“And keep them up!” The officer held his gun out in front, pointed at Goldberg.
Goldberg complied on reflex, but felt foolish. The clock ticked down in the color that was not a color and the survivability map started to get much more definite between life and death. There were only thirty seconds left.
Above the officer, in the rafters, things were in motion. Set off by Goldberg’s seemingly futile attempt to save the wooden puzzle ball a battery powered lantern now rocked on its side. The canoe paddle that had hit it wobbled on the floor behind the officer’s heels. The lantern caught the lip of the rafter, and started to fall. It did not get far before the rope entangled in its handle brought its decent almost to a stop. Almost.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Goldberg!” Officer Small demanded, sounding panicky.
“You know, I was just asking myself the same question.” His hands had gone from signaling surrender to pleading his case.
The cop stuck his gun out and looked down the sight at the movement. “Hands up I said!” As he moved forward he got a better look at Goldberg. “Who is the guy downstairs?”
“His name is Bill and no, I… He was like that when I came in. Can’t believe it. Aren’t you going to ask about the bomb?”
The lantern pulled on the rope, slowly pulling the weight on the other end, which turned out to be the canoe full of camping gear. The big canoe slid across the rafters, to the point where the curve at the end of the boat started to make the going easier.
“What b… The bomb I warned you about. You didn’t see the big bomb? Size of a couple a trashcans? And who the hell runs TOWARDS someone shouting about a bomb anyway?”
Officer small shook his gun and said, “I’m the one asking the questions, son! Now turn around!”
He complied. There really wasn’t much choice.
The canoe had now moved to a point where it was unstable in the rafters. The end near Goldberg crashed down onto the monitors, still set up on the desk. But now the canoe was unstable the other way and the other end slid off of its perch in the ceiling pulling on the rope with the camping lantern on the end.
“What in the world?”
The rope holding the lantern raced in reverse as the canoe and everything in it plummeted towards the floor. Only instead of going up and over the rafter that held the rope, it wrapped around it, snaring the rope taught.
The canoe stopped its downward fall and instead became a pendulum, swinging at the end of the rope. With one end still up on the desk, it came down like a battering ram. It slammed into Officer Small not with speed, but with the force of everything you need to survive a week out in the woods, knocking him backwards and his gun out of his hands. He tripped on the canoe paddle and went headlong into the window.
The window broke several spots. The man was stunned and disarmed. He had also stumbled into a zone that the power had labeled “Ouch, but not dead.” He was now in one of the few zones in the house where one would survive the impending bomb. Goldberg somehow knew all this without having to turn around.
‘Ok. So, that is the kind of force it takes to break the glass. Can we go now?’ the power asked while highlighting the rope.
“Still with the rope?” The math of the situation, given the few seconds left, answered the question for him. “This super sucks”.
The sprint was not graceful. It looked more like a fall than a run, but it took Goldberg across the ten feet and he didn’t want to give the officer a chance to react. Without slowing he ran into the little alcove of the dumbwaiter track and stepped onto the underside of the chair. It twisted as it descended and Goldberg could clearly see the officer still stunned in the safe zone near the damaged window. Though he was now a fugitive, at least he wasn’t a cop killer. Now all he had to do was save his own ass… in four point five seconds.
He shot down the dusty shoot slower than a free fall, but not by much. Unlike the trip up, he noticed the rope to the counterweight in a little track near the wall. He wondered how the pots and pans that had so nearly brained him on his way up would get past both him and the desk chair.
They weren’t. The power instantly brought up the schematic of the chute and the chances of the pans clearing the chair.
“Oh crap!” he thought. “I’m going to get stuck!” The power showed the unseen counterweight coming up and Goldberg braced himself.
It hit with a muffled clang, but except for the initial jerk, the chair didn’t stop. Goldberg eyed the rope as best he could in the darkness and saw it still moving and now waving around. He realized that the counterweight had come free and he was now falling!
