Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 2

[Author’s note : This is a straight up continuation of the story from part 1 and won’t make a ton of sense on its own.  Feel free to read it here: Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 1.  Thanks – SC]

“That’s nice.”  The young brunette licked some jelly off a spoon.  “Not too sweet.”

“Mmm Hmm.  Well, I’d have to confess, these grapes make much better jelly than wine, I’m afraid.  Although the hipsters don’t seem to notice.”

She smiled and froze like a caught mouse.  A giggle coughed out.  “I promise I won’t tell a soul.”

Billy stuck his head in the doorway and looked at the two.  They didn’t seem to notice him.  Feeling awkward, Billy retreated into the hallway and slumped into one of the ornate high-backed chairs.

“So why chase ghosts, Mr. Crabtree?”

“I don’t.  And it’s still Raymond.”  He smiled.  “I investigate paranormal cases.  Ghosts are just one of many phenomena.  Why do you see ghosts?”

“Well, I don’t really.”  She talked to the ground.  “I sense … things.”  Swishing her bouncy brunette hair over her shoulder she made eye contact with Raymond.  “I believe from talking to people and my own research that I’m in touch with spirits.  But I’m not nearly practiced enough.  Your last assistant; I heard she was quite adept.”

“She’d pick a paranormal pea out from under a stack of lies and myth a mile high.”  The older man shrugged with his face.  “Though she left me in the lurch, I can’t say she was anything but a top rate medium.”

“That’s rather kind of you.”  The young woman’s eyes sparkled.

He shyly examined his teacup. “So how about you?  For instance, here, are you picking up anything?”

“I think I felt something.  Hard to place.  Not threatening and not particularly motivated, just creepy.  Like I would like to get clean or take a bath.  Does that make any sense?”

“You mean slimy?”

Her face lit like a light. “Yeah!  That’s it.”

“Hm.  I’ll take a chance here.  You’ve got the job.  Ines lived upstairs and you are welcome to have her room.”

The light in her face grew even brighter.  “I won’t let you down.  I’ll be back later with my stuff.”

 

****

 

Raymond watched her small blue hatchback circle the driveway and exit through the gate.  He gave a small wave as she drove down the lane and out of sight.

From behind him, Billy said, “You know she’s not buying your nice older guy gentleman routine.  I mean, she’s not a total scam, but she sure ain’t Ines and she’s not anywhere near as sensitive as we need.”

“Hm.  She’s imperfect, but she’s the best we’ve got.  And under the circumstances, she’ll have to do.”

“I guess.”

Raymond looked at the rummaged tea service, and his notes.  “Hm.  Forget this.  I’m totally going to tame you at computer football.”

Grinning, Billy said, “You are so on, bro.”

 

****

 

A young man drove his motorbike up the driveway of the Crabtree’s stone house and again checked the address on the package.  He pulled off his helmet to reveal his sharp features and dark Indian skin.  “Must be the place.  Talk about the middle of nowhere.”  Arun Monohoran’s accent was all Pittsburgh.

He walked up the stairs and knocked on the solid oak door.  Using his hand for shade, he looked through the frosted window.  “Hello!  I got a package here!  I need a signature!”

Billy walked past the window and he said, “Hey!  Blondie!  Package!  Need a signature”

Billy looked surprised and even looked for someone behind him.

“Yeah, you.  Who else?”

Billy got up from behind the desk and carefully unlocked the door.

“You Raymond Crabtree?”

Billy tilted his head.  “No, I’m Billy.”

“Whatever.  I need a signature for this package.”

Billy took the package and the clip board and carefully signed his name.

Arun looked around.  “What do you all do out here anyway.”

The blonde young man smiled.  “We make alcohol, deserts, flowers and play video football. Care for a drink?”

“You make booze here?” Arun smiled. “Sure.  What’d you say your name was?”

“Billy.  Billy Crabtree.”

“Arun Monohoran.”  He stuck out his hand.  Billy smiled and shook it carefully.

“Hey, you any good at videogames?  I’ve got everything here.”

 

****

 

Raymond and Lisa both carried boxes into the theatre.  Once inside, Lisa swept her eyes over the high ceiling and the stage.  Raymond was concerned.

“You getting anything?”

“No.” She shook her head quickly “I just feel cold.”

Grunting, he put down his box. “Well from the witnesses, our friend here is not the shy type.”  He tilted his head at the stage where a single light was set up.  “I wonder if that’s for him.”

“Nah, that’s a ‘ghost light.’  You always want to leave a light on the stage so people can see the edge.”  Raymond raised an eyebrow and she smiled.  “I was a drama geek in high school.”

“Hm.  Good.  You can help with the cameras.  They work like can lights.”  He opened one of his cases on the ground, revealing four camera setups.  “I’m going to want full coverage of this place.  Let’s make sure everything is observable from at least two angles for triangulation.”

Lisa looked at the camera setup.  It was actually two cameras, a cardioid microphone and a wireless transmitter, set in a custom made metal housing.  “You make this stuff yourself?”

“Just the mountings.  The big deal, is interpreting the data.”

“So you’ve got all this, what do you need me for?”

“This can only point in the vague direction of the issue.  I need a medium to help with the other side of things.”  He turned around and fetched one of the small camera units.

“How many of these have you done so far?”

“A few dozen.  This is a really good case.  They are paying and we have plenty of witnesses.”  He smiled. “Let’s place these cameras and check the place out.”

They carefully followed the map Raymond brought in order to get all the right angles on the entire building.  He covered both above and below the balcony/loft and went up on the stage when Lisa stopped.

“It’s cold here.”  She rubbed her shoulders with her hands.  “I don’t feel welcome.”

Raymond put out his hand.  “It does seem a little drafty here.”

She walked across the stage to be with Raymond.  “No, really.  I get the feeling that we should leave.”

The older man examined her face.  “That may be, but we are here to investigate.  We can’t let what we came here to see frighten us off.”  Placing his hand on her shoulder, he said, “Come on, I’ll be right here.  We just need to place the cameras.  Half hour max if we get to it.”

“Yeah, Ok. And why all the cameras?  I mean, I’m new to field work due to … my specialty … but on the shows, they rarely have more than a couple of views of things.”

“Well, we want to get everything from many different angles – cuts out the artifacts and such.  Also, I figure we’ll be set up for a couple of weeks to get a good sample.”

“Weeks?”

“Well yeah.  Those people who think they can figure stuff out in a day or two with only a couple of sensors are unscientific morons.  This is like any other social phenomenon, it takes observation.”

“That seems a little calculating, considering the subject matter.”

“Well let me ask you – do you haul off and marry some guy after a single date?”

“No!”

“Yeah, that would be dumb.  You’d only get a little piece of what they are about.  The rest of the picture, if you choose to form one, would say more about you than the dude.  Hm. The same applies here.  We don’t want a ghost story, we want answers.  Less mystical and scary that way, but much more satisfying.”

“So, the longer we look at it, the less frightening it is?”

“That’s not where I was going, but I guess you could say that.  Again, it’s about data and resolution.  We get the data from the cameras, and your observations, and we research…” He looked up to fix her with an impressed gaze. “…I’m really excited about your write up on this so far, very thorough….” He went back to his set up. “And then we look for the anomalies and how we can help everyone, spirits and people alike.”

She grabbed a camera mount and looked up into the ancient rigging system above the stage.  The ropes were swinging in the slight breeze.  All at once, they stopped.  “Raymond?”  Her voice was weak and her eyes wide with fright.

Flipping a master switch, she grabbed the basketball sized camera mount and pointed it at the rafters.  Her hands trembled as she looked up.

“Yeah, Just a second.  Good, your camera and sensors are on and recording.  Should get a picture just as soon as I get the monitors going.  Nice.”  He walked back to the door, looking for a piece of equipment.

Up above the stage, the ropes were now starting to join with each other, dancing around in a circle.  All too soon they wove themselves together into a crude face, with two eyes and a mouth.  The ropes danced, giving the illusion that one eye grew suddenly huge.  Lisa felt exposed under its gaze.  She tried to call out, but all she could manage was a frozen squeak.  The huge eye retreated and the whole face was in the ropes again.

In one swift move, the rope mouth became huge and lunged down toward the stage.  The young brunette screamed and dropped the camera.  In a panic, she rushed off the stage, jumping down five feet into the orchestra area, then scrambling up the three foot wall to run screaming down the center isle of the theater.

Bursting through the doors, she ran out into the grey fall day. The misty outside air made her feel better almost instantly.  She no longer had the biological imperative to flee so firmly and forcefully bouncing about in her primitive brain.

Some twenty feet outside the theatre’s rear entrance, she found herself standing on a bit of damp lawn and realized what she had just done.  Her body crumpled and she fell to her knees.  The long wavey locks of her hair hid her face as she bent forward, pushing her jeans clad knees into the moist sod.

Silent sobs jerked at her curled over back.  Breath came in gasps as her face moistened into a damp mess.

Footsteps on the gravel path made a crunching sound.  The soft and warming weight of her white wool coat gently covered her back.

She didn’t have to look.  “I…”  A gasp of air broke her thought.  “I’m not cut out for this.  Raymond, I know you want to believe in me, but I’m not good enough.  I’m scared.”

“Shhh. That was … very dramatic.  Hm. A very acute occurrence.”  He squatted down beside her.  “It’s ok.”

“No.  I wish.  I thought, after I studied with my sensitivity, I thought I could finally get a job and not just be a nut-ball psychic.” She turned and looked at him through her locks. “But, I’m scared!  I don’t know what’s going on and I’m only sensitive enough to be scared.  Once that gets out, I’ll never get taken seriously again.  And I’ll never be able … to get over it and…”  She broke down once again in sobs.

Raymond rubbed her back as she jerked with sadness and embarrassment.  “Don’t worry.  I won’t tell a soul.”

