Screaming Candle

The Strange – Episode 14 – A Small Town

Ms. Bee pushed aside the two spent syringes in her purse and picked out a cell phone.  It still read “No Service”

The corner of her mouth dropped into a half frown and she kept walking.  The info she had could not wait.

She roamed the hallways with a calm purpose, blending in with all the other visitors by keeping to herself.  From time to time she checked the cheap cellphone in her hand.  It stubbornly refused to get a signal and after doing a full circuit of the floor, she charged down the stairs.

A half dozen smoking nurses greeted her with weary looks as she opened the door at the end of the stairwell.  They perched like birds on the yellow painted metal tube railing separating the exit from the parking lot beyond.  She smiled and held up a cell phone.

One of the nurses nodded at the unvoiced observation.  “Yeah, building’s shielded.  No phone service.”

Ms. Bee frowned and in answer the nurse said, “To keep X-rays and MRI’s from screwing up the cellular network.  Ironic, eh?”

Smiling politely, Ms. Bee waved and walked a comfortable distance from the smokers to make her phone call.  She put in the number, waited and then put in an extension.

“Loveless, we have a problem.  I’m coming to talk to you about it, but I’d advise you to read about the lottery, specifically the winner.  You should have my friend go visit him right away.”

The phone cut her off and she listened.

“My guy is sleeping. … Of course I’m sure.”

Her brow furrowed as she listened, then she broke in.

“I can’t talk to you about that over the phone! I’ll see you in a minute.  Bee out!”  She pressed the button on the phone and added “Dumbass!”

She charged back to the door she had exited and pulled fruitlessly on the handle.

“Fire door, sweetie.  Got to go around the front” the same nurse said and pointed the direction.

“Thank you.” She smiled but didn’t mean it.

“Bad news sweetie?”

Ms. Bee flinched at the sudden familiarity.

“What makes you say…”

“This is a hospital.  You look like you’re having a bad day.  Want to talk about it?”

“No, thank you.”

“You know, sometimes getting things out in the open makes it all better.”

Ms. Bee smiled without humor. “Not in my world.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Glasses they had found for Goldberg made him self-conscious, especially indoors.  An old pair of round, rose-colored, prescription sunglasses were his only back up and with the new haircut he found all the comforting, grounding elements of his personal appearance were gone.  Add a couple of bong hits on top of that and he thought that maybe he was an entirely different person.  It was disconcerting.  He liked the person he was yesterday just fine and he felt a little like an imposter in his own skin.  But at least with the glasses, he could see.

He looked around the table at Joy, Dan, and Molly.  They all ate while his potatoes and vegan egg substitute grew cold.  His stomach was in knots that even the tokes didn’t fully iron out.  More money than he could properly envision was about to come his way and he couldn’t help but think about all the ways that would change his comfortable, bohemian existence.

This place, the Boardwalk Cafe in the center of town, epitomized that lifestyle.  Home-brew arts and crafts covered the walls with streaks of color and abstract, Greek-orthodox looking paintings.  No thought was given to constraining the color palate – it was all free game and blended into a yellowish brown.  A cork board by the door disappeared under an inch-thick coating of fliers and notices, most photocopied one too many times.  Everyone in this restaurant was in a band, or knew someone who was, or was reading a book, or writing a novel.  This was his society … and it was done on the cheap.  Goldberg wondered what money would do to it, or more accurately what his money would do to his perception of it.

And as for perception, his new-found power peeking out from behind every corner was the capstone to it all.  Everything had gone plaid so suddenly from so many different angles that having a super sight super power, at least in his own mind, barely registered.  Even the unsolved murder seemed to fit in the way that nothing fit anymore, which made it easier to push into the back of his mind, at least for now.

Even with all that had happened – showered, shorn, newly re-sighted – he felt keyed up and laid back.  He had a unique combination of energy and peace that had him teetering on the peak without being amped.  He felt… he wasn’t sure how he felt, but it wasn’t bad.  It was just so totally strange.

“We’re on a space ship, aren’t we?  I mean, I feel like we are on a space ship.”  Molly giggled.  “I finally figured it out!”

“So where on the ship are we?” Joy asked, with a grin that wasn’t the least bit patronizing.

Molly shrugged. “I guess we’re in the restaurant.”

“They have restaurants on board space ships?” She asked.

“Of course they do, Joy.  Where do you think people eat?” Dan said the leaned over to Molly.  “Man, she says some of the dumbest things some times.”

Joy frowned at Dan.  “Well, I’m just curious about this ship, having never been in space before.”

“What do you mean? We’re in space right now.”  Goldberg regarded Joy’s look.  “No… for real.”

“And here I thought at least you were lucid.” Joy said.

“I am.  It’s a simple fact.  Go a mere couple thousand miles in any direction, nothing but space.”

