The beginning of a book i'm writing. Very unpolished, pre-first rough draft, but a start.
|You could say that not many small towns are like this one... they all are. Things in sleepy towns like this are universal, from the skiing village in the north corner of Vermont to the desert stop in the middle of New Mexico. They all seem frozen in time, the passing of the seasons are only a static cycle, no out with the old, in with the new on New Years Eve. In those places too big to be a village, too small to be a town, it's out with the old, in with the old. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. It doesn't really matter, everyone's happy regardless of what number boss this is. The daily grind isn't a type of coffee at Starbucks, it's your job, which everyone enjoys more or less.
However, not all small-town kids are like this one. Me. I like the daily grind, but things happen to me that seem strange in a small town/ big village, like this sleepy little burgh in Indiana. We're spitting distance from Fort Wayne, pissing distance from Muncie, and infinitely far from anything interesting that isn't a flood, fire, or funeral. Something around here that qualifies as 'interesting' is found to be along the lines of the christening of a new septic tank, or the myopic optometrist falling in the same open septic tank. The last thing of note that happened around here was the death of my mum, fourteen years ago. I was two. If you're one of those mathematicians who've wandered into a different part of the bookstore, you'd have figured out I'm the ripe old age of sixteen.
This town is pretty standard for Indiana, especially now, when the trees are just starting to turn inside out, revealing the fires inside the green. The leaves flutter down when a touch of breeze knocks them from their precarious perch on the oaks, sycamores, and the japanese cherries outside the library, where I live. Literally. When Mom died, Dad decided to do something with his life. He never told me what she did exactly, but I know it paid well. Dad was a stay-at-homer before she passed on. He was always a bibliophile. When I was five, he got a master's degree in library sciences. So we moved into the library in a more literal sense ( had to say it) than most people, or indeed college students, would believe. It's been tradition in this little place for the librarian to live in the library. Well, in the same building as the library. For as long as the library's been standing, there's been a large-ish house as part of the plans. When it burned down in 1926, it was left burnt until that nameless period in architectural history when Tiffany glass and large windowpanes got smashed in with mahogany and deep-pile carpeting. Deep-pile as in small dogs get stepped on from sinking in too far. After they rebuilt it, they realized they neglected to put the house in as part of the original, so it was tacked on as an afterthought.
While not exactly big, the library where I live is... diverse. Dad likes to make a hobby out of getting as many different dewey-decimal sequences into the card catalogue as he can, from favorites like Harry Potter to the complete works of Yates, and I think there was even a copy of The Kama Sutra on the shelves, before it got stolen. Viva la Americana, right?
The library's set in the middle of a small patch of ivy and japanese cherry trees, in a small cul-de-sac in the woods. Instead of being a forest, where there's plenty of tall grass and the raspberry vines stick you to turn your want of berries into a bloodletting by vegetable matter. Instead, it's a place with only trees and the occasional mulberry bush, plenty of dead leaves to muffle footsteps and make a cushion for thinking against a hickory. The whole woods has a feeling of JRR Tolkein's Elvandar, full of magic and the occasional strum of a elfin lute. Or in the real-world analogue, me setting up my telescope with plenty of swearing or making a horrible sound on my dented, bruised, and battered Yamaha acoustic.
Aagh, I'm getting away from the point again. I may be a horrible guitarist, but I'm very observant. Even if you're not that observant, in a little town like this the decades run together and burns their monotony into your retinas. Thankfully, the monotony is beautiful. The forest where I go to think has a primer coat of warm colors, most of the leaves beginning to turn and the half-turned leaves seem to paint a halo of crimson and orange around the trees, extending out to the cherries double-ranked along the walk to the library. They look beautiful on a chill, windy day like this. You just want to stand there in a trenchcoat and suit, a rolled up newspaper under your arm and a briefcase in hand, tilt your head back, and breath the pure, sweetly perfumed hair as the past and future disappear into the tornado of petals.