 

****

 

“Screaming! The crowd went wild!  Cheering and shouting Billy! Billy!”  The greasy haired young man bragged as he stood in front of a screen full of cheering, digital people. “Thank you, thank you.  You are all too kind.”

Arun sat on the couch watching the display, and drinking from a tall unmarked liter bottle of hard cider.  “Best three of five?”

Pointing, he said, “You are on, dude.”  He flipped the switches on the controller to re-start the football game.

The sound of the back door opening and footsteps in the hall could be heard over the startup screen.

“Is that your brother?”

“Yeah dude.”  Billy settled into his chair, remote in hand.  “Don’t worry though.  Raymond plays like he’s all uptight, but he’s cool.”

At that moment Raymond peeked into Billy’s room with a still watery-eyed Lisa in tow.  He looked at Arun and said, “What the hell’s going on?  What do you think you are doing here?”

“Oh, it’s cool.  Arun here just delivered a package and he mentioned that he liked videogames…”

Arun listened to Billy and nodded his head.  “Yeah, how’s it going?  You’ve got a real talent my man.”  He smiled and put out his fist to be bumped.

Raymond was appalled.  “Who said you could come in, much less raid the cellar?  Get out!”

“What the…  Billy, I thought you said your brother would be cool and all.”

“Oh, crud!  Tell him Billy said it’s ok and that you aren’t dropping eggs.”

“What?  Why can’t you tell him yourself?”

Raymond turned around and lifted an eyebrow.  “You know Billy?”

“Of course I know Billy.  We just met today, but… Dude, he’s right there!” Arun pointed to Billy who was waving his controller around.

“You mean you can see him?  Hear him?”  Raymond regained his calm composure.  “Um… Hm.  I hate to break this to you but, Billy has been dead for thirty years.  What you are seeing is his spirit.”

Arun stared at Billy as he shrugged his shoulders.  “Sorry man.  I hope this doesn’t mean we can’t be friends and all.”

“Friends?  Uh.  This has to be some weird joke.  You signed the receipt.  I can touch you.  Like this!”  He reached forward for Billy’s shoulder only to have his hand go through.

Billy looked at the hand then back at Arun.  “Sorry dude, I gotta concentrate to make something tangible and it only works on farm grounds.  I probably should have told you.”

“Yeah.  Kind of an oversight.”

Raymond walked further into the room.  “Young man, Arun is it?  Did you know you are a medium for spirits?”

“A what?  Does that pay well?”

Raymond smiled.  “Significantly more than a courier under the right circumstances.  If Billy vouches for you, I think we can work something out.  You can also work with my other medium to help you realize what you are experiencing.”

“That … um … Yeah, this is all …” Arun looked past Raymond to see Lisa standing in the hallway, observing the exchange. “… pretty… um… pretty strange and all.”

“Dude, what’s to be strange about?  Ray’s a great cook, you get to work on the farm and let me tell you, the chicks we get up here to take cooking and winemaking classes!  Damn.  Makes me wish I could … you know … But YOU can, dude!  It’ll be a blast!”

Arun looked at Billy and then realized that for everyone else he was staring at nothing.

“Ah, why not.  I’m guess I’m your guy.”

Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 3

Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 1

The house lights were on in the converted barn of a theater and a lone spotlight lit the edge of the stage.  A young man from the restaurant and bar that was connected to the theater struggled with a case of heavy glass bottles.  As he lugged his load to the high store room up in the rafters, he tried not to think about how creepy the empty theater felt between shows,

“‘Put the extra booze in the stage storage’ he says.  Like that’s nothing at all.”  The young man mumbled to himself.  “I bet he couldn’t even get up here hauling his own fat butt, much less a case of high grade hangover.”  He got to the top of the stairs and walked along the tenuous catwalk to the storage area for things that hung from the trusses that hid in the shadows above the stage.  Adding a case of Jim Beam to the rusted can lights and discarded sets, the young bar back sat down for a break.

From his vantage point just outside the storage room, he could see it all.  The stage was raised, but an orchestra pit sank into the floor just in front of it.  Two wide stairways angled out on either side just in front of the left and right curtains that hid the small backstage wings. He could see the scuff on the worn floorboards where the curtain hit, separating the bit that was always visible from the bit that could be hidden.

At his level, there were decades of ropes, trusses, and cables among the catwalks.  Up here were all the things that made the stage actually work. He’d helped with a few production set ups and knew that the real work happened up here and that the actors, for all their top billing, were just the outer most coat of paint, the finishing touch on lots of grubby work.

As he watched, the theater’s manager came through the back door, trailing two others across the stage.  “So, Mr. Crabtree, do you think you can help us?”

“It’s Raymond, please,” the man said.  “I’ll certainly try.”

A soft, Swedish-accented voice added, “This really is a lovely theater.”

“Yes, but performers are a superstitious lot.”  The group walked down the stage steps and made their way to the side door. The fading voice added, “There are a number of people who simply refuse to work here.  It’s getting hard to stage a play.  We just wound down our summer ‘Experimental Experience Theater’ for the students from Penn State. Without the kids, any thoughts of a fall season are right out the window.  Professionals avoid this place because of the haunting, you see.”

The indifferent bar back shrugged and dropped off his case.  Turning to go back down stairs, he felt a rope going around his head.

“Jesus!”  He jumped back, startled.  The end of the rope was tied in a noose and left at just the right height.  “Who puts something like this here?  Almost walked into it ‘n killed myself!”  He swatted the rope and made it swing.

From below, the overly artsy stage manager continued talking. “The strange occurrences were one thing, but they’ve lately gotten downright dangerous.  A theater is no place for things to be … well … out of place.

Suddenly, it stopped swinging, as if in the grip of an invisible person.  He stared, mesmerized.  As he watched, the knot of the noose slid up and the loop widened.  Another rope snaked over and pushed a bend through the noose.

Frozen by the strange sight, the young man didn’t notice a third rope snaking across the floor, positioning itself in a circle behind his feet.  The rope tied itself into a slip knot. Lost in the shadows, the ballast at the rope’s other end teetered on a section of the lighting rig.

“Professionals like myself, you see, will tolerate much, but safe working conditions are simply a given.  Without that the show cannot go on.”

The bend of rope began to take shape in the noose. The scene mesmerized the startled bar back.  It looked like the outline of a person’s head and moved in the same halting motion as a man condemned.  The knot slammed down.  The noose squeezed around the rope head with deadly violence and the figure struggled in its grip.  As the astonished young man watched, the head outline flailed and went limp.

Too stunned to think, he stepped back from the sight, putting his foot in the rope trap.  The ballast bag fell down toward the stage.  The rope pulled, tightening around the young man’s ankle.  The force continued to pull, yanking the scared young man off balance and wrenching him into space above the stage.

When it was over, he was upside down, dangling in the air, and white as a ghost.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh!”

 

****

 

“I quit!”  The well-built Swede’s nostrils flared as she screamed in Raymond’s face.  While middle age had not robbed the blonde of her exceptional looks, her angry face certainly did. She wheeled around on one heel, swinging her stuffed luggage around the oak-paneled front hall.  All the while, muttered Swedish curses fell from the makeup mask of her face.

Raymond gave chase.  “Hey, uh, you can’t quit now Ines, we’ve got an investigation!”

“Like hell I can’t.”  Her English halted but her anger pressed on.  “I caught your pervert brother peeking on me in the shower.”  She turned to Billy and pointed a finger.  “AGAIN!”

Billy tucked his greasy blonde locks behind his ear.  “It’s not my fault you didn’t lock the door.”

“Yeah.  Lock the door.  Funny.  Raymond, tell him to shut up.”

“Billy, shut up.”  Raymond rubbed his temples.  With a sigh, he summoned all his patience and persuasiveness.  “Now come on.  Think about your professionalism.  You can’t back out now just when things were getting good.  You can’t just…”  His summoning ran out and his lost words gave way to a fluttering mass of hands.

“No.  I can just…”  Her hands mocked him, flying around.  “… and I will.  Find yourself another psychic.”  Looking at Billy she said, “I’ve had it with this child.”  She threw open the door and pulled her bags out behind her.  With furious grace, she walked down the stone steps to a waiting cab.

Billy yelled.  “Yeah, well it’s not like we need you!”  He turned to Raymond.  “Is it?”

Inside the stately manor house, Raymond scratched his graying temple and rubbed his shallow chin. He watched the Taxi disappear.  “Hm.  We’re going to need to find a new medium.”  Raymond retreated from the wide stone archway and shut the massive wood and wrought iron door behind him.

 

****

 

The two men looked at the resume before them and down the table at the mid-fifties white woman with the grey and caramel afro.

“So,” he glanced at the sheet through his reading glasses.  “Professor Nastria, um…what are you a professor of again?”

“I hold two PHD’s.  One in Numerology and another in Parapsycology.”

“Ah, very good.”

Billy leaned over and said into his ear, “Good?  That’s got quack written all over it.  She couldn’t be more of a quack if she got up on the table right now and shot out an egg.”

“Wait,” she said. “There is a presence.”

“What kind of presence?”

“I sense… a little girl.”  She searched Raymond’s eyes.  “Yes.  She’s angry.”

The blonde young man threw his hands up.  “I’d be angry too, if I didn’t exist.  Come on, Ray, she’s a scammer.”

“Hm,” Raymond said, half way between an actual sound and clearing his throat.  “So… Professor, can I ask what made you interested in our enterprise?”

“You don’t want to know of this girl?”

Raymond gave a patient smile.  “In a bit. The dead have plenty of time on their hands.  We’re here to talk about you.”  The woman abandoned her far-off stare and Raymond continued.  “You see, our investigations into the paranormal, while we take them very seriously, are a sideline to the primary business here.  This is a working farm and though you won’t be asked to pick fruit, squash grapes, or bake pies, I will need someone to help me keep the books straight and handle the guests we receive for the various wine making retreats we sponsor through the summer.  In short, you’d be dealing with the living more than the dead on a day to day basis.”