“Yeah! And we’re on a space ship which explains the weirdness.  And we are definitely not sitting in a weird restaurant with weird food with no eggs or meat that tastes like weeds after having everything I’ve ever owned blown up and crushed and dropped into a world with three weird old people.  I mean, that’s just… not…. possible…”  Molly’s gaze drifted off beyond the overly decorated walls of the cafe.

“Ah dang.  She went quiet again.  Nice job Joy.”

Joy tilted her fork into the air.  “What did I do?  I was playing along.  And I am not old.  Twenty-eight is not old.” She looked at the girl. “Maybe we should take her to the infirmary or something.  Get her checked out by psych.”

“And have them pump her full of drugs?”

Her voice gushed with sarcasm. “Yeah, that would be terrible.”

Looking over Goldberg’s shoulder Dan said, “Heads up, Goldberg.  Here’s our boy”

Goldberg looked towards the door to see a big, older man.  He had to agree with Dan that he looked like a very intimidating accountant with a face made from strategically angled and arranged meat.  In his mind, he stroked his power and asked it about this man.

‘The likelihood that this man is a danger to you is indeterminate.’

‘How about the likelihood that he’d turn me over to the cops.’

‘Also indeterminate.’

‘Can you say much about this guy?  You are usually overly informative.’

‘There is a high likelihood that he will give you a large amount of money.  Little about people is predictable or certain beyond the known.  Free will changes the way people behave moment to moment.  Only the past and present state is fixed.  All else is interpretation and probability.’

That was curious, but before he had an opportunity to ask further, Vic Goodman stood at the table holding out his meaty hand.  “Mr. Goldberg, I presume?  And you have taken up with my ex-employee I see.”

Goldberg shook the offered hand.  “Your ex-employee is my long-time friend.  It’s a small town.”

“Evidently.  I’d wondered where you got my personal cell number.  I’m pleased to meet you.  And who are your lovely associates?”

“This is my … uh …”

Joy rescued him by sticking out her hand.  “Joy Winter.”

“And this is Molly Bunn.”

Molly rolled glassy eyes in the man’s direction and squeaked out a lazy, “hi.”

“Pleasure to meet you both.”  He moved his whole body to address Goldberg.  “And you, Mr. Goldberg, are a bit elusive, we were concerned that we would not be able to serve the ticket in the time allowed.  People usually don’t cut the deadline so fine.  I take it, you would like to settle our business.”  He looked around the restaurant and wiped his forehead.  “Any reason we aren’t in my air-conditioned office?  And you do know that there is a number to call on the back of the ticket.  You didn’t have to call me personally.”

“Yeah, I’d rather keep a low profile.  I’ve had an active morning.”

“Ah yes, the article in the newspaper.”  Mr. Goodman leaned forward on his elbows on the small table.  “If I may, I do owe you an apology.  You were supposed to be anonymous if you wanted to be.   Lottery winners attract all kinds of difficult people. Having your name leaked is not how we do business and when I find who is responsible, they will pay for their lack of courtesy.”  His face turned dark as he contemplated extracting revenge.

Through the red glasses, Vic looked like a very angry steak.  “Uh yeah. That’s not really necessary.  Really!  I’d feel terrible if my good fortune was attached to someone else’s misfortune.  Seems a bad way to start things.”

Mr. Goodman released his steam.  “As you wish.”  He reached into the recesses of his tan suit and pulled out a folded stack of papers.  “Of course, I will need to see some I.D. and your winning ticket.”

Shuffling around on the chair, Goldberg fished out his wallet and the requested items.  “You know, I never expected to win and didn’t even notice until the other night.  The ticket was a prop for my statistics class.”

Vic rapped the plastic card on the table.  “Well, I guess you of all people should know that if the chances are one in a million, some guy in a million is likely to be that one.  Good thing you noticed, though.  We were going to roll over the pot tomorrow.” The big man examined the card and looked back at Goldberg.  “Non-Driving ID?  That explains why the DMV doesn’t know where you live.  And this picture.  Recent makeover?”

Bending past Dan in the booth, Joy replied, “The hippie thing wasn’t working for me.”

Vic’s jowls lifted in a smile.  “Yes, very fortunate for all involved.”  He pushed the stack of papers across the table.  “You need to sign this sheet and sign the back of the ticket.  Sign on the top for the annuity and at the bottom for the lump sum.”

“Ah, totally the lump sum.”

“You are sure?”

“Yep.  And don’t worry, I’m not about to be foolish. I’d just like to control the money myself.  I may stick it into my own annuity, but I think I have a better than average chance of beating the bond market.”  Goldberg quickly signed the papers. “That’s it?”

“That is it, my friend.  The lump sum is an adjusted Five hundred and sixty-three million dollars and is available through the account on the sheet.  It’s a money market account, but you can use the checks in the envelope right away.  Taxes lock in a week so get yourself an accountant, but aside from that, you’re good to go.”  He fetched the completed papers from Goldberg.

“And here I thought this would be difficult.  Sweet-Deal!”