The library rests in a small valley, bounded by a natural ridge of stone thats broken only where the library actually rests. Joe Unget, of the local Unget Demolition company, tried to blast a hole through the rock at the northern end. Instead he blew a two and a half ton boulder onto his Ford pickup. The stones were strange, since someone said that Indiana had a glacier over it at one time, scraping away debris. One braniac thought that the glacier went around. The only thing a glacier goes around is a mountain, and we don't have any around here. Not counting the aptly named Fat Moe, but few mountains are mobile.
The opening where the library rests points to the main town, forming the east edge of the town proper. There really isn't much in the way of public buildings aside from the library, courthouse, and town jail. The largest plot of land is actually the old cemetery, with only three of the four sides of the property being bounded. The cemetery keeps expanding out the open end around a hill known in the town as, you guessed it, Cemetery Hill. Although now abandoned, the hill is still considered haunted, despite the lack of graves. The city hall is off to the south of the hill. One of the city halls that contain the courthouse and more red tape than Santa's wrapping table. Triplicate-bureaucracy at it's finest, and home of the only 24 hour bar in the town. A stolid, columned affair of white, sandblasted faux marble. Screwed-open shutters painted flat black ruined the white marble effect, making it look just stupid.
Oddly enough, the town jail is the nicest building the city has, very art deco, molybdenum bars and a real black marble front desk, given after the sheriff decided to gripe about he jail not looking neat enough during visiting hours. Sheriff O'Reiley's your typical blustering and yelling lawman, with the also-typical ulcer and drinking habit. He's never been caught sauced up on the job, but there's a town pool out for when he will be.
Outside these buildings, there's only the standard two-story wintering houses, or the occasional ranch-style with extra insulation, for the senior citizens with their mild contempt of staircases in all their forms. Thankfully, none of these are the cookie-cutter style houses you see in the housing editions, but true houses with porches that seem to have the same porch swing or rocking chair. It's reassuring, these constants. They feel like something that you can cling to while your life goes to hell and back, or just to sit and look at while you count your blessings when you're content and feeling at peace with the universe. Too bad the usual option is being SOL or blindingly oblivious to the actual problems that exist in life. Some people have all the luck.
Things around here don't like to change, even though some people want it to. Like when Fat Moe tried to start a nudist movement in the town. You could guess that it didn't last long. In a town of 127 people, it's amazing how loud the laughter was, and how much my ears pricked up. Then I heard the sheriff scream at him and arrest him for indecent exposure. That's probably the only thing in this one-horse water hole that made state news. At least, to date. I've always wondered when something midway fun would happen.
I've always loved days like this. I walk down the street commonly known as Main Street. Oddly, this particular strip of asphalt is rarely used, except for people getting to the courthouse on the west end, behind me, or they decide to amble down to the library for a bit of Proust, or the occasional student looking for a teacher's edition textbook so they can copy the answers out of the back. The library is on the east end of this stripe of well-worn blacktop, and I decided to be odd.
I'm walking down the middle of the road, safely, since on sunday nobody drives. Most people don't even bother getting dressed. They just loaf around the house, either being slobs or doing an impression of someone in a vegetative state. There IS a difference. One you feed your face, the other you just lie there and collect dust. I think of all the poor shmucks, stuck inside on a beautiful day like this, the wind blowing, the rain pounding on my PVC poncho and thunder cracking overhead, like the halls of Olympus falling down stone by stone. I've always loved inclement weather, torrential rain, freak snowstorms, fog that you could serve on a soda cracker at a fete. Wonderful, I think, absolutely wonderful weather.
I don't know why I like what most people would consider 'bad' weather, but I do. Perhaps it's the idea that while explosions of sound happen all around me, or the world looking like a bank canvas, I'm perfectly safe. Or the controlled fury of a storm that actually is completely random reminds me of a comforting dream, forgotten in my past. In any case, the bad weather never seems to last long enough.
I walk down the wrong way on main street and I think about the weather, and who in their right mind would miss a fireworks show like this. What I don't know is how I would find the unusual events that would happen to me in my near future, especially since tomorrow is my sixteenth birthday. Whoo... insert happiness here. The last time I had a birthday that I enjoyed, the last time that Dad didn't get pulled away by some reason or another was my twelfth. Not that I mind, I enjoy the quiet. It gives my too-active mind a chance to spin up from idle and think deep thoughts. Like teaching myself piano or wondering when the hell something mildly interesting is going to happen. Of course, mildly interesting to me is more like discovering a solution to the Reimann Hypothesis than, say, a lepidopterist finding a new sub-species. That or something blowing up for no apparent reason would get my attention.
