Screaming Candle

The Strange – Episode 23 – In the Weeds – Part 2

Goldberg leaned back on the grassy bank and enjoyed the shade.  “My balls are sweaty.”

“I’m happy for all three of you,” Dan quipped.

“I just wonder why my balls would continue to sweat while they are completely drenched.  Wouldn’t you think that there is some sort of ‘off’ response to keep them from continuing to sweat?”

Dan looked at the extinguished end of the joint and said, “You actually think of things like this?”

“It’s hotter than fuck and a hundred percent humidity.  Seems appropriate.”

“Got a point.”  He flicked the roach into the creek.  “I guess since hot tubs make you sweat, your proposed ‘sweat stopping feedback’ does not exist.”

“A design flaw, if you ask me.”

“Yet another complaint for God when you get an audience.”

“War, hate, and sweaty balls.”

“Hey, have you ever done one of those sweat tent things?”

Goldberg got up on his elbows and looked at his friend.  “Yeah, I did it with you, you brain damaged fool.”  Dan stirred joining Goldberg in an elbow slouch.

“Oh yeah.  Well, today reminds me of that.  Downright hostile to the proper functioning of the human animal.”

“Yeah, I remember seeing some weird shit when we did the sweat. Those mushrooms probably didn’t help.”  Goldberg had a tick that collapsed his elbows without his mind catching it.  Flat on the grass, he turned to Dan.

A four inch dart came zipping out of the brush and tried to stick into Dan’s neck.  It inexplicably couldn’t get through his skin, though, and just stuck there. “Nah, probably not,” he said, oblivious to the dart.  It barely hung on by its tip and finally gave up, falling to the ground.

Goldberg’s eyes opened in puzzled disbelief.  His power did a quick analysis of the trajectory for the dart and showed him a glowing line ending in the brush.  Following it he saw the faint outline of a crouching man and the vague shape of a gun muzzle.

He immediately laid back as flat as he could and another dart zipped just over his face and hit Dan in the arm.  Again the dart could not take hold.  “What the fuck?”

“Questions later.  Run!  Head for the field.”  Goldberg pulled himself up and scrambled into the low tropical bushes and sickly trees.

Dan swiveled around and saw the huge armed man coming out of the bushes.  With a panicked jump, he followed.

Goldberg scrambled through the bushes, barely keeping his feet under him.  Several times he almost hit some of the foliage, but was able to swerve at the last moment.  Animal reflexes kept him going until he got to the edge of the field, where sunlight allowed grass to grow tall.  He barreled through, caught his foot and fell face first onto the freshly mowed field.

Goldberg spat out grass clippings. Dan jumped over him and landed a good way into the field.  Looking over his shoulder, he said, “You comin’ or what?”

Mr. Aye’s footsteps grew louder in Goldberg’s ears, juicing him with a new dose of adrenaline.  He pushed himself into the field on hands and knees, slowly getting his feet under him.

The two were almost to the center of the field when Mr. Aye burst through the brush like a rhino.  A few paces and he stopped, steadying a pistol at Goldberg and Dan.

Two co-eds playing Frisbee yelled “Aaah!  GUN!”

Reflexively, Goldberg hit the deck.  In front of him, Dan jumped and, remarably, did a high back flip, landing right next to Goldberg’s prone body.  The Tranquilizer dart went right under him in mid flip.

“Dude, get up.”

Goldberg spat green.  “I hate the taste of grass clippings.”

“What did you do to piss this guy off?”

“Don’t know.  Want to ask him?”  Dan helped Goldberg up and they ran away from the once again running Mr. Aye.

“Just so you know, all this running is totally burning off my buzz.”

The two young men came to the road that separated the field from the frat houses that had been ghettoized into this corner of the campus.  Goldberg looked around for a plan.  He was tired and buzzed.  Running was not going to get the job done.  This guy was relentless.  Where the hell were the cops?  Don’t cops keep madmen from chasing you with dart guns?

Dan, surprisingly not in the least winded said, “Hey.  Aren’t you some kind of superhero or something?  Fucking laserbeam this ass!”

‘Power?  Hey, what the fuck?’ Goldberg asked himself.

‘I’m sorry.  That was a question?’ the power answered back from his subconscious.

‘Yeah, why aren’t you helping?’

‘You’ve pushed me back by ignoring my input while you’ve been handling your affairs.  You needed to draw me up again,’ It replied.  ‘Don’t worry, I’m always acting reflexively to keep you safe unless you override me.’

‘Uh, Ok.  Got any suggestions?’  They were running up the street and the power now gave Goldberg a visual on how the running maniac with the bandages on his face could cut the corner on them.

‘Turn left.’  The visual and the path in front of him now had a path that seemed to be made of brighter patches on the background.  He pulled Dan along with him, following the path.  It led up a driveway and then between the side of a house and a fence.

‘Ok, now what?’

‘Now, you use your people skills.’

‘What?’

Turning a corner, the pair found themselves face to face with a large outdoor frat party.  Though it wasn’t much past noon, the pledges were already pie eyed.  An idea struck Goldberg and he hoped it would work.