Molly roused from her stoned malaise.  “My sweet-deal apartment, right near the campus, it’s gone.” Looking at Joy with bloodshot eyes, she said, “Who would have blown up my apartment?”

Vic suddenly noticed the sullen girl sitting in the corner.  “You had one of those apartments that came down this morning, Girl?”

“Yeah, but Goldberg saved me. It was shocking!” At that moment, she opened her hand and a static spark flew out and zapped Goldberg’s ear.

“Ow!”  He reached up and pulled her hands down.  “She’s just kidding.”

“These freshmen just can’t handle hangovers.” Joy burst in.

“Yes, well, as the saying goes, the devil always gets his due.”  Mr. Goodman pushed back his chair with a squeak.  “I am sorry to leave so soon,” He waved the paper in the air.  “but I have to file this.”

The big man held out his hand and Goldberg gave it a shake.  “I appreciate the personal service it took to meet us out here.”

“Always a pleasure to meet interesting company.”  Vic gave another tight smile and said, “Good day.”

The big man shambled out of the restaurant leaving the four at the table in an awkward silence.  Goldberg looked at the papers in front of him, still in a fog of disbelief.  His power flickered around the numbers, displaying the possible uses for this windfall.

The slowly rotating ceiling fan continued to push lazy air to little effect.  The homemade art regarded him with Byzantine eyes.  Goldberg felt like the world had shifted around him.  He was no longer a regular guy, he was a millionaire. The more he considered it, the more he knew this would change things and the more he realized he didn’t like change.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The swinging door to the kitchen burst open and a gray streak of fur came barreling into the apartment’s living room.  Goldberg’s cat, Junior, jumped up, rebounded off the back of the couch and shot over to the matching chair.

From her view point up on a shelf, Dan’s cat, Billie, observed the elder cat’s frantic motion.  All the commotion was just too much for her and she decided to resume her cat nap.  Junior was such a boy sometimes!  Too much effort!

Junior tensed and surveyed the area.  The hunter was in his domain.  The window beside the big humming thing, he knew, could be manipulated to provide easy access to the porch, all the while keeping the ever-present threat of mosquitoes at bay.  This would come in handy later, no doubt, but presently there was a nice breeze from the big humming thing and plentiful shade to keep his beautiful gray pelt cool.  Junior was happy in his lair for now.

But what’s this?  A flying bug!  How could such a tasty morsel dare to trespass on his turf?  Immediate action is required!  Juniors wide yellow eyes scanned the room for any possible threat before sizing up this infidel.  Seeing no one, he focused completely on the invading bug.  His pupils formed into narrow slits as every muscle in his body tensed.  His butt wiggled as he set his feet on the burlap chair, claws gripping the coarse fabric.  He coiled every fiber of his being for this singular, devastating motion of grace and power.

Ooo!  Itch on the belly!  He sprang up and licked furiously at the spot just between his first and second nipple.  Relief was sweet and satisfying.  Twisting back around, he sought his prey only to find it gone.  It may have escaped this time, but it can’t run forever!

Feeling a little peeked after setting up such a fine killing strike, yet showing mercy, Junior sniffed the air for more common prey.  The luscious, full-bodied scent of cream cheese drifted past his sensitive nostrils.  He followed the scent about a yard.  There on the coffee table was an unattended, open container with the wonderful diary delight right next to a half-eaten bagel.  Trotting over, he hopped up on the table and helped himself to the creamy treat.

Billie observed her companion with amusement up to this point, but was now very keen on his find.  She gingerly hopped from the high bookshelf to a lower bookshelf and then finally onto the floor.  Tail up and friendly, she hopped up on the table to be with the large gray cat that shared her home.

Junior saw the small white cat approach through a tray of the plant stuff that the humans liked to burn and made a low growl.  This mere kitten assumed to take the spoils of his hunt.  How presumptuous!

Billie was used to this kind of behavior and scoffed.  In scoffing, she sniffed.  Something smelled good!  Billie was two paws deep in the human catnip.  How silly!  The humans have left their green leafy catnip all over the place.  It seems tasty too.  Billie licked a bunch of it in her mouth.  It was dry and sticky so she shook her head and flicked her tongue.  Still, the catnip had a curious draw on the small white cat and he continued to sniff and eat.

The large gray cat looked up.  His nose held on to a small crumb of cream cheese as he saw Billie playing with the human catnip.  Licking off the last morsel, he advanced on his small friend.

He stalked forward as the little girl cat raised her head and said, “Meow? Pert!”  Her head twisted in questioning innocence at the large gray predator.

Junior came nose to nose with his small housemate.  He sniffed her and smelled the small pieces of green dried weed all over her face.  A huge lick cleared the strangely seductive human catnip flakes from her whiskers.  The white cat felt like a kitten again.  She grinned and blinked her squinted eyes in kittenish bliss.

The Strange – Episode 15 – The Voice Inside