The infuriating thing about this little town is there's no chance for adventure. No half-open sewer drains, no short caves to go spelunking in as a kid, no chance for pre-pubescent fun. If my dad didn't run the town library, I would have gone crazy. If a mind is unused, it stagnates. My brain turned to hard cider about eight years ago. Due to the lack of a better word, my life is 'boring'. Walking down that main road, all of sixteen, (or just short of sixteen) years of life, I realize that sure, I may able to do more math in my head than most Ti-82's, but my life, overall, has been boring. Ben Stein would read my biography to date and say "This is boring, man..."
I bend my head and smile against the wind, a maniac grin against the forces of nature. I walk in my soaked nikes up the cement path, between the cherry tree that got struck by lightning all of a decade ago and the one that Jeb smacked his Toyota into. You can tell from the hubcap wedged into the bark, six inches deep and now dulled from the chrome finish wearing off. The nuts put there by the squirrels have started to sprout a bit, starting to creep up the side of the tree like a beneficial poison ivy, green against the brown of moss on a dying tree.
Walking up the marble steps, and true marble steps, these are, I can feel the ages of people from the distinct groove worn in the steps. THe same feeling of untold ages emanate from the fifty-year old building. Only then did an odd thought strike me, turning my grin into a puzzled smile, that perhaps the age wasn't in the steps, or the library, but in me, untold ages. I shake it off and smile again, feeling like an idiot. I'm about to pull open the door when Dad yells from the house, "Allen! Dinner!" in his impeccable British accent.
Dad met Mum when she was an exchange student in London, and they immediately fell in love. He actually mailed himself to her after he graduated, and they got hitched soon after. They moved up here about twenty years ago, and we've been here even since. I stalk into the kitchen, my back in a vertical lean from the wind, and there he stands on the cheesy red and white tiling. A grin and the shock of red hair give a pointer to scottish heritage, and I was lucky enough to inherit the green eyes, at least. The unruly and straight brown hair I got from Mom, as well as the genes for being a rail. Dad's barrel-chested looks would be more fitting in a drinking game or pub brawl, or for a wood-cutter, and yet he's a professional librarian.
Dad's standing behind the doorway of the kitchen, the stout oak door swung out in a welcoming gesture behind the front desk. I can't see it now, but the door reads "Private - Librarian's Quarters" in gold leaf. The library's a warm place, the front desk of stained mahogany and running in a semicircle in front of the house entrance, stacks between the front door and the desk, non-fic on the right, fiction on the left, and the periodicals running down the middle, on low shelves that double as standing desks.
The kitchen has a vibe similar to the library, warm. We don't have a dining room, and so we don't have a dining room table, but we don't need one. We just use the butcher-block running off the island in the kitchen. A big formica and stainless steel affair, our kitchen has been shined into within an inch of it's collective warranties. Knives hang off magnetized runners above an electric stove and oven, dishwasher and sink, more than thirty knives in all. Burgundy-stained hardwood from the steaks that Dad had cooked were wiped clean, buffed, polished, and dried. I hobble in and sit down with a solid sound on a mildly cracked stool, and Dad plopped down across from me. We never talk during dinner, a habit picked up from God-knows-where. The time was late, so Dad said in his cracked and thick voice, "You might as well get some sleep son, we have a shipment coming in tomorrow." a moment passes, and he suddenly breaks out into a sideways grin, " as so we also have a birthday to celebrate." I smile, clean my plate off in the sink, and clomp up three stories to my room in the eaves.