He grabbed for the counterweight rope with his free right hand, but missed. As he continued to fall, the chair starting to tumble under him, he tried once more. This time, he caught the rope and managed to hold on over the protests of his shoulder and the skin on his palm. The jarring jerk knocked his glasses from his face and sent them spinning into the newly blurry darkness.
The rope slowed and then it started to reverse until the bottom of the chair came up and slapped the bottom of his feet. He grabbed at that other rope and hung, swinging in the narrow chute. He sighed, happy to be safe from his free fall.
Goldberg’s new found power burst into his mind, making everything red. “The bomb!” he thought. “OK, so how do I get out now?”
The power replied that it didn’t think he was coordinated enough to catch that rope and displayed the full scenario of his intended escape. He was to have fallen another four feet where the chair would have gotten stuck and he would have fallen out back in the kitchen. From there, he would have three seconds to run out the front door. It added that he had only a twenty percent chance of making that catch.
He swung by the rope in the cramped darkness and said, “Fuck!”
The concussion from the bomb pressed on every part of his body simultaneously. He didn’t hear the boom, but he did notice that he was being shot backward where a brick wall should have been. He had one last sensation of being pressed between two massive objects before his whole world went blood red.
Tight red cotton fought to contain creamy globes of tan flesh as they bounced to the rhythm of a woman’s hips. The chest they rode rose and fell as the buxom Polynesian woman spouted a random stream of crazy and prophetic words. Dan could sense the perspiration that pooled between the young woman’s breasts and the pheromone rich smell invited him even further down into their depths.
Snapping back, he shook his head. He felt as if he had been looking at the short, curvy woman’s cleavage from less than a foot away. Now as he looked back he saw the girl with short, red-dyed hair walking down the street from at least as far away as the tower’s sixty foot height.
“Ah. Checking out the talent.” Luxury Automobile smiled at him, sitting next to him on the scaffold. “What the hell is she going on about now?” The warm light of morning shot through the green beer bottle as he took a long pull. “Sounds crazy!”
Dan’s eyes stuck out of his head and an almost imperceptible drool welled at the corner of his mouth. “I’d hit that in a second.”
“You’d have to wait in line behind me, Junior. Too bad the girl don’t have it together enough for that. Seen her around last few days.” Still shaking his head, he said, “Sad, man.”
“I’d still hit that in a second. Hell, the crazier they are the crazier they are. Know what I mean?”
Suddenly, a large explosion ripped through the tree canopy that covered most of the town. In the distance branches flew up, carried on the hot wind of a fireball. Multiple explosions blew the flames higher and higher as the smoke began to curl in the morning breeze.
Dan looked at the explosion and could see a policeman being blown up and out of the top story. His arms and legs flailed as if he was trying to fly and not doing well.
From down below, the girl screamed “The noise! The buzz! It’s all around! It’s NNNNNnnnnnnnnggggghhhhHHHHHHH!!!!!” and ran off.
“Whoa! Damn! Did you see that?”
Luxury Automobile looked at Dan and said, “Yeah. You are right, this view is great! Now that was crazy!” The unlikely pair wore funny smiles from their morning beer buzz as they toasted the explosion’s spectacle.
“And with the cop flying out of the house? Did you see that? Damn, must be a movie or something.” He could hear a symphony of car alarms going off all over the city.
The old, black street musician looked at him funny. “You have been drinking too much. I didn’t see shit but the big explosion. The big explosion, miles across town!”
He looked at his beer and assessed the state of his buzz. “Yeah, well… Maybe I’m just daydreaming. You know, about blowing up The Man. But damn! That explosion was so big I could feel it from here!”
Dan took a sip of his beer and was a little more thoughtful. His early smile went away. “I wonder if anyone died or anything. That was seriously fucked up.”
Sarah Winter bolted awake as the explosion’s shock wave rattled through Goldberg’s duplex. She looked around in a daze and wondered what had made such a huge noise and where on earth she was.