She looked around at the dining room.  “That’s … I had assumed that there would be more call for my… unique skillset in this position.”

“Hm.  While the highlands region is steeped in spirits, they are notoriously light on funds.  The people we assist with their encounters are likewise not always rolling in dough.  We sometimes are otherwise compensated, I’m never short of hands at harvest times, but for room, board, healthcare and additional monetary compensation, I will need someone who will participate in all aspects of our concern.”

Billy leaned in and said, “Forget spooks, this lady is afraid of anything that sound like work.”

“Yes,” the woman said from across the table.  “I suppose I can see the boundaries of the position a little more clearly.  I suppose I can help with the books and such, though the girl in your house may require soothing before I feel comfortable welcoming people into this environment.”

“Of course.  We can make that a priority if you like.  And while we’re on the topic, do you sense anything else?”

“Book keeping?  I sense a con artist.  Here, gimmie.”  Billy grabbed the resume and the pen.

“Billy, this is hardly helpful,” Raymond whispered, trying to grab back his pen.  The two fought, but Billy could still write.

Billy fended off Raymond’s tug at the pen and wrote under experience, “Con Artist” and under other abilities, “Being an ugly cow to boot.”

From across the table, The Professor’s jaw dropped.  “I don’t know what you are playing at, but I’m not going to sit here and let you interrogate me while simultaneously insulting me.”  She got up, raised her nose and trotted away.  From the dining room, they could both hear the front door slam.

“Damn, she’s one hell of a grifter.  She was able to read that all the way over there, and upside down!  I bet numerology is a euphemism for bank fraud.”

“Hm.  We are no closer to finding a medium and the professor there was the last of the bunch.  All charlatans.  You being a jackass didn’t help.  We’ll have to find someone.”

“Yeah, well… Maybe we should hit the bars?”

“I got one last idea, Billy.  You hold down the fort.”

 

****

 

A small bell rang as the door opened.  The curio shop was stuffed and stuffy.  Light didn’t get to travel far before getting swallowed by the many things that lined the many shelves in the expansive space.  Raymond stepped in from a cool, early fall afternoon and let the shadows take him in.

“Ah, Mr. Crabtree-how-good-it-is-to-see-you.”

The voice was unmistakable and Raymond relaxed. “Hi Marta.  How is business?”

“Better-I-dare-say, than yours.  Ines was such a talented and lovely girl.  You should have tried harder to keep her.”  Following the voice, Raymond found her body in the left most isle, inspecting the goods. “Good help is hard to find-you-know.”

“Hm.  That is why I’m here,” he said, walking to her, a box now clearly visible in his hands.

A swift turn brought her ashen face up to his.  “Trying to cherry pick the talent eh?”  Her face saddened as she returned to rummaging through the stuff.  “Thought you had at least a small sense of decorum.” She found what she was looking for and walked away from him.

“I did, or actually, I do. Look, I’m really in a bit of a bind here.”  Raymond stammered and struggled to keep up with the tiny old lady dashing through the narrow spaces of the curio shop.  His package making him juggle in spots. “Do you know of any talent that I could, I don’t know, borrow?  I’m working on a case, a total milk run for a pro.  I’ve got most of it, I think, but I need a sensitive medium to help me crack it open and seal the deal.  You know… rather than just going in and being…” He rounded the corner and found himself face to face with the snarling face of a stuffed bear head.  “…spooked.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t know, Raymond.  I try to keep my network away from prying eyes.”

“Hm,” he said, backing up from the taxidermy. “Shame.  The orchard has been pretty good to us this year.  The apples, especially.”

“Really?”  Her tone changed, just slightly. “So, what are you getting at here?”

“Just that for a valued customer who just happens to be looking for a home for a freshly baked apple pie, you might bend the rules a tad?” He looked at her with a smile and opened the box he was carrying.  Immediately, the smell of cinnamon and apples wafted through the dust and leather smell of the store.  He snapped the lid closed, still grinning.

She froze.  “This is bribery-you-know.”

“As naked as it gets.”  He broke into pleading.  “Come on Marta.  I just need some help.  Maybe an up-and-comer looking to make a name for themselves.”

Trying to look disinterested, she passed by the middle aged man.  “I might have someone.  I’ll make some phone calls.”

“Thanks Marta, you are a sweetheart.”

“Yes, well…”  She shot a glance over her shoulder.  “leave the pie on your way out-would-you-young-man?”

 

*****

 

A tiny blue hatchback turned off the sleepy state road just past the ornate sign that read “Crabtree Farm” in big red letters.  It crunched down the pea gravel lane, past the rows and rows of chrysanthemums that made an orange front lawn for the multi-roofed main house.  The gravel widened out in front of the house, forming a large flat reception area.  Benches hid among the low hedges while a whitewashed gazebo sat at the edge of the curve.  The car stopped and

Raymond put down his book.  Leaving it on the gazebo’s bench, he walked out to greet his visitor.  “Hi.  You must be Lisa.”

The woman shut her door and smiled.  “I must be.  Yeah.  Raymond Crabtree?”

“In the flesh.”  He smiled.  Faced with the young girl, he found himself with nothing to say.  For an uncomfortable moment, his sweater vest became a straight-jacket.

The young lady was looking around and didn’t seem to notice.  “You have quite a house here, Mr. Crabtree.  What do you do out here?”

“Raymond, please.”  He smiled.  “The farm does a variety of things.  Flowers, apples… Hm.  I give classes on winemaking, weekends.  The hipsters who take the wine class do most of the work for their own vanity vintage.”

“That’s quite the racket.”  She smiled.

“Well, everyone’s happy.  For me, I get to keep the house and left over grapes.  Would you like a sample of this years’ jelly?”

“Sure!”

 

****

 

The young brunette walked towards the left at Raymond’s direction.  “If you could take a seat in the study, tea service will be right out.”

Billy sat on the kitchen’s old stone counter as his brother busied himself making a tray.  “Tea service?  Is this an interview or a social call?”

“I’d like you to hear me, Billy,” Raymond sighed. “Please just listen outside the study and be quiet.  I’m conducting the interview, ok?”  He took the tray, with its homemade jam and hot tea, through the kitchen door.

Billy called after him, “Fine, but I saw her.  Bright, young.  Are you interviewing for a medium or a girlfriend?”

Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 2

Help Wanted

Help Wanted:

Young, burgeoning universe seeks omniscient creator. No prior experience necessary or even possible, for that matter.

You must love all creatures great and small, watch them grow, prosper and bloom. Guide them through life’s trials and tribulations.

And then kill them.

Other duties include:

Listen to the whining and bitching of entire planets full of beings and return to them endless love.

Plan down to the finest detail every single element of everyone and everything’s every day and have a plan for it all and give every action, no matter how insignificant a true and poetic meaning.

Occasionally visit wrath resulting in the deaths of entire civilizations, just to keep things novel. Lesser, more personal smitings are also performed for much the same reason.

Watch without interfering as beings create ever more effective ways to kill each other in your name.

Perks include receiving “Props” from rap artists and athletes, worship in various forms and the occasional human barbeque. Telework available. Flexible dress code.

Anyone with the skill set to prosper in this job already knows how to contact us. Please bring resume and two forms of ID.

Idle Hands – Episode 2 – Temporary Assignment

As Jay plopped down on the couch for lunch, a twinge of guilt hit him. On the coffee table, that morning’s want ads and internet searches sat, unmarked and unread. After three weeks out of the job, the joy of quitting and the adventure of looking for new work had become an anxiety-filled grind.

Lifting the remote, he turned up his TV’s surround sound. Anxiety festered and grew, unattended, in the back of Jay’s mind as poorly dubbed anime filled the messy living room.

An unexpected knock invaded Jay’s sanctuary, followed by another and another. Finally annoyed into action, Jay left the couch and the unread papers and answered the door.

The heat and light from the blinding and hot south Texas day rushed into the air-conditioned townhouse. While Jay started to sweat in his shorts, the man on his doorstep seemed perfectly comfortable in a deep red suit.

“Can I help you?”

With the door open, the man confidently walked into Jay’s townhouse. Turning, he said, “No, but I can help you.” The man looked around the disheveled house, stroking his goatee. “Nice place.”

“Uh, thanks.” Closing the door, Jay became less incensed by the man’s forwardness, and more intrigued, though he couldn’t put a finger on why. “Just who the hell are you?”

The odd man smiled. “Ah. Well chosen words. But really, Jay, I’m here to help you out. My card.”

He extended his hand and red smoke coalesced into a business card. Jay took the card and saw that it was from ‘Idle Hands, Inc.’

A horrible realization washed over the young man and he blurted, “Wait a second! Are you the…”

“Ah ah!” The strange man suddenly raised his finger and shook it at Jay. “No, I’m not the Big D, who prefers not to have his bell rung too many times, lest he have to appear, you know.” He put his hand to his chest and bowed. “I am merely a humble servant. And right now, I’m part of our outreach program. The head of it, actually.”

“Excuse me? Outreach program?” Jay’s scruffy blonde hair tussled as he scratched his head. This guy had an easy and disarming way about him and though intimidated, he found himself drawn in by the man’s words.

“Yes, outreach program. You see, people of your generation don’t feel like doing much of anything anymore. Forget sin, you all aren’t even engaged enough to be tempted. So, the Big man said, ‘Let’s get these people moving again. Get them off their hinnies.’”

“Somehow I can’t see the big D saying the word ‘hinnies.’”

He flashed a smile at Jay. “It’s the PG version. You want to hear this or not?”

“It’s not every day I get visitors from Hell. So please, continue.”

“Thanks.” He waved his arms in the air, mocking his evil master. “‘Get them off their couches and into an exercise program or something. We need to get the wheels of fate spinning again. More than that; get these people jobs!’ So out of concern, he’s allowed me to set up a little concern to give some of those Idle Hands something to do.”