I trudge up the smooth hardwood stairs, ducking habitually around a low beam, the one that Dad always smacks his head on. I'm not to tall, just over six foot, but Dad clears me at a nice six-four. Unfortunately, the beam is at six-one. Needless to say, Dad makes an excellent alarm clock as he swears especially loudly. The beam is a marker of an afterthought, the attached house was originally one story, but they built the extra stories rather haphazardly, one beam strong but wonky. A slight dent on the upstairs side marks the ritual point of impact with Caleb's head.
Caleb Miller, Dad, decided to try and make things a bit more interesting for me, adding on an initial before my first name, Allen. I was baptized E. Allen Miller right down the road at the Episcopal church. In middle school I was dubbed 'e-mo' amongst other, worse nicknames. From what I remember of her, before she died, Mom said that it set me off, made me sound distinguished. Two is too early to lose a parent. Hell, forty-two is too early.
Iris, Roger, Mike, names connected to faces on the portraits lining the hall on the second floor. None of them I like, few of them I know. The faces sneer out of the badly stained frames, past librarians all. There's some traditional rule about this hall. The bright side being that midway down the left-hand wall, the last portrait of that side shows a grinning, florid face. Dad. I step into the bathroom next to the portrait, and I can't help but grin at the little prank that genetics played on me fifteen years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days ago.
The light from the fluorescent bulbs in the hidden niches makes me squint and grimace, after the dim illumination from the wall sconces in the hallway. The light seems magnified from the polished white tile and eggshell porcelain, eliminating any shadows in the room and almost strengthening the dry, slightly acidic scent of bathroom disinfectants. The mirror shows myself, almost censored as I strip off for an evening shower. I toss my jeans and shirt down the laundry chute next to the linen closet and look at my reflection.
Where Dad is bulky and strong, I'm scrawny. The only connection between us is the green eyes that always seem to share a good-natured laugh with the world, or to turn icy cold in an instant. Dad was always tall, and I'm sure Mom was slightly vertically challenged in the sense that the president is poor. I still got stuck with being shorter, mildly pale, think and a bit on the weak side. I look like the stereotypical pencil-necked geek, minus the braces and pocket protectors. People wouldn't call me a geek, though. Apparently, I'm too creepy to be classified as a geek, what with the strange fights and strange bursts of intuition at school.
The label of 'creepy' first came around in the eighth grade, when I got into a fight with James "Nosebleed" Malone, the biggest knucklehead in the tri-county area. Back then, I was even more emaciated than I am now, weak and soft. Nosebleed had apparently taken an interest in making my recess into a half-hour of hell. It was a stereotypical recess yard, broken swings, cracked blacktop, and all the kids under four feet caught in hazing crossfire. In his rather hackneyed style, he snuck up behind me and wrapped me in a headlock when the teacher wasn't watching the corner we were in. The usual hazing ensued, but I somehow managed to wind up behind him, his arm broken. The spooky thing is, I have no idea how I did it. I polled some of my friends around the yard, asking how I did it. Manny, my semi-friend, said, "You just backflipped over the jackass and kept holding his arm." They were looking at me funny, either because I backflipped over a guy three inches taller than myself, or that I couldn't remember doing it.
So, that takes care of the physical oddness, all that's left is the mental gymnastics. It was strange, it felt like nothing was wrong at the time, but afterwards I felt... drained. That's the only logical way to put it. Like an IV bottle out of life-giving fluid.
It was during that same day, just after the strange incident with Nosebleed. I was sitting in my desk in Algebra and the teacher was giving me a hard time. Apparently, he didn't like my reading ahead in the book, so he decided to read me the riot act. Mr. Tinnil. That's the asshole. Anyways, he was going on, in his loud monotone.
"Allen, you ah to go at tha speed of this class, and ah don't caih if you tink it's goin' too slow, 'cause you ahn't goin' to get jack squat if you don't get yous can buckled down and know the materiel."
At this point in an argument, Tinnil usually tries to show off his master's degree from Bloody Bowels, Arkansas University.
"Ah bet you don't even know what the Mandelbrot Set is, Allen." This was the bit where I snapped. I felt light, energetic and yet ethereal, floating in my mind as the words came spewing out of my mouth like a mathematical water sprinkler.
"For all points Z in the complex plane, a point is considered part of the Mandelbrot Set for the iterative equation Z equals Z squared plus C where Z does not trend away from zero."