A large, gray cat sat in the doorway and watched her as she got out of bed. His large yellow eyes shined as he stared at her. Another cat came and sat next to the first. This cat was small and white with icy blue eyes that seemed to question her. “What are you looking at?” she said. They both tilted their heads simultaneously which brought a lopsided grin to her face. “Ok. Wherever I am, there are cats.”
The tall, thin girl stumbled into the bathroom and gasped at her reflection. It was her sister’s face. Though she was an identical twin, she was sure it was her sister’s face.
From deep within her, raw emotion bubbled up. It caught in her throat and, inexplicably, she began to scream.
Joy Winter jumped out of her sister’s bed a few blocks away, pulling the thin blanket as she went. Modesty made her cover as much of her naked body as she could. She screamed in shock at the unexpected man in her bed.
Teague London jumped from the bed and stood in his boxer briefs with his hands out.
“Damn! What the hell? Whoa, honey. What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? Teague! Ge… GET SOME CLOTHES ON! Where is Sarah? Where’s Goldberg?!” She looked around the room in a panic.
“Gold…?” Teague’s face screwed up in a questioning scowl. “You mean nerd boy? Sarah, what are you talkin’ about?”
The girl in the covers puzzled. She started to open her mouth, and then stopped. Words seemed to find her and she said, “I’m not Sarah, I’m Joy!”
Teague came towards her with a frightened and concerned look on his face. His eyes were wide and contrasted sharply with his dark brown skin. “Come on now. This has to be some kind of sleep walkin’ thing. You are Sarah. I’m sure of it. Come on baby. Snap out of it.”
She whispered, “Teague?” and collapsed in to a heap of young woman and satin sheets.
Goldberg came crashing through a wall accompanied by newly loosened bricks and flame. He smashed into something soft and tumbled with it away from the pile of debris.
“This bursting through a wall thing is getting old,” he thought. “And something smells like a sweat sock.”
Lifting his head, he got a blurry look at the fat, round face of a young woman. To his shock, he realized that he was planted squarely between her large, naked breasts. The two strangers were intimately positioned and the force of Goldberg’s arrival had flung the fat girl’s robe open. From somewhere in the small apartment he could hear a coffee maker spitting and he knew how it felt.
The young woman screamed in horror. “Get OFF me!”
A loud low boom shook the building and shot dust, flame, and debris through the hole. By reflex the young blonde man went to cover the fat woman only to be beaten off in a flurry of fists and curses.
“OW! Hey! Damn!” He put his arms across his face to protect himself as he leaned back. “Knock it off! Do you have any idea what kind of morning I’m having?”
“No! Don’t care! get out!” she shouted, getting up and fixing her robe.
Boom! Another collapse from the former row house shook the building. They both steadied themselves and the girl’s robe popped open again. In Goldberg’s eyes there was trouble.
“And that was the super structure giving way,” he said, his new sight giving him a probable picture of the ruined buildings disposition. He’d given up on thinking it was a hallucination and trusted its input. “We have got to go.”
The woman gaped at the hole that once was her living room wall and nodded. Turning back to Goldberg, her eyes then went wide with shock. She grabbed a rolled up newspaper and ran towards him holding it like a club.
Goldberg’s hands shot up to protect his face, but instead the much shorter girl ran behind him and batted at the back of his head. “Your hair is on fire!”
“Oh” he responded flatly. Then the thought clicked in and he shouted, “Oh shit! Put it out! Is it out?”
Coming around to face him she said, “Yeah, but…” Her voice trailed as she examined his face with more scrutiny than is usually permissible in polite society.
His hands went up to the top of his head and swept down through the charred mess in the back. “Oh, man!”
The girl unrolled the newspaper and held it up. She looked from it to Goldberg and said, “You are Ryan Goldberg.”
“OK, now how do you know…” Another rumble from the structure next door cut him off. “You need to get dressed. We’ve got to leave.” He reflexively tapped into his new power and it put up a countdown timer. “You’ve got three minutes. Is there anyone else in this building?”