Jay rolled his eyes. “You’re kidding me. You’re a head hunter?”

“We prefer to be called Employment Placement Specialists. After all, Political Correctness came from our Department of Insidious and Ill-conceived Double Speak. But yes, I’m here to help you find a gig. You did send me your resume, after all. Remember?”

“I’ve sent out a lot of resumes.” Jay stared at the man blank faced for a second, then burst out laughing. “HA! Here, I thought you were some harbinger of doom and you’re a… a… ‘Job Getter’ or whatever the hell you called it. I really thought I was in trouble there for a second.”

“You see! That’s what I’m talking about. We get this unfounded bad rap! Those inbred evangelicals have been kicking us around for a while and we need to be able to reach out to people like you. Let you know that there is a choice.”

“Well… You know, I always thought there really wasn’t a choice. It was either, ‘be good and try not to suck’, or you wind up … Uh.”

“Yes. You wind up with us poor suckers.” He waved his hand in the air, as if conjuring up images. “Drowning in a lake of burning sulfur for all eternity. Little men in red jumpsuits with built in tails, constantly skewering you with pitchforks.” Again, he looked over his glasses and mocked, “Really, Jay, does that sound like any way to run things?

“First off, where are we going to get enough sulfur for an endlessly burning lake? You know how much that costs? Do I look like someone who has nothing better to do than poke people? We just want to help you and outline the alternatives.”

“I don’t understand. You keep mentioning choices. What does this have to do with Hell?”

The strange man looked around the unkempt apartment and slid into a well-rehearsed pitch. “Well, free will is where we get our people from. The ones that exercise it are our constituency.

“You see, the man upstairs could have just made everything run like clockwork here on earth so everyone got into heaven, but he didn’t care to. He wanted you all to have free will to be tempted and misbehave. Kind of a rotten deal, if you ask me, and I should know.

“As a result, he gave us all the people who liked to bend the rules. Really early on we got around the whole ‘suffer for all eternity’ thing that was in our charter, so now it’s a regular party down there. Sure, we have to have SOME torture, but really, it’s just a formality.”

Jay’s brow creased. “Even if I was buying this, what does this have to do with getting a job?”

“Everything,” the odd man said. “Choices come from action, and there are always jobs that need doing. We have all kinds of opportunities here. Want to take a look?”

Three weeks worth of frustration at looking in vain for a job broke through and Jay found himself saying, “Ok, sure. I’ll bite.”

“Again, nice choice of words. You, my friend, have a way about you that I like.” The red of the man’s suit seemed to radiate a thick smoke. The wall of Jay’s apartment dissolved and a red and black office appeared. The walls had framed works of ‘Good Girl’ pinup art and a stuffed devil doll sat happily in the black high back desk chair.

Jay was mystified but impressed. “Nice doll. Nice office.”

“Thanks! The doll was a gift from a client.” He grinned, as he moved the stuffed toy and took his seat. “Ok, Jay, let’s get started. If you could do anything, what would it be?”

Taking a seat, Jay said, “Well, I guess I’d like to help people. I want to use…”

The strange man waved his hands in surrender, making Jay stop. “Hold on.” He sighed. “Don’t try to bullshit a bullshitter, Jay. I work for the Lord of Lies, remember? I’m not some chick you are trying to pick up at a bar.”

He sat back in his chair and laced his fingers. “Let’s try this again. What do you really want to do, Jay?”

The red vinyl seat stuck to the backs of Jay’s legs where his shorts quit. He looked at the desk and squirmed. “Well, I don’t want to work very hard. I want to have authority over people, but I don’t want to make any hard decisions or manage anyone. And I don’t really care how people live as long as it doesn’t affect me. I like money, that’s a given. It would be nice to help people because I want to be perceived as being a good guy. And I don’t want to do anything truly evil.” Jay swatted at the air. “That’s where I draw the line. And no contracts in blood or anything. I get to keep my soul.”

The man waved his hand in the air, batting away Jay’s concerns. “We stopped doing the contract thing a long time ago. People got hip to it and we couldn’t close them anymore. But, so I know what kind of job to look for, are you afraid to be evil, Jay?”

“Well, sure. It’s rather extreme, isn’t it? I mean… we’re messing with people’s lives here.”

The man kicked back in his chair. “But you want to be in authority. How do you reconcile that?”

“Well, that’s different. I just want to be in control of the situation, especially at work. I’m sick of people bossing me around. Every job I’ve had, someone telling me what to do. I want to be in control for once.”

“And you don’t want to work hard.” The man scribbled notes on a red notepad.

Jay shrank a little bit as if he had asked for too much. “Well, no.” He leaned forward. “That’s not a problem is it?”

“Oh, hell no! Just let me work here.” The man held out his hand and deep red smoke coalesced into a small red book. “Ok, I’ve got plenty of openings in our larceny department. Very lucrative for short term work.”

Jay shook his head. “I don’t think so. Just the thought of prison scares me.”

He flipped the book’s pages. “Here you go, how about a politician. They hardly ever go to jail! There is a lifetime commitment though.”

“I thought you didn’t do ‘sell your soul’ type contracts anymore”

“For those guys, we make exceptions. They’re mostly lawyers and sneaky little bastards to boot so we gotta nail them down. Here’s one that doesn’t require a commitment. Political Pundit!”

The young man chuckled. “Wow, I can’t think of anything more evil!”

The man smiled. “You and me both, but I thought I’d give it a shot.” He muttered under his breath, “That one has been a bitch to fill.”

Leaning forward to try to read the book Jay said, “You’re sure you’ve got something for me?”

“Yeah. I’m not finished yet.” He flipped through his book with calm determination. “My people are very thorough. We’ll get you something. Here we go. I got a position at a local hospital as a patient intake clerk. There’s some interface with the public and some light filing. Not perfect, but how does that one sound? The pay is good, double your last gig.”

“That doesn’t sound half bad. You sure there’s no catch? Nothing to sign in blood or anything?”

“Nope,” the man smiled. “You just have to sign your time card. And we prefer black pen to blood.” Holding up a stack of time slips he said, “It faxes better.”

Jay looked at this strange man. The job seemed fine and he could use the money. Sure, the circumstances of the placement are a little odd, but the job itself was not about being evil, it was about filing paperwork. How bad could it be? “When do I start?”

“There is a shift tonight.”

Jay put up his hands. “Whoa, I don’t know. That’s kind of sudden. I was planning on doing stuff tonight. Plus, I don’t know squat about hospitals.”

“Come on Jay. You were watching cartoons. And we at Idle Hands, Inc. have an intensive training program.”

The man created a puff of smoke in his hand and slapped it into Jay’s forehead. Jay was stunned for a moment, and then said, “That’s amazing! I know all this wonky stuff about insurance and paperwork and stuff.”

The man grinned a sharp grin. “We aim to please. Don’t forget your timecards.”

***

The hospital’s corridors were bright and the linoleum floors made everyone’s shoes squeak. Jay sat alone in a row of three desks. People sat opposite him and filled out forms for his files. If everything was in order, he called the nurse over to guide them into the waiting room. Not that there were many people to help on this shift. Everything was going flawlessly until Bobby Rojas showed up at half past twelve.

The sweating Hispanic man pleaded in halting English. “Please sir, can I see a doctor now? My wife is delivering our baby.”

“Please, Mr. Rojas. Have a seat. I need you to fill out some paperwork.”

The man grabbed the chair and half sat down. “Ok, but she’s in the car and seems to be really uncomfortable. Can we just get her to…”

“I’m sorry, but the rules are pretty strict here. The hospital doesn’t have an emergency room so everyone has to have a file. Now, do you have your insurance card on you?”

“I’m sorry sir, we don’t have insurance. Smart-Mart, where I work, doesn’t offer it to low timers. But we have some cash!”

Jay looked at the man and his heart sank. “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. This is a for-profit hospital. If something really bad happens here it is going to cost you a lot of money. You are a working guy with no insurance. If it comes to it, they will ruin your life trying to get you to pay your bill and won’t take no for an answer. I know. I’m that guy making the calls.”

“But, my wife!”

“Yes, and your baby. Do you want that kind of thing hanging over your family? No, I don’t think so.” He looked at the man and tried to do the best thing he could for him. ” I’m going to give you a better option. Here, check out this map. We are here. St. Mary’s is here.”

“But that’s across town.” Mr. Rojas’s eyes went wide and his face went white.

“Yes, but there is a freeway and it’s the middle of the night. There will be no traffic. You can probably get there in, what, five minutes? They will take you in for free. Just, God, don’t mention your name or give them anything that can track you. They will think you are an illegal immigrant and all the bills will be chalked up as a bad debt.”

“You are turning me away? You want me to lie to the nuns at Saint Mary’s?”

“I’m not turning you away, but I’m telling you something for your own good. I don’t want to be responsible for the ruin of your family by letting you sign up for more debt than you can possibly pay back. This… Healthcare is a commodity like anything else. This place is like a Ferrai. You can only really afford a Ford. Please. Really, I can’t force you. I can take your information and admit your wife, but you really should go across town to St. M’s.”

The man’s face turned bleak and panicked but his voice was calm. “I understand sir.” Taking the map, he slowly turned around. “I hope, that this turns out as you say.”

“I’m sure it will, Mr. Rojas. Be careful and good luck.”

After the man departed, the nurse talked to him from her station. “It took a lot of patience to do that. It’s hard. These people just don’t realize how the system works.”

“Yea. I don’t know. The system seems to be kind of horrible at times. I hope they’re ok. He looked pretty spooked going out the door.”

“They’ll be ok. Like you said, the best place for them is just five minutes away.”

At that point, the doctor on call strolled by. “Anything new? What happened to the guy that was just here?”

The nurse said, “Another beaner. No insurance.”

He nodded to Jay and said, “How’d the new guy handle it?”

“Like a pro. The guy has a real touch.”