After this, the floaty feeling faded away, and I was left in a room of who I took to be fly-collectors, judging by the open mouths. Even Mr. Tinnil was standing agape. After a rather hasty conversation with a councilor and an armed guard, I was moved to an accelerated class. I would have been bumped up faster if there was one, but after a teacher caught me making a DNA helix out of all but one of the chemistry modeling sets, they decided a different approach would be necessary. So, I am now home-tutored three days weekly, at what they think is a challenging pace. After the tutor leaves, with much faux consternation on my part about it being difficult, I breeze through it and go back to guitar. I haven't had another burst of ninja-esque ability since then, but you never know.
I step out of the shower to a thankfully fogged mirror, grinning at the reminiscence of the good old days. I towel off and jump into black sweats, wiping my glasses off as I go. I glance at them, frowning. My prescription's out of date again. I've gone from thick dork glasses for extreme nearsightedness to a thin frameless set for almost-perfect vision. I put my glasses on and off, and the bloody things make no real difference. I shrug, and put them back on again. Might as well, they're not doing any harm.
I stagger out, nearly splicing myself on the wet tile floor. I keep moving down the hall, towel over my shoulders, passing the scowling portraiture as I move to the door to my little loft. I open the door at the end, casually marked with a two foot sign, headed by radiation, biohazard, and chemical toxin symbols, and custom-printed list of all the horrible things that will happen within my domain if you tick me off. I mount the first stair, in time to hear a meaty THWACK and a long stream of expletives in some sort of Middle English. I grin, say "Good Night, Dad.", to which I get a long mumble in response, and close my door.
The loft spans the entire length and breadth of the house. Most of it is taken up by shelves and shelves of books, the 'pulls' from the library, books that are too advanced or unusual for the general clientele. After you wade through waist-high stacks of books and haphazardly arranged black metal shelving, a veritable maze, you get to my pad. The wood floor here is polished, and nothing is covered in dust. A telescope, my smallest, pokes out the window next to my custom computer. I say 'custom' in the loosest sense. It's the only computer I know of with self-destructing hard drives. I push a button and the whole thing goes poof.
I flop down on my futon, glancing at my 'improved' clock, and then stare at the ceiling, waiting for sleep. I begin to drift off, but a beeping noise starts up in the room, jerking me awake.
My first instinct is 'BOMB', but that's absurd. Too much MacGyver, I think to myself. After a minute, I glance around, seeing nothing. I decide, on a hunch, to turn on the collection of monitors, including a top-level flatscreen, rescued from the town dump. I let the homebrew power supply warm up, wincing as i hear a buzzing sound from one of the larger lumpish components. I give it a good solid whack and the buzzing turns to a contented, low hum. I roll my eyes and make up a post-it. 'Replace rectifier'
The screens warm up, first the flatscreen, right on down to the antiquated green phosphor monitor. I look for a beeping speaker, but it's all shut down. I spot a blinking light, hidden behind a butchered ATX motherboard, and I bring it in for a closer look. It's a simple blink circuit, probably ripped from a holiday button. A string is tied to it, leading down to the master 'on' circuit I have wired into the power buttons on eight cross-wired computers.
I figure this is probably a joke by Dad, so I follow the lead. The hard-wired circuit turns on the computers, indicator lights and patchwork LCDs giving more information on the computers than needed. All the hard drives spin up, and a general splash-screen comes up on all the monitors, minus the green-screen.
The regular processes that would be happening right now don't happen, the monitors just remain black. After a minute, I see that the only signs of life in my system are on the green-screen, with an odd prompt, something that shouldn't be there.
I decide to do something unusual. I whack the monitor, but the character just stays there. I glance around, wondering what to do. I type out a standard test code, to see what's up with the system.
"A. echo $SHELL"
I start, since an ellipsis isn't a supported character on my system. I wrack my brain, wondering what could generate a response like this, when a thought crosses my mind.
"A. Hello, Chang's Oriental Delivery."
"C. I'm coming, Allen."