“Hey guys!  HEY!” Goldberg yelled as loud as he could, waving his arm.

“Dude, what the hell?” Dan asked.

“Play along, then run,” Goldberg whispered, sensing the large man running up the drive behind them.

“Hey guys!  Me and my two friends here were talking and we thought we’d ask, this is the gay frat right?  So do you all like it better as the dude on top or the one getting it up the rump?”  Goldberg flashed a smile then ran back around the corner and straight toward Mr. Aye.  Dan saw the drunken crowd surge for him and followed.

As Goldberg got within range of a now confused Mr. Aye, he slid like a graceless baseball player.  Dan, on the other hand, jumped over the big man, bouncing one foot on the house and one foot on the fence for additional lift.

Mr Aye acted on reflex and grabbed at the man in the air, underestimating how high Dan’s jump was.  His momentum carried him past both Dan and Goldberg and right into the crowd of drunken frat boys.

“The gay frat, huh?”  The initial wave of boys crashed into the off guard hunter.  Though Mr. Aye could easily take any one of these boys, the large group had him.   Backing up, he appraised the tactical situation.  It was hopeless.  He looked for a way to fight back against their undisciplined beating until painful darkness claimed him.

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

Belatran paced the faux-marble halls of the municipal building.  The hallmarks of the Johnson administration’s Great Society oozed from the architecture. It was bright and efficient, unlike the Sargent that he was talking to.

“Really, I must speak to the police commissioner.”

“And I told you, he’s not available.  We already pulled him in once due to the gas explosion on Philly Street and he’s gone for the rest of the day.  Now can you just tell me what is so hoppin’ crazy that you can’t wait till Monday?”

“It’s a matter of grave public safety.  That’s all I’m at liberty to divulge.”  Belatran ran a hand across his head, smoothing his salt and pepper hair back against his scalp.  “Look, do you have a list of security protocols?  Civil defense, that sort of thing?  My code will be in that book and should convince you that my issue is more important than your boss’s fishing trip or whatever.”

“Civil defense?  Boy, we haven’t used that since Nixon and even if we did have a copy lying around, it doesn’t let you override police procedure.  So either show me your badge and orders or get the hell out of my face so I can get to my other business.”

“And what business is that?  Parking tickets?  Loitering?  Jaywalking?  I suppose you have to bust some kid for growing ganja in his dorm room.  Well let me tell you something, this is more important than all that crap.  Call your damned boss.”

The desk Sargent leaned forward on his beer belly and slowly pronounced his final word. “No.”  He sat back in the old wood chair, which protested under his weight.  “No badge and no complaint? No way I’m screwing around with you.”  The two men stood and stared at each other for a long moment.  The overstuffed cop raised an eyebrow.  “You want one of those loitering tickets?  Keep staring at me.”

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

Joy and Molly sat at a booth at The Pen, the only bar on campus.  The patrons were almost uniformly parents and prospective freshmen.  Though Molly was in fairly familiar company, her mood was still somber.  Unfortunately for her, she was now almost completely sober.

The wood ball she had collected from the wreckage of her home rolled from chubby hand to chubby hand on the table. Joy came over with a sweet tea for herself and a huge cola for Molly.

“Thanks,” she said shyly as she took the bubbling drink, the red, transparent cup making it look like something from the black lagoon.  “My mouth is really dry, for some reason.”

Joy raised an eyebrow.  “I believe it’s called cotton mouth.  Side effect of that brain damage Dan gave you this morning”

She smiled and after taking a big slurp, continued to roll the ball absently back and forth between her hands.  The uneven surface of the ball meeting the cheep veneer of the booth’s table top with a sound like a boulder rolling down a hill, except softer.  The quiet clack clack clack of a hard round object over an equally hard surface had the same placating effect as pressing on a bruise.

In spite of herself, Joy took to following the ball back and forth across the table top, until she realized what she was doing.  She shot her hand out and picked up the ball.

“Hey!”

“Sorry, Molly.  That sound was pushing me to thoughts of homicide.”

Molly sighed.  “Yeah, after seeing my stuff scrunched, I can relate.  God, I sound like an endless re-tweet.  But really, who would do such a thing?”

“Well, they said it was an accident at that press conference.  So much for truth in reporting.”  She pointed at the wide screen TV mounted to the near wall.  It showed the detective that helped them earlier behind a lectern with a news ticker scrolling under him.  Joy took a sip of her drink, resisting the urge to spin the ball.  “You know I talked to the guy that died just yesterday.”

Molly pulled her hands off the table.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  I guess I’m being totally selfish.”

“No, honey, you are being human.  You interpret world events by how they impact your life, and your life has sustained quite the impactor.”

“More like a compactor.”  They both blew out a short laugh.  “But yeah, but I survived.  Thanks to Goldberg.”

Joy smiled.  “Quite some guy, eh?  Tell you a little secret… I’ve had a crush on him since our first year in the dorms.”

“Jeez.  You’ve been trying to get him for that long?”