***

The gleaming front hall of the hospital shined with emptiness as Jay leaned in his chair. He nodded to the nurse. “Is it always this big a party on this shift?”

The nurse smiled. “You must be used to those public hospitals where things start jumping after last call. Here, the doctors usually start showing up around four and the patients show up at five for the first round of six o’clock procedures.” She unwrapped a candy from its foil shell and popped it into her mouth. “The whole place runs like clockwork.”

“Yea, but,” he hesitated, “I can’t help but think what happened to that guy earlier. He seemed a bit freaked. I hope he got to St. M’s ok.” He stared off into the distance. “Think I should call them to check?”

“I think that’s the last thing you should do.” She pushed away from her desk and brushed the last of the chocolate from her hands. “If you do that, they will know that the guy was here first and the hospital will get in trouble. You did the best thing. People have babies all the time. It’s not like it was a heart attack or something. What’s five minutes?”

“I see your point. Still, I can’t help but wonder.”

“Wonder all you like, just don’t call.”

He looked at the desk in front of him. It was perfect. The glossy finish reflected the banks of florescent lights in the lobby ceiling.

‘I gotta wiz,’ Jay thought. “I’ll be back. You need any coffee?”

“Get me some Twinkies,” the overweight nurse responded. “Just don’t make any dumb phone calls, ok?”

“Nope. Just stretching my legs.”

“Ok,” she smirked. “If no one told you, the men’s stretching post is up the hall to your left.”

He grinned. “Thanks, I’m not used to all this coffee.”

The squeaking sound of Jay’s shoes echoed in the main hall. The nurse picked up the romance novel from her desk and continued to read. While she sat entranced in the ridiculously contrived bodice ripper, the wall behind her began to show the faint outline of her shadow. Moment by moment it became more pronounced. She looked up at the last possible second before the inconceivable happened.

Smash! Screech! Crash! An old pickup truck smashed through the glass double doors separating the lobby from the parking lot. As soon as the headlights hit the second of the two double doors they were completely smashed and the terrified nurse could see inside the cab.

In the passenger’s seat sat a woman, clearly dead. Her pale face was streaked with blood. The driver was Bobby Rojas, eyes wide with an unearthly rage. He wandered out of the car, carrying a pistol and a machete. “Where’s the prick?”

The nurse was aghast. “Oh my God! Oh my God, you can’t. You can’t just… Oh my God!”

“Never mind.” He lifted the pistol and said, “I’ll find him myself.” He fired. The round caught the woman square in her fat chest and knocked her back into her chair. Bobby threw the woman his keys. “Here, the hospital is only five minutes away, if you don’t get a FLAT TIRE AND RUN INTO A GUARD RAIL! SHE WAS ALREADY UNCOMFORTABLE WHEN I GOT HER HERE, BUT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO SEE HER! MY WIFE AND BABY DIED BECAUSE OF YOU PEOPLE!”

Filled with rage, Bobby walked down the hall. The glass continued to fall from the remains of the hospital’s front doors. The nurse struggled in vain to remove the bullet that had torn a hole in her heart. She couldn’t move anything but her left arm. The shock had frozen her face where it was when the bullet hit and as she slowly lost consciousness, she was powerless to move her eyes off the horribly blank face of Mrs. Rojas.

***

From the bathroom, Jay heard the thunderous return of Bobby Rojas. He heard the shot that killed the nurse. He heard Bobby Rojas scream his story. Now he could hear the sound of shoes squeaking in the hall getting closer. Adrenaline kicked in. He looked for another way out of the bathroom but found none. The only thing he could do was lock the door and hide in a stall.

From outside he could hear the doctor yell, “Hey! The police will be here any minute. Put the…” A meaty thudding sound echoed in the tile bathroom. “AAAAAAahhhhhh! My arm!” A shot rang out just outside the bathroom door. The doctor’s screams were replaced by a tense silence.

Perched on a toilet, Jay could almost hear himself sweat. He listened intently for this man who was thirsty for revenge and intent on killing him. ‘Maybe he will pass by,’ he thought. ‘Maybe the cops would come to the rescue. None of this is my fault! I only gave him the choice! He didn’t say that his wife was bleeding. If anything, it’s his fault for not telling me.’ Jay held his breath and cursed this man for dragging him into his wife’s medical problems.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Bump. The man outside tried to open the bathroom door.

Jay heard the squeak of shoes retreat down the hall, then silence. In spite of himself, he sighed in relief. He was safe, cowering in a corner.

Smash! The sound of a machete hitting the wood door split the silence and echoed off the tiles of the bathroom. Jay kept from screaming as he heard the man repeatedly throw his body against the now-yielding door. He still had the crazy notion that the man didn’t know that he was there.

‘This can’t be happening,’ he thought. ‘What did I do to deserve this?’

The door gave way with a terrific smashing noise and Bobby Rojas looked around the bathroom. “Oh, Mr. Prick man!” he said in a singing voice, taunting him. “I’ve got my paperwork!”

Jay’s thoughts were filled with horror. ‘Oh my god! He’s crazy. He’s going to kill me!’

The sounds of the man in the bathroom filled Jay’s ears as he tried in vain to pretend that he wasn’t there. Bobby was not fooled. “Since I’ve got you here, I’m going to tell you about complications in child birth. Complications are what you don’t want when your wife is giving birth by the side of the road and your car won’t move.”

Prayers flew from Jay’s mind. There was only fear.

Bobby continued. “Now if there is a Doctor there,” Bang! A deafening shot rang through the bathroom. He felt the bullet whiz past his kneecaps. Fragments of wood from the side of the toilet stall hit his hands. “He would tell the woman to stop pushing and do something else, something that would save her. But if the only person there by the side of the road is her stupid janitor of a husband,” Bang! Another shot made Jay jump. “Her husband would tell her to push, and push until the baby ripped her apart.”

Jay heard sobbing sounds from outside the stall. He thought maybe he would be saved if this man gave into his grief and collapsed under his personal pain. It was a pathetic thing to wish for. Jay felt horrible for what had happened. But it wasn’t his fault!

The door to the stall smashed open and Bobby Rojas stood with a machete in one hand and a gun in the other. “Hello Mr. Prick. Ready to meet the Devil?”

Suddenly red smoke came from nowhere and enveloped Jay. Before he could react, he was sitting in the office of his Employment Placement Counselor, the odd man in the red suit.

Shaken, disheveled but none the worse for wear, Jay stammered, “What happened?”

“Well, you see,” the man said, stroking his goatee, “We have a very strict policy about hostile work environments here at Idle Hands. I would say that your current position was about to get as hostile as they come, wouldn’t you?”

“Uh, uh.”

“Of course you would. Now I understand if you don’t want to go back…” Behind the desk, a display showed the words “Current Assignment.” Under “Them” was the number one and a half. The man looked at the display and as the number under “Us” went from two to three he added, “…even though the cops just got there and took care of it. Once you start to feel unhappy at work, the place just isn’t the same anymore.”

“Yeah. Not safe.”

He leaned forward with an understanding look and said, “Would you like some Tequila, Jay?”

“Yeah. Please”

The man produced two shot glasses emblazoned with the “Idle Hands” logo and filled them with Cuervo. “So, what did you think of that assignment? Too much filing?”

“Too much shooting!” Jay drank his shot and made a face.

He jotted down a note. “Yeah, next time, less shooting, that’s a given, but aside from that. Have a lemon.” He pointed to a plate of sliced lemons that appeared in front of Jay.

“I mean, what the hell happened? I didn’t do anything bad to anybody!”

“No, Jay, you didn’t.” He belted down his shot.

“I mean… I know how the system works. I told the guy that he really didn’t want to be at that hospital without insurance. He needed to be at St. M’s! He understood and left.”

“But, he came back.”

“Yes! Apparently, he didn’t make it and his wife and baby died.” The young man looked at his shoes. “But that’s not my fault! I gave him the choice and he took it! I mean, I feel bad for the guy, but he left of his own free will. And then blamed me for his choice! I’m not evil. I didn’t set up the system. I just laid out a choice for him!”

“Now, you see? That’s what I’m talking about! It’s a choice.” He sat back at his desk and pulled out an envelope. “Of course it’s not your fault. You were just helping him work through the system. It’s not your fault it didn’t work out for him.

“Tell you what. I understand that today has been a real shock for you but I think you did a great job. I couldn’t be more pleased. Here’s your first paycheck. We put a bonus in there, kind of our way of saying ‘Sorry. Here’s your hazard pay.'”

Jay took the envelope and opened it. “Ten thousand? Is this right?”

“We pay our people well here, Jay. Helps with retention, especially after an assignment like that.” He leaned back and smiled again. “Don’t worry about today, Jay. You relax and give me a call when you are ready to work again.” He smiled a grin that was bright and sharp. “We have plenty of work for people like you.”

Fixing a Whole

Bobby couldn’t sleep.  Two nights running, thoughts crept into his head and set up camp.  His mind buzzed with ideas, thoughts, plans, problems and anxieties screaming for attention.  It was like trying to sleep in the middle of a carnival.

His new wife was no help.  He could hear Barbra’s soft, even breaths over the hum of the HEPA air filter.  Jealousy is an ugly thing in a marriage, especially when you are only a couple of months in.  ‘She can sleep anywhere, anytime,’ he thought.  ‘I’d love to do that.  I’m in my own house and can’t sleep and she could doze off at a bus stop with sirens blaring.  Sleep? Hell,’ he turned. ‘I go to visit her folks and I can’t even crap much less sleep.’

The clock read one forty five in angry red numbers.  He was starting to get desperate.

Somewhere else, three figures dressed in black lurked, keeping watch over the train wreck of Bobby’s mind.

One spoke with perfect diction.  “Perhaps we should implant the suggestion?  The one we had discussed?”

“Yeah, Yeah!  Maybe this time!  Let’s do it.  Can I do it?” another chimed in.