At this, I nearly fall out of my chair. There's someone on my system, which is impossible. I don't have an internet connection, so this isn't a hack. When ideas fail, it's time for a new strategy.
"A. That's nice. Who's this again?"
"C. Get ready. Tomorrow's your last day in town, boy."
"A. How rude. Perhaps you'd like some tea before threatening me?"
"C. Tomorrow night, you die."
Death threats. Not nice, in my book. Things are getting freaky, so I move on to step two. Smugness.
"A. Whatever. Tomorrow night, I'll be up on cemetery hill, taking a look at Io through my telescope."
"C. You can't run, not from me."
"A. I have a bicycle."
I shut down the computer, feeling like an idiot. I have a bicycle? What the bloody blue nadgers, as Dad would say, does that mean? More to the point, what does that conversation mean? Perhaps I should pack a little goodie bag, an insurance plan if the mysterious C decides to show.
Thoughts and plans whirl through my mind as I lift up the futon, neatly rolling it to access my stash under the floorboards, loosened last summer. I slip my nails between two boards, indistinguishable from the others, and pull. The board neatly pulls up on two oiled hinges, revealing a three foot by two inch hole. Two leather straps sewn into handles rest at either end of the space. I grab and pull them, and a two and a half foot segment of flooring rises up in a jagged unison, making a hole.
I jump in the hole, pulling the trapdoor close behind me, as I crouch to avoid banging my head on the three-foot ceiling. I pull a small string, closing the narrow hole left in the boards. The darkness is no challenge, my hands guided my muscle memory to a switch I installed. Home wiring is so fun. A string of incandescent bulbs turn on, revealing my own personal lair. Pieces of electronics equipment rest on plywood ledges, at home with bits and bobs of mechanical crap from the municipal dump, cleaned and de-scented. It would be sterilized, but I still need to fix the autoclave.
The flotsam that people throw out, I've found, is excellent for invention. A slingshot-gun made from three feet of medical tubing and some old steel machine framework rests on the far side of my den of ordered insanity, next to a crate of surplus grenades with the C4 charges removed. That took some wrangling to get up here.
I grab my messenger bag and empty the contents into the bowl of 'to be sorted' items, stopping to snatch my pocketknife, the most complex swiss army knife I could find. Dodging a towering pile of withdrawn books on electronics and mechanics, I strafe to my weapons locker. It's not really a locker, but then again, they're not really weapons. I've always been a decent planner, to counteract my horrid sense of humor and short temper. Luckily, I don't turn ugly often, not much makes me angry.
The 'locker' is really a series of cubbyholes, each holding a booby-trap kit or some item to aid me in my nighttime endeavors, such as trapping game trails for out-of-season hunters. I grab a pair of night-vision binoculars, and an improvised monocular headset. Looking around, I realize cemetery hill is right next to absolutely nothing but open, flat Indiana, so I revise my plans. I'll go stargazing in the forest behind the library. Hope that C can figure that out.
Rummaging around, grabbing things to help, and banging my head on the beams, a thought occurs to me that makes me pause. What if this is a giant hoax? I dismiss it, remembering the conversation on the computer. The supposedly impossible conversation.
I move back to the hole in the floor, closing my messenger bag 'o fun and pulling a small chain. A mirror flips down, showing my room like a periscope, because that's exactly what it is. My room's clear, so I pop out the secret door and unroll my futon. I hear a whirring, and look around to see my computer's back on.
"C. You have been warned."
"A. Oh, change of plans. I'm not going to be on cemetery hill tomorrow night."
"C. You could always just give up. It's the easy way."
"A. Sorry. I don't go down without a fight."
I think he's gone silent, when there's a muffled thump, and the screens all display a 'no input' error. Then I notice the smoke coming from the cases, and connect the dots. He blew up my hard drives. I would be angry, but I'm too happy that my system worked to be angry right away. I check my watch. Io should be in view by now. I grab my cell and trenchcoat, and drag out my big telescope. I said that I'm not going to the hill tomorrow night.
Just the back clearing, tonight.