“Oh hell, no.  At least, not the whole time or anything.  Things just got complicated and we…  You know, distractions.”  Joy eyed her.  “Actually, you don’t know, at least not yet.  Trust me girlie, Dan may be a fool but he was right about one thing, so many things will change over the next few months that you won’t miss the baggage you brought with you.  One trip to the mall and we’ll get you up and running.”

“I liked my clothes.”

“Yeah, but that’s not the baggage I mean.  I’m talking about all the fucks you went to high school with.  The crap they said.  You get to start over here.”  She distractedly stirred the whipped cream into her drink.  “Personally, I think you got a gift here.  You are being given a clean slate and there is no place to go from here but up!”

Molly smiled. “And the mall, don’t forget the mall.  I wasn’t joking about needing clothes, especially bras.”  She puffed up her ample chest. “My girls need help.”

Joy looked down the front of her shirt at her striving A cups.  “Yeah, sorry.  Can’t help you there.”

“Really Joy, you already have.  I feel a lot better.”

A bright smile crossed Joy’s face.  “You are welcome.  And as soon as we hit up Goldberg for some cash, we’re going hunting for some fashionable clothes that fit!  I’m talking classy all the way!”

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

“Fucker”  Belatran ripped up a paper as he burst out of the Police Headquarters office and into the Municipal building’s main hallway.  Delgado sat in one of the wood chairs that lined the hall.

“What was that?”

“Loitering ticket.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No.  And get this, no commissioner.  He’s got the day off.”

Delgado shrugged. “Well, it is Saturday.”

“I don’t care if it’s God damned Christmas!”

“Well, apparently they do.”

“He’s a cop!  Cops don’t get the day off like that.”

“Yeah, but no one said he was a particularly good cop.  I agree.  It’s slack.  What does this do to our operating parameters?”

“Screws them up.  We’re not an army here.  We’re supposed to be advising and assisting the local authorities, not doing their jobs.  There are only two hundred weathermen in the whole world, for Christ sake.  Only three in the US.”  He looked Delgado up and down.  “Three and a half if we count you.  And the other two are permanently stationed in Baltimore.”

“Baltimore?”

“Half way between Washington and New York.”

“Wouldn’t Philly be better?”

“You been to Philly?  Savages!  They booed Santa, for Christ’s sake!”

Belatran burst out of the door and into the blazing heat and light of the day without missing a step.  The transition made Delgado’s eyes water and his skin do flip flops in his suit, but he pressed on. “So what do we do now?  I mean, we still have a job to do.”

Belatran pursed his lips.  “You’re right.  It’s just… Fuck.”

“What?”

“Look, we train to be operational, but… we’re weathermen, not weather fighting men.  Our mission is to assist the police, not replace them.  And anyway, we’re only two people.”

“Yeah.  So?”

“So if the reading we got before is correct, we may be facing an army of people able to do crazy and unpredictable things.  We can’t subdue them all and even if we did, we’d be no better than them.  People taking the law into their own hands.  Vigilantes”

Delgado puffed up.  “I’m comfortable with that.”

“Well I’m not.”  Belatran shook his head.  “When your upgrades come fully on line you will understand, but for right now let me tell you that we’ve had to do some truly rough and horrible stuff in the past when faced with a true storm.  Really that’s the whole point, to judge the weather, protect ourselves and advise those whose job it is to keep the peace.  If we take on any additional role, any operational role, we’re liable to go to jail.  Functionally immortal and in jail.  Think on that.”

“Go to Jail?  Look at this place, Belatran!  I doubt these guys could catch a fucking cold, much less anyone determined.”

“Maybe so, but their presence keeps the peace while this… whatever the fuck this is… will break it.  It’s standard procedure to let folks know that they are going to have a nightmare on their hands. It’s like a hurricane warning.”

“Was that reading really that strong?”

“It was a long range reading, but potentially? Yeah. Have to hook the box back up in order to recheck and I had to leave my stuff back at the hangar.  Simple enough to replace though, I suppose.”

“So what are we waiting for?”

Belatran looked at the door he had just come out of and sighed.  “Nothing anymore I guess.”  He turned and walked down the sidewalk to their tiny rental.  “Time to set up shop and get to the bottom of this.”  He grimaced and added, “I hope you brought your side arm with you, Marine.”

The Strange – Episode 24 – Come Together – Part 1

[Author’s note: Two in one day! Though, strictly speaking, yesterday’s post came in just after 12, so that probably doesn’t count.

I’m coming to you once again to ask you to please spread the word about the story.  You can do that either directly telling people about it or helping out by voting for the story on top web fiction.  You can vote every week (they time out) and I’m trying to crack the top 15 (usually requires only 3 or so votes) so that my banner is displayed.  Hey, a free advert means more eyeballs which means more story.  Everyone wins! Likes and comments help keep me going too, so please feel free to drop a few into the site.

Thank you for everyone who is reading and made it this far.  As you might imagine, things get a little more action-oriented from here.  And… Strange.  I hope you enjoy the ride.

Stay Weird.

-SC]