The third one tilted his head in thought.  “Sure, go ahead.  Let it loose.”

In Bobby’s mind, a new thought drifted in and soared above the chaos.  His best friend, Ernesto, had suggested that he try meditating.  Ernesto bought into all that new age crap that Bobby considered himself far too enlightened to fall for.  Yet, for all the seeming ridiculousness, Ernesto always looked rested.

Tossing and turning, he tried hard to drift off to sleep, but the harder he tried the more frustrated he became.  If ever there was a time to try Ernesto’s crazy idea, this was it.

‘No more crazy than sitting here awake for the third night in a row,’ he thought.  ‘I can’t go on like this.  Today was brutal.  Need SLEEP!’

He rocked back over onto his back and stretched out with his legs straight and his arms relaxed.  The rhythmic sound of his wife’s breathing filled his ears as he dismissed any thought that came to him.  Work problems inundated him and were dismissed.  Life plans were put on hold for the time being.  The financial books in his mind closed and background music faded away.  Unpaid bills and parking tickets, random facts about breweries and bands found themselves directed to the land of dead thoughts.  All of the nagging thoughts of things left uncompleted were ignored and silenced.

The whole of Bobby’s mind began to unwind.  It stretched out into an open plane of dreams as his body gave into the fatigue of sleepless days.  Tense muscles relaxed and he felt like he was retreating into himself.  He let go of his thoughts and finally went with the flow.

Soon he was flying across the quiet landscape of his mind.  He noticed things that occupied his normal waking life as he passed by their representations, but he did not focus on them – the branching machine that was the computer program he worked on, the cartoon like structure of a game, the tables and racks of probabilities that made up the rules of cribbage. He passed them all by and idly floated within his consciousness, feeling better than he had in days.

Up ahead, in this veritable forest of thoughts, skills and knowledge, floated a dark void.  He headed for it, hoping it was an even deeper level of sleep.

As he went closer to this place that wasn’t, free of all cares, he found himself being drawn into it.  Drunk on the novel whimsy of throwing away all his worries, he now wondered if going into this blackness was a good idea.  Too late, he realized that it wasn’t.

In his bedroom, Bobby’s body tensed.  His unseeing eyes bolted open.  His conscious self was sucked down into the blackened abyss.

And three figures smiled in triumph.

# # #

Bobby sat in a white leather recliner.  His white button-down shirt was undone at the collar with sleeves rolled up, as usual.  Across a white room that appeared to have no walls and no end, stood three men who all looked a bit like him.

One of them was unkempt, in black shorts and a tee shirt.  Waving his hand, he said, “Hi Bob!  Ooo!  I just heard ‘Hi Bob!’  Like the game ‘Hi Bob!’  Gota drink!”  A shot of Tequila appeared in his hand and he drank it down.

“Sorry to bring you down here, Bobby, but things have gotten out of balance,” another said.  Bobby thought he was looking at a mirror when he saw this one, except his clothes were black and not white.

The third one dressed in an all black suit and tie and said, “We’ve come to help you set things right.”

A moment passed as the three looked at him.

“Yeah,” Bobby droned out while thinking.  “OK, well… this is all very weird.”

“Perhaps introductions are in order.”  Bobby’s twin stepped forward.  “You see, I’m Ego.”

The man in the shorts said “Id!” while pulling apart a pizza that appeared out of nowhere.

The man in the suit gave a stiff bow. “I am Super Ego, otherwise known as your better self.  We’ve noticed your recent trouble with control in the consciousness and feel compelled to… lend a hand.”

“What do you mean? ‘Trouble controlling the consciousness?’  I’ve just been… a little out of sorts… and not sleeping well”  As Bobby got up from his recliner, it disappeared like an unneeded thought.

Putting down his pizza, Id said. “Dude, you aren’t out of sorts, you are letting your demons run you.  It’s getting crazy out there!  Now, I might like crazy, but I also like sleep.”

Ego stepped in.  “I’m afraid Id is right, Bobby.  You have a problem with balance.  Not getting enough sleep is just a symptom of the issue.   The fact is things are just stacking up and not being addressed.”

Bobby got worried, and then started to smile. “Hey! This is one of those crazy dreams.  I bet if I wanted, I could do the flying thing or make like I’m having sex with Britney Spears or something.”

Id perked up.  “Dude, forget that.  There are much better looking chicks than her.  What about that English teacher you had in tenth grade.  Mrs. Wortz.  Damn, she made my balls hurt!”

Super Ego slid over to where Id was materializing a bucket of fried chicken. “Good god. Must you be so foul?”

Around a face full of drumstick Id smiled and said, “It’s my job, man, and I do it well!”

“We’re still not getting to the point here, and please don’t encourage … It.” Ego waved his hands in the direction of Id who had regressed to wearing a black thong. “The fact is, Bobby, if you don’t get your head in order here, you aren’t going to live a normal life again.  Is that what you want?”

“What I want is some sleep,” Bobby replied without a second thought. “You’re saying I need to psychoanalyze myself in order to get it?  Fine.  Let’s get to it.”

Super Ego said, “Yes, Let’s,” and turned to a screen rising from the floor.

As the lights dimmed in the white, wall-less room, Ego looked at Bobby and smiled.  “I’m glad you are taking this so well.  We’re only here to help.”

“Since you are me, I would hope so.  By the way, exactly which one of you is me?”

At the same time all three of them said “I am.”

“Well that clears it right up.”

Ego walked over to the screen hovering in the air and said, “You don’t sound totally convinced.  Since we are you, we anticipated that.”  He tapped on the screen and a blob with a squiggly line drawn through the top came up.

Looking for a seat in front of the screen, Bobby said, “What’s that? It looks like a blob, or a map of Barbados.”

“It’s an ice berg, for illustration.”

Bob scrunched up his face trying to make out the ice berg in the picture.  He hadn’t recalled sitting but suddenly realized that he was sitting on a white leather couch between Id and Super Ego.  He’d thought that the screen was missing a couch big enough for all of them to sit on, and here he was, as if by magic.  Or maybe it was all in his head.  He looked up and focused on the task at hand.

Id was suddenly interested and hopped up to sit on the back of the couch. “Ego!  You cut out  Rum?  How could you, man?”

Super Ego slid over to Bobby and said, “I wanted to do this with snazzy graphics, but Ego said it was a frivolous use of the visual cortex.”

Putting his hands up, Ego said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with Rum, computer graphics are frivolous and you…”  He pointed at Bobby.  “I’m you.  You suck at drawing.  This is an iceberg!”

Bobby crossed his arms.  “Fine.”

Mimicking Bobby’s mannerisms, Ego combed back his hair with his fingers.  “So the iceberg is your total mind.  You are the conscious mind or the part controlling the day to day, represented by the part above the water.  Below the water, is where Id and Super Ego duke it out over topics of the day.  Sometimes Super Ego wins out and you are more conscientious and civic minded, moral and upstanding.  But, when the Id wins, you eat fried food and watch porn.”

Bobby took a quick, evil look over his shoulder at Id who was still eating fried skin from the bucket of chicken.  Id just shrugged his shoulders.

Turning back to the screen, Bobby asked, “So what do you do?”

“Ah, I’m the messenger and the arbitrator.  I’m all over.  Id and Super Ego give me constant feedback and what comes to you as the consciousness is the most persuasive argument at the time.  So really, your job is to translate my direction into actions.  I coordinate between the bickering factions of the subconscious and relay them to you as the voice in your head.”

Pointing his finger, Bobby leaned forward.  “So you are the bastard responsible for getting songs stuck in my ear!  You are a sadistic fucker, you know that?”

“Actually, that’s mostly Id, with the music.”

From around a piece of food, Id said, “What can I say?  I like show tunes.”

Turning once again to Ego, Bobby said, “So wait.  Isn’t this a dream?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Id continued to eat and said, “You are in here with us until this gets resolved.”

Super Ego stepped up to explain.  “You see, you fell, rather unceremoniously I might add, into the hole in your life.  Climbing out and sealing it up is not an option.  And the reason that the hole is there, is that balance has been lost.”

“Cutting to the chase,” Id broke in, “one of us has to go!”

“What?”  Bobby’s head whipped around in surprise.

“I’m afraid so,” Ego said.  “One of us has gotten too powerful and no longer listens to the others.  Now things are out of balance and the cracks are starting to show.  Not being able to sleep is just an outward sign.  So are the recent arguments with Barbra.  The uptick in drinking…”

Bobby stood up from the couch, which faded like the screen once it outlived its use.  “Now wait a second.  If one of you go, wouldn’t things get out of balance in the opposite direction?”

Super Ego, who was sitting on the couch with Bobby and now sat in a high-backed chair, laced his fingers together.  “Actually, no.  At least not in the long run.  The troublesome aspect would reestablish itself fairly quickly, but in the meantime, the remaining aspects will strengthen themselves so that a more appropriate balance is restored.”

“It’s like a lizard.”  Id came forward and wiped the crumbs off of his black tee shirt. “You cut off the tail, but it knows that it needs a tail, so it grows back”  He looked off into the distance and mumbled, “Damn, lizards are so cool.”

“So,” Bobby clapped his hands together. “It’s a mystery!  Someone is out of balance.  Well, I’m anxious to get started so I can get some rest, so I’ll start by interviewing you individually.  Together you all bicker too much.”

“That is our function, but I do fear that it’s made worse by the imbalance.”  Ego put out his arms and seemed to draw in the other two.

“Yes, OK, all fine and good, but if I’m to get to the bottom of this, I’ll need to talk to Id and Super Ego myself.  I’ve already realized that you aren’t the one out of whack, so I’ll talk to you last.”

The three looked at one another, somewhat astonished, and then Ego turned back to Bobby.  “Feel free to take all the time you want.  I’ll consult with you at the end.”  He smiled and added, “Then we will get some sleep.”

Bobby clapped his hands together.  “Sounds great!  So who’s first?”