Anxious, yes. Worried, yes. But I'm still going to go ahead with this. Dad usually puts the books out for my re-shelve circuit the night before, so I decide to go down and do some mindless filing to help. I ease through the precarious stacks of pulled books, making sure to avoid all the creaking spots in the floor. I ease open the well oiled door, and sneak out. The lights are dimmed, but the eyes of the portraits seem full of avarice, so I sneak by all the more quietly.
Downstairs, I stop to to a visual check of the kitchen. Dad has a habit of making a silent midnight snack when I least expect it. Last time, he caught me with a backpack full of explosives. I was going to try my hand at logging, pyro-style.
I sneak into the library proper, but Dad didn't put out re-shelve materials. So, I just grab the scope and leg it out the door of the library.
It's cold, but I'm used to it. Cold and heat don't bother me much. I lug the four-foot telescope to the clearing behind the library, setting up slowly to let the glass cool to the temperature. I glance around as I plug in the remote control, aiming the telescope at Jupiter. Whoever the mysterious C is, he probably is going to be pissed tomorrow night. Ah well, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it. Anyways, I look through the viewfinder, peeking at the mustard and ketchup surface of the gaseous Jupiter. Beautiful. Looks like Walt Disney threw up.
I lean back, and breathe deep, savoring the night air as it burns my sinuses. The night seems still, oddly calm after the freak rainstorm, still on the wind. For and endless time, I stood and watched the invisible breeze pass on by. My reverie, however, was disturbed by my cell phone blaring out The Overture of 1812, bumb-bada-bada-bada-bumb-bum BOOM.
I pick it out of my pocket and open the clamshell. "Joel's pool hall, Joel speaking." Instead of a standard person on the other end, it's a mechanical voice, some sort of scrambler is my guess.
"Allen, you've forced me to move up the schedule." Schedule? Like whoever it is got miffed that I decided to peek at pluto a bit early. Probably threw off all the other kidnappings they had planned. Step three, honest but sarcastic.
"Oh, sorry. There was a scheduling conflict, I had to bump up stargazing to tonight. Kidnapping didn't work well for me tomorrow. Or murder, whatever you had planned." Thing is, my sarcasm doesn't sound like normal sarcasm. People have a hard time telling.
"I don't care. Come tomorrow morning, your life is over."
That stuck with me. They had a definite time of when they were going to get me, sometime tonight. I decided at that time to try something I always wanted to do. I have this habit of modifying my things to do things that aren't normal. Like rigging my telescope with a small rocket engine. I don't know why, but I decided to try and put my telescope into orbit, or at least send it a good distance away. My original goal was to put a Port-a-Potty into orbit, but I couldn't find one that wasn't full.
I bend down, and remove a small panel from the bottom of the telescope. Fumbling around inside, I alight on a waxed cord. I pull it out, actually a wick, and grab my lighter. After aiming the 'scope away from anyplace where it could be found, I bend down and spark the Bic to life. With a mild hiss reaching my ears, and sparks flying from the green safety fuse, I run like Gump back twenty feet.
After stopping, I consider the fact that someone would notice a fifty-pound lump of optics flying through the air with flames shooting out the back end. Someone who's looking for me, perhaps. Perhaps I should think before I go and blow things up. Hindsight's twenty-twenty, right?
Instead of stopping the fuse, I decide to meet whoever has been threatening me. Might as well send up a flare. I pull out a small box, wires poking out from cracks and holes in the plastic. The idea for this little dealie was presented to me in an old military manual, a directional heat sensor. It's simple, but effective. If it 'sees' heat within three hundred feet, it lights a small diode. I turn it on, check it against myself. It's working normally, so I make a slow circle, sweeping the forest. There's a loud "POOMP-FWSHAAAAA" from behind me, and I glance back to see my telescope making a graceful takeoff, up two hundred feet in the air. The light from the tail winks out, and it's silent.
About five seconds later, there's a crash and the sound of shattering glass. I pump an arm in the air and silently whoop. The thing actually worked. It didn't go into orbit, but at least it got altitude. Shweet.
I keep on sweeping the forest, when there's a rustle behind me. I turn back, and nearly scream. I manage to keep from even twitching. A tall, hooded stranger stands about ten feet behind me. About six-three, tall, he stands silent.