She dropped the newspaper and ran into the back. “No. I’m the only tenant for the summer. Kinda creepy actually.” She dropped the newspaper and trotted through a door. “Uh… what the hell is a lottery winner doing bursting through my living room wall?”
“Less talking more dressing.” Without his glasses, the paper on the floor was just a gray blur, but his new power told him of a very strong relationship to himself. He picked it up and brought it inches from his face where he could read. He found himself staring at his own face. There on the front page under the headline ‘Local Student Wins Big’ was the goofy picture from his staff badge.
His power spilled a quick message across the page. Likelihood of being recognized by random strangers: 35% and rising.
He looked into the blurry kitchenette. His power filled in some of the details. Coffee brewed. A full bag of bagels sat on the counter. According to the timer, he had enough time to get his morning jolt if he took it to go. “Hey, how do you take your coffee?”
“What? Bitter and pale. Why?”
To himself he muttered, “So, sorta like you, in other words,” and grabbed four oversized mugs from the cabinet.
“What?” She said over the now audible fire.
He got the milk from her refrigerator and sniffed it. “I said one minute. Let’s go! And how old are these bagels?”
“Well aren’t you pushy! Yesterday… Bagels are from yesterday.”
“Great.” He poured some milk into a mug, capped it and put it in the bag with the bagels. He found a tub of cream cheese already out and dropped it in as well. “Thirty seconds. Don’t forget your wallet.”
“Can’t find my keys!”
“Fuck ’em. Let’s boogie.” He held the newspaper in his armpit and grabbed all four mugs by their handles. The coffee maker wasn’t quite done with the brew cycle, but he pulled the almost full pot away anyway leaving the rest to drip down and hiss on the hot plate.
The girl came out of the back room just as Goldberg was rounding the counter, laden with breakfast and heading toward the door.
“What are you…”
He opened the door with the hand that held the bag and kicked it open with his heel. When she didn’t immediately go through he lifted his long leg and half-kicked, half-scooped her into the hallway.
“Bitch later! Go!” Panic rose in his voice. The clock in Goldberg’s head was almost at zero. They had to go down a flight of stairs and through a few feet of lobby before they were safe. “Go! Go!”
He followed the girl down the stairs and once they were at the bottom, he kept pushing her with his body. The numbers that his head scrawled across the pavement outside showed a clear line between “Probably Unsafe” and “Probably Safe” and he made sure they were over it before stopping.
“Hey! quit fucking pushing…” She turned to shove him back but her eyes shot up at the building. Behind Goldberg’s back, the three story building started to melt like an ice cream cake in the hot Florida sun. It slumped in, first from the side that it shared with the now fully destroyed and on fire row house, then from the core of the building itself. It seemed to go in slow motion, the front face of the building twisting inward and downward, the floors sliding onto and over one another. The top floor and roof slid on top of the other two and slid into the inferno of the row house while the rest just crumbled into the most relaxed position it could find.
Goldberg and the girl stood just outside the perimeter of falling debris and flames, awestruck at the devastation and washed over by dust. He bumped her with the bag and she let out a quick whimper.
“Come on, we should probably back up.”
“My home,” she said as sand and grit from the building rained down on them.
The shock on her face was evident, even without his glasses. “Here, take this.” He handed her the mug with the milk in it. She took it absently and he awkwardly poured in some coffee from the pot held in the same arm as the bag of bagels. “What’s your name.”
She looked up, mouth still open, and said, “Molly.”
He brightened for her sake. “Molly, I’m Goldberg. Good to meet you. Now let’s back up before something else decides to fall on us. Ok?”
“Uh, Ok.” She wandered back into the crowd that had started to gather and he directed her towards the lie of their own long morning shadows and his apartment.
They walked in silence, past a squat, muscular man taking pictures with his cell phone. Goldberg felt cold and twisted, like black licorice. This morning had started so well.
As they left the growing crowd behind, Molly said, “Hey…Thanks for saving my life, I guess.”
“It’s the least I could do. You saved me a trip to the bagel place. It’s madness this time of day. A real death trap.”