Id jumped in front of Bobby and wheeled him around to a desk forming out of the mist.  “I hate waiting.  Let’s get this party started.”

# # #

Bobby went around to the business side of the desk and took the plush white office chair.  Id sat in the not quite so plush guest chair on the other side.  Pens and paper found their way to the desk as soon as they were looked for, as did a picture of Bobby’s wife.  Feeling at home, he checked the roll on his white shirt sleeves and laced his fingers.  “Okay, so what do you do?”

“What do I do?  Yer kiddin’ right?”

Bobby was once again impressed with how much the Id looked like him, though much more animated and sloppy.

“I’m the one who made you stick at it until you got into Mary O’Conner’s pants all through college!  I’m the guy who persuaded you to throw that killer party for Halloween two years ago!  That’s who I am.”

“Mary O’Conner.”  Bobby leaned back in the chair and let the name dredge up fond memories.  “You are a good man with that one, but what have you done recently?”

Id thought for a second, stroking his temples. His fingers snapped and he exclaimed, “I got you to buy season tickets for hockey!”

“But that was for ‘bonding time’ with Barbra!” Bobby protested.

“You think?”  Id leaned back and smiled.  “Ego is really good at spinning stuff.”

Bobby picked up the picture of his wife, and she started to look kind of pissed.  “So what else?”

“Other things, big and small.  To be quite honest, you ain’t been listening too much lately.”

“What can I say?  I’ve been busy trying to build a life, now that I’m married.”  He put the picture down.  “I can’t exactly just do whatever I want any more.”

Waving his hands to emphasize points, Id said, “Do you really think that’s all I do?  I’m some kind of animal?”

“Yeah.  You are my impulses and baser desires, right?”

Bobby’s sloppy twin kicked back in his chair, but kept a cautious eye on the man in white.  “You’ve got me cold.  But it’s not all fun and games.  I let you be comfortable.  What do you think about that new couch you got a few months ago?”

“I love that couch.”

“You see, that’s me working.  Without me, you wouldn’t enjoy stuff.  I’m the thing that lets you laugh and make jokes, especially the crude ones.  I invite you to have a beer after a hard day and unwind with a good action move.  I drive you to cuddle and *ahem* other things with Barbra.”

Straightening up in his chair, Bobby waved his finger.  “Careful, this is my wife you are talking about here.  I love Barbra!”

“Hey! I’m in charge of that too.  Heard about being ‘madly in love?’  Just call me cupid”

Bobby looked at his desk and found the notes he would have taken about the conversation, had he taken notes. “So without you, I wouldn’t be motivated by emotions and sensations?”

“Exactly.”  Id smiled wide.  “I gotta say, though, things have been pretty tough out there lately.  Imbalance and all that.  Cupid isn’t exactly able to get though all the stress and brewers droop.  You gotta throw us all a bone and let up.”

“I don’t get it,” Bobby said.

“Don’t I know it.  You’re trying too hard.  Even trying too hard to have fun, which takes all the fun out of it.  That couch is awesome, you need to decide to turn your crap off and sog into it more often.”

“I can’t.  I’ve got things to do!” Bobby protested.

“Then do ’em.  Or not.  Ether way quit stressing out about it, man.  You’re not acting as much as you are acting out and on anxious idle.  Shit like that keeps you up all night!”

“OK.”  He reached out his hand and Id shook it gleefully.  “I’m all done here.  Can you get Super Ego for me?”

“Sure thing dude!  Nice knowing you!”

# # #

Super Ego came to the door of the dream office and walked into the room.

“Hi, Super Ego.  Have a seat.”

The stiff version of himself laid down a three page resume on the desk.  “I come prepared.”

Bobby read over the resume until he came to a line. “Hm.  You were the one that kept me from marrying Mary O’Conner right out of college.  Good man.  She was a nightmare.”

Super Ego sat there, looking pleased.

“Is there anything else, or is it all here?”

“Well, I’m much more about keeping you from doing detrimental things. I’d like to point out that anything that takes more than a day or so to plan is controlled by me as well.”

With a kidding grin, Bobby said, “Well, my ability to focus is crap, so thanks a lot”

“Certainly no fault of mine.  You treat your body like a garbage dump.”

“Well, aren’t you also the part of me that drives me to the gym?”

“To be honest, that’s one of the points where the Id and I agree, though for differing reasons.  I propose that you need to take better care of yourself, lose weight and tone up your cardiovascular system.  The Id just likes the runner’s high and the fact that it improves your sexual performance.  And, he tends to like places where women walk around in tight clothing.”

“And you aren’t in on that?”

“I’m ambivalent.  It’s not my job.  My job is to keep you from trying to start anything with those tramps at the gym.  I keep you doing your job, until it’s time to go.  I get you up in the morning and make you go to bed at a decent hour.  I keep you from breaking laws and your word.  In other words, I am your higher self and steer you toward noble goals.”  He folded his hands in his lap and stood straight and still in the chair.

Bobby was impressed with this guy, but he had to find out if he had taken too much power away from the other two.  “So, lately, what is a major accomplishment that you can point to as being mostly your own.”

The stiff twin shifted in his chair and looked Bobby straight in the eye.  “That question shows a lack of understanding of the predicament in which we find ourselves.  Nothing gets accomplished without the input of the other aspects.  Everything is tempered, run through justifications and finally filtered through the personality, you, to actualize in the physical world.  So, I can rightly claim nothing to be my accomplishment.”

Silence greeted this answer, as Bobby considered it.  “Okay, let me rephrase.  What timely action, taken by all of us, was most driven by you?  There must be something that you initiated.  I’m sure you weren’t the initiator of the Hockey tickets.”

“Oh the Hockey tickets.”  He rolled his eyes.  “I spent a long time at the insistence of the Ego coming up with justifications for that.  Truthfully, ever since you got married, it’s been harder and harder to get anything done around here.  I get you checking your check book and going to work, but even that is a struggle.”

“Is that because of the imbalance?”

“Yes.”  His eyes grew wide in alarm and he seemed to somehow grow while staying the same size.  “The imbalance makes it difficult to properly align with expected norms of behavior.  What results is only minimally acceptable, triggering coping mechanisms.  Your lack of sleep, for instance, is every undone thing shouting at you, both the required and the desired.  These things don’t just go away if you ignore them.”

“Well I really haven’t been able to focus on any of that stuff.”  Bobby waved a hand as he replied. “I’ve been busy, you know…”

“NO!”  Super Ego insisted.  His fist came down on the white table top of the desk, momentarily turning it black.

“Excuse me?”

Behind SuperEgo, the white room darkened.  The figure in the chair became more clearly defined, somehow more there than he had been before.  His face froze into a hard, lecturing stare.  “You do not get to give yourself a pass on this one.  The way you are acting, taking on every problem and resolving none, taking up every distraction and vice without care or enjoyment, you are acting as a barbaric fool.  No wonder Barbra argues with you. You drink, you eat like crap, you avoid her, you avoid your job, you avoid the gym.  Your logic wants to think that behaving like an animal will make you happier, but still you can’t let go enough to enjoy your antisocial behavior.”

“Hey!” Bobby squeaked in protest, “Quit stepping on my dick, jackass.”

“I would like to, but you keep presenting it to be trod upon and keeping you on the straight and narrow is my job.  As part of that job, I have to tell you that you, as you are now are a loathsome creature.  And to top it all off, you don’t even have the common decency to be ashamed of yourself.  You must… put an end to the imbalance… or we are all lost.”

“You done?” Bobby crossed his arms and rocked back in the white office chair.  “You done, or would you like to sit there and shit talk me… us… a little more?”

Super Ego straightened and feigned distraction by inspecting his sleeve for lint.  “I believe I’ve said my peace, Bobby.  I’d apologize for the unfiltered nature of my comments if I didn’t believe that they were one hundred percent justified.  I fear that even with this admonition, you will continue on your current course.  And as usual, I will have your best interest at heart and will attempt to guide you down a path of piety.”

“Uh, thanks, I guess…”

A pencil eraser tapped nervously in Bobby’s hand, rapping against a notepad.  He looked at the notes that appeared on the pad as he thought them up then addressed Super Ego.  “OK. I need to think about this.  If you can let the others know that I’ll be out in a bit.”

The stiff entity stood up and left the office, leaving Bobby to ponder his subconscious.

# # #

“How did the interviews go?”  Ego was so exactly like Bobby that he was a touch stunned at seeing him again.  It was as if the mirror suddenly started talking.

“Fine. Just don’t tell me that you really are Mary O’Conner.”

“No.  Actually, I’ve got some regrets about that girl.  She was quite the troubled soul.”

“Yeah, she was.  Hot though…”  Bobby nodded at the ground for a moment then raised an eyebrow at his twin.  “I’m having a hard time.  Both Super Ego and Id have elements that seem over the top and out of control.  But I’m thinking that the Id has grown too crazy.  His appetite for fun and games seems to be a problem.”

Ego shook his head. “I was afraid you’d say that.”  The man in the black placed a hand on bobby’s shoulder.  “You see, Bobby, It’s you, the personality, the consciousness.  You are the problem.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“How can I be the problem?  I’m the one who is actually Bobby!”

“Not without us, you’re not, and that’s the problem.  You have suppressed your subconscious to the point where your waking mind must do all the analysis and make all the decisions.  You haven’t done what you wanted to do, because you thought it would be indulgent.  You haven’t done what you should do because you resent always having to be responsible.  In the end, the tools that are given to your conscious mind are overtaxed and running out of control, causing you stress and sleeplessness.  The waking mind can’t sleep because you have given it so much work to do that it needs to run well into the night to catch up.”

Bobby stuck his hand up and turned away from Ego. “That’s a bunch of crap.  All I’m doing here is talking to myself.  This is just another weird dream, though I guess I should be thankful.  At least it means I’m sleeping.”