I nod, and put away the heat sensor. I rummage, as if stowing it, and grab the headband of the night vision monocle. Then, time stands still. I decide to ask, calmly, "Are you the one who was on my computer?"
He nods, and I continue, "And you're wondering if i'll go without a fight." I move from the night vision to a small oblong hidden at the bottom.
He nods again, and I grasp the rough surface, about as big as an orange. "Then I apologize for this." The hood inclines a bit, as if surprised.
I press a button on the surface of the sphere, and lob it between us. I turn before it has a chance to hit, bracing myself. My uncle on Mom's side gave me a small box of those last Christmas. Flash-bang grenades. Wonderful things.
I'm not disappointed, as there's the signature flash and bang. I yank out the monocle and slip it on, tightening the straps to keep it firmly on my head as I run for my life, literally. I hit the battery pack, turning it on, and my right eye sees everything in exquisite, green detail.
I glance back, the stranger seems to be getting his bearings finally. I turn forwards, and plunge into the deep forest.
The stranger watches Allen run away. It was a good try, they think. A very good try. The stranger known only as C straightens, fighting off the nausea from the grenade. C watches Allen run, and follows, keeping pace all the way. Dodging between trees, over rocks, and through bush and glen, a plan is being formulated in C's mind, ticking over like an engine warming up.
C surveyed this forest, and knows it's only a matter of time before Allen is caught. He's heading in the best direction possible, the forest narrowing to a box canyon, sheer walls on either side.
C grins in the black hood. Allen is in for a surprise.
I run, heading in a random direction, adrenaline pumping and breathing hard. I know i can't go on much longer. Wonderful. I'm getting tired. I'd take a breather, but the maniac somewhere behind me probably is just as motivated as I am. Wonderful.
I push on, but my heart falls as I realize where I'm heading. The canyons formed from the jutting stones have no exit, forming a dead end all around. I can see the end of the line, dead ahead, all of a hundred feet of life left for me to run through.
I skid to a stop in a corner, exposed. I left the forest behind twenty feet ago. I whirl, and they're right on me. They stop, three feet away, and I'm all out of tricks. They seem to be about to make a move, but I put up my hands. "Enough. I give."
Whoever it is nods, and relaxes. I know when I'm beaten. I've gone Cold. Not the cold as in temperature and runny noses, but Cold, as in objective, emotionless, and logical. Dad used to call it my Vulcan personality. I just call it the Cold. And the Cold tell me that I can't win now. But perhaps sometime in the future. I take off the night vision monocle and stow it.
I move forward, and the voluminous cloak shifts. I feel a sharp impact on the side of my head, and the world goes blacker than ever.
C lugs Allen back to a nameless van, painted a disgusting greenish color, like canned peas. After depositing him in the passenger seat and putting the messenger bag out of reach, C pulls out a roll of duct-tape and tapes his hands to the armrests. Checking a military chronograph, C jumps into the driver's side and starts the rusting Econoline, thankfully without a backfire, and lowers the hood
C glances over, emotions unknown. But emotions are revealed as they reach over and brush a loose hair out of Allen's eyes. A sigh, and a mild grunt as the gears stick from park to reverse. Backing out, C glances at the bruise showing on his ear, a tick of mercy showing through the band of exposed skin, the eyes the only features showing. Red eyes.
I wake up, a massive headache welling up and making me groan. I open my eyes, first looking at the clock. Three in the morning. Not fun. I look around again, and spot C. Shades and a ninja hood, hiding everything. I try to move, but all I can do is shift a bit. I look down, and spot the silver tape. Great. Tied up, barreling down what I identify as Route 3, just exiting Fort Wayne. We pass the Gander Mountain and Sam's Club, and I look over at C again.
"Look, who are you?"
C glances at me, silent. "Well, who are you?" Still silent. "What's going on? TELL ME!" I've gotten pissed, and when I get pissed, I either get Cold, or I get loud. In this case, I've chosen the latter.
Another glance, and I hear a creaking. The pain re-ignites on the side of my head, and I black out again.
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