my yard at night, and my frightened neighbors chase them away with hunting rifles.

This may sound far-fetched, but evidence is available. The particulates from optical camouflaged exhaust portholes, near the polar ice caps, can be charted with the correct software installed. Sure, my wife thought me delusional to point the home surveillance cameras at one another: But the fruit of the pudding stems from the depths of its roots, no? Careful examination of the footage demonstrates formidable dynamics in the ultra-violet spectrum. Proof the time travellers have indeed been monitoring the monitors.

Establishing that time-travelers were pumping un-traceable ionic sound remnants from gamma-ray bursts into the water supply was no modest task to pull off. I offer charts and diagrams revealing tangible confirmation. This was in fact their only feasible way of maintaining the sub-atomic power supply for their robots. There are many classifications of robots. They range in size, model, and data manipulation authority.

The robots have objectives, which are difficult to clearly determine.

The old neighbor lady, who sits in a foldout chair in the middle of her driveway across from my house, is a robot. While her chicken-hawk scowl is harmless, she reminds me strangers are less dangerous than acquaintances. I am convinced she is from eighteen-sixty four, transported from Atlanta just as the flames reached her. The only thing missing from her stance as a guard is a rifle across her lap. Her neck turns like the old mechanical squeezebox player at Chuck-E-Cheese when it hasn’t been oiled in ages.

In fact, I see now that all of these nemesis parading about me, taunting me—are in fact robots, and not time travelers. Time travelers? That’s just silly. In fact, it’s a false assumption on my part that my research has not been tampered with. No, these are robots: Hard metal killers with glimmering lasers for eyes and luminous bullets for teeth.

The robots are everywhere.

Detours Ahead, Volume One is currently available at:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Nobles

iTunes Books

L. Robinson is a northern California writer and musician, currently working on an upcoming science fiction novel and the second collection of “Detours Ahead.”

Email: reachlrobinson@gmail.com

Twitter: LRobinsonSciFi