“See?  You aren’t paying attention.  This is no dream.” Ego charged at Bobby with his finger in the air.

“But I’m keeping myself together as best I can for my wife, my job and my future!”

“Your wife and your job would be better served if you let your whole self address the issues in front of you.  She fell in love with you as a whole person and the problems that come up between you two are partly because you changed.  As for your future?  Well, you can’t keep your current state up very long.  Eventually your conscious decision making process will crack and you will start screwing up or going mad.  You already can’t sleep, so who’s to say you won’t have a costly nervous breakdown.”

The Personality of Bobby clenched his fists.  “I won’t let myself have a nervous breakdown!”

“Now there, you are more right than you know.”  Id and Super Ego flanked Ego and all three were looking at him.  “You, Bobby’s personality and waking mind, you are the one who has to go.”

“Whoa, wait a second!  Then what was all that interviewing and such about?  You said one of you all must go.”

“I said one of ‘Us’ must go.  Knowing that you were the one of ‘Us’ that was on the way out, none of the rest of us thought that there was any harm in letting you have your fun.  Besides, you might have learned something and made this unnecessary.  As it is, further self reflection will have to be handled by your successor.  Good bye.”

“Wait!  Hold on! What are you…”  Bobby’s personality slowly disappeared into the vague whiteness of the room’s boundaries, as if it had been a piece of forgotten furniture.

Out in the real world, Bobby’s whole body sighed and the cleansing chaos of dreams flooded his mind.  It swirled and danced with the pieces of computer program, making them play cribbage to thirty one.  Worlds unfolded and evaporated to give rise to strange beings as gravity bubbled up and explored the ceiling.  All of the trouble in life mixed with this chaos and new connections were tried with the crazy logic of dreams.  The magic work of the subconscious raced through the sleeping mind.

At the center of the storm, in the endless white room, Id, Ego and Super Ego looked at an image of the sleeping Bobby on a screen flaked by the dream images.  A separate screen showed the progress of Bobby’s brain and body descending into a deep sleep.

Super Ego leaned in to talk to Ego.  “Are you sure that was wise?”

“No.” Ego turned and faced the straight laced, subconscious personification. “But it was necessary.  He’ll sleep past his alarm in the morning, giving us ample time to create a new personality from his memories and experiences, his thoughts and dreams.  It will be him – us – but without all that willful control nonsense that was causing so much trouble and angst.”  Ego looked once again at Bobby finally at peace, healing and resting.  “When Bobby wakes up, he’ll feel like a whole new man.”

A Small Sample

The sky was yellow and dotted with stars that did not twinkle.  Across the pink and dusty surface of this hostile world, Dr. Leonard Spence noiselessly crunched toward a rocky cave.

“So remind me again why I’m not in my nice safe lab watching one of you guys do this?”

In his ears, he could hear a soft pop followed by Carol’s friendly voice. “You’re the Exo-biologist, Lenny.  If we got critters, they are yours.  Aren’t you curious?”

“Sure, but I only need a small sample.  I can make observations from your suit’s cam just fine.”

“But you know there’s nothing like the real thing, baby.”  Lenny didn’t appreciate Burt’s attitude even though the brash astronaut meant no harm.  “Besides, it’s well past your turn.”

“Fine,” he said in a tone that made it clear that it was anything but.  “I just hate space suits.”  Lenny trudged along in the bulky but flexible suit and looked at the pale, alien sky. “Not too fond of space in general, really.”

Over the radio, Carol said, “Then you really picked the wrong profession, Lenny.”

Burt added, “And it’s a little late to bitch about it.  Just get your sample so we can stop listening to you whine.”

Wishing he could wipe his brow, Lenny started into the cave.  “I wasn’t whining.  I was complaining.”  He straightened up as if to regain some dignity and turned on his suit lamps.  “Trained scientists don’t whine.”

“Whatever, Lenny.  We’re getting a video feed.  Looks good.”

Now that the cave was lit, the hesitant spaceman could see what had taken him out of his cozy, properly pressurized lab.  Half way up an obsidian pillar common to these caves, a blob of green gunk slowly crept along.  Its body glistened under the lamp as if it were wet or oily.  It appeared not to notice Lenny even as he closed to within an arm’s length.

“Let’s see, it’s green, which may mean chloroplasts, and looks like a blob.  Might be an extremophile plant or a colony of single celled organisms.  I wonder what it eats?”  Fascination overtook fear as Lenny recited field notes.  “It appears to be surrounded by a membrane of mucus.  In its natural environment… it seems to be rippling.  This may be a reaction to the intense light.”

Over the com link, Burt droned, “Again, whatever.  I don’t want you out there long enough to freak out.  Grab your snot and get back.”

Though condescending, Lenny recognized good advice.  He took a scoop-like sampling tool off of his tool belt and extended the handle.

“Going in now, Burt.”  He looked for a good place to sample.  “Now, Mr. Blob, I’m only going to take a small sample.  You may feel a bit of a pinch, but I promise there is a lollypop in it for you.”

The instrument shook at the end of the foot-long handle as he brought it up to the blob.  As soon as he touched it, a faint pop filled his ears and all the lights in his suit went dark.

He was plunged into the total blackness of the cave.

“Oh crap!  Burt? Carol?”  Nothing came over the com link, not even static.

He could feel his fingers getting num.  The heaters had gone off too.  “I’m starting to get cold.  Hello! Do you hear me?  Come in.”

The only response was black silence.

“…hello?” he squeaked.

Lenny’s primal fears prevented him from moving.  This was why he hated space, he thought.  It was because of stuff just like this.  Being out of control and at the mercy of the unknown.

From outside the self-contained fishbowl of his helmet, he thought he could sense something moving.  He wasn’t sure if he was seeing it or hearing it, but something stirred in the dark.  Fear kept his breath weak and shallow, so his ears could pick up any sound from the outside world.  All he could hear was how scared his breath sounded.  Lenny swallowed hard.  This was a long way from the lab, for sure.

“Come on, man.  Get a grip.”  His own voice made him jump. “It’s just a power failure.”

He thought about the suit.  “A power failure in multiple, triple-redundant devices.”  He heard the ragged breath return to his fishbowl.  “I’m sure it happens all the time…” His voice lost all confidence. “…in some parallel universe where the nature of probability is completely different.”

His chest tightened.  “I’ve got to get out of here.”

The fear let go of his legs enough to take a step back.  He followed it with another and got a shock that made him hop.

The lights turned back on.

“Eeep!”

Over the com link, static gave way to an amused voice.  “Excuse me, Lenny, I don’t think I copied that.  Did you just yelp like a little schoolgirl?”

It was Burt back in the control room.  “Crap, Burt, everything went black here, didn’t you notice?”

“Sorry.  We thought we just lost your telemetry for a second.  Sunspots, you know.”

“Sunspots nothing!  I think it can screw up electronics.  I mean, everything went dark and cold here.”  With the light back on, Lenny got his mind back on his task and got a second shock.

“The specimen is gone!”  The spot where the glistening green blob was perched now just had a spot of goo, turning solid in the freezing space cave.

“Lenny?  This is Carol, are you OK out there?  Your suit is reporting a drop in pressure.”

“I’ll take a look for… OH, MY GOD!”  He looked at his gloved hand in disbelief.

Static ravaged his ears, now painfully sensitive, after one shock too many.  “What?”

“My pinky is gone!”  The glove on his right hand had four perfect fingers and one stump on the end.  The stump was covered on its clean, flat top with the same glistening goo that coated the green blob he had come all this way to study.

“How can that be?” Carol asked over the intercom.  “You aren’t losing any more air.  A hole in the suit that size would have killed you.”

The cold, the fear, and the claustrophobia all came in as the shock of being so casually dismembered dawned on the uptight scientist.  Lenny lost it.  “I don’t know, it looks like there is some kind of glop plugging up the… My finger! I’ve been maimed!”

“Dude,” Burt’s voice said over the intercom, “It’s just your pinky.  Pull it together.  Forget the sample and get out of there.  Abort.  The snot isn’t worth your life.”

Out of the corner of the helmet’s view portal, Lenny thought he saw movement.  Whipping his body around for a better view, he saw the green, lumpy blob undulate over the rocks on the cave floor.  In the middle of it, still sheathed in the heavy glove’s digit, was Lenny’s severed pinky.  He watched as it retreated from view on the blob’s back.

“My finger!  Give me back my finger!”

With thoughts of remaining maimed for the rest of his life guiding his actions, Lenny bolted after the creature.  It was heading for a small crack in the cave wall, so Lenny dove for his severed body part, knowing it was now or never.  As he touched the alien, all of the systems in his suit shut down, including the lights.

Once again, he was plunged into darkness, but he had the vague feel of the slimy green goo in his cold, numb and incomplete hands.  He was determined to get his finger back and wrestled with the mass until it finally slipped away from him.

But it had been worth it.  He could feel it in his hand.  Yes.  It was a struggle, but his pinky was his once more.

As the creature retreated through the small hole in the cave wall, Lenny’s suit mounted lights illuminated the cave.  He pulled his hands into the light to examine the cylindrical object he snatched back from the blob.  He found only the empty pinky finger of the space suit’s glove.

“NOOOOOOooooooooo!”

***

The green blob seeped through the membrane that kept the toxic environment of the outside from the more hospitable world inside the planet’s rocks.  Its electrostatic sonar imaged a home of polished, spherical rooms with curved and edgeless connecting tunnels, populated by many fine-looking blobs.

As it shucked the slimy life-support membrane they used to survive outside, the blob thought about the strange, solid, electrically-charged life forms that had been invading the cave.  It was a good thing he was able to grow an organelle to deal with such a life form.

And what a life form!  It undulated with excitement over the prize it carried.  A piece of a real alien!  It couldn’t wait to get back to the lab.

Sliding through the passages, alien tissue in its possession, the blob wondered why the creature had kicked up such a fuss.  After all, it had only taken a small sample.