The Strange – Episode 28 – A lot to Learn

“Central!”

Central jumped as she called out his name. It had been some time since their morning training and he clearly thought she had slipped out. The sudden realization that she never left put metal into his spine and rang him like a tuning fork.

“Yes! Um yes Bee. Central, go ahead.”

The wicked smile on Bee’s face was almost audible in the silent dark of the central monitoring station. “When was the last contact with Mr. Aye’s unit?”

“I…I don’t know, Ma’am.”

“You don’t know?”

The temperature of the room dropped a few degrees and it made Central stutter. “I…I’m just handling our routine security. I thought you were handling the … Uh … intelligence gathering.”

“And your unit does not report in?”

“Well he’s supposed to, but he hasn’t. I… Uh… Please don’t hurt me, but I thought he was reporting to you, like we loaned him to your team and you were controlling him. We don’t play offense here, just defense. I have to stay out of that stuff in order to work in the office.”

“So, you don’t actually know what we do here?”

“Well… No. I route phone calls, I watch monitors for unauthorized people and route security. Those guys get their marching orders from other people. I mean, I know this stuff is shady, and quite frankly, you people scare the shit out of me, but I don’t actually know what you are doing.”

Her voice softened. “Well then I apologize. So, no contact from your man Carl?”

“No. We do log these things and there’s nothing.”

Ms. Bee pulled her lips in, and the lines in her face deepened in the shadow of the room. “If you get any contact, call me. I will be available. Please, keep up your surveillance. Remember our lesson and reinforce it with the others in your group. We will be visited with hostile intent.”

“How do you know?”

Ms. Bee let her smile reflect the glare of the monitors. “I don’t, but I’d rather be wrong than in jail … or dead.”

 

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

 

Mr. Aye came back to the world in the solar powered broiler of the Buick’s back seat. His face was one big bruise, his eyes were blood red and when he blew out, purple blood came out in little droplets. The drug store parking lot gave no cover from the heat and glare, even here around in the back, near the dumpsters. Mr. Aye didn’t seem to notice. Now that he was conscious, he thought about his prey.

“Goldberg.” He said the name while crawling out of the back of the car, disturbing a stray dogs inspection of the dumpster. “Dude lives like a pig. Juvenile, decadent pig. Makes me sick.”

He found his footing on asphalt so hot it softened the plastic of his shoe soles and cooked the blood that dropped from his face. A spot of shade on a narrow strip of grass that separated his parking lot from it’s neighbor called to him He wandered over. Again, the stray dog startled and growled protectively in front of his dumpster.

“Fuck you, dog.” Mr. Aye sat heavily, every bruise and ache complaining. “Lucky to be here. That bastard had a punch.” He spat again, noticing the absence of blood. “Heh. Lucky. Take that Mr. Goldberg. You aren’t the only one with luck. Shit, I survived the fucking Gulf War… twice, Contras, and countless wars with no names. And you, you fuck, you wind up with a hot girlfriend and more money than God for doing what? Sitting here, getting high and teaching kids to count?”

Thick hands rubbed over the purple and yellow bruise that was Mr. Aye’s face. He winced at the pain, but it focused his thoughts. Raw hate sparked in his eyes. “I’m going to get you, mother fucker. It’s my mission and I’m going to enjoy ending you.”

A sudden barking erupted from the dog, directed at Mr. Aye. The hired gun stayed perfectly still, eyes staring into the distance. The agitation in the dog’s bark increased. It repeatedly pounced forward and retreated, trying to scare Mr. Aye. Still the man did not budge

The dog quickly looked around, then appeared to change tactics. It slinked closer to Mr. Aye, growling all the while. It stayed beyond an arm’s reach of the man and crouched low. The growl exposed every one of the dog’s teeth all the way to its gums.

Mr. Aye’s eyes flicked over to the dog.

The dog yelped.

 

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

 

Carl strolled across the parking lot carrying a bag of first aid supplies and two sodas. Getting into the driver’s seat he said, “Here’s your fucking cola. Bandage that face before you go scaring children.”

From the passenger’s seat, Mr. Aye grunted. He swept up the soda in one meaty hand while the other grabbed at the medical supplies.

“You’re welcome, jackass”

“We’re going north, around to the other side of the campus. We’ll cut him off up there.”

“So, you called in and got some intel or something?”

“Uh…” He paused. “Yeah. Something like that.”

“Good. I’m glad we finally called in. Mr. Loveless gets particular about that kind of shit. So, north side. That’s pretty far pretty fast. You sure?

“Just do what I tell you. I’ve got a nose for things like this.”

They exited the parking lot as a smear of red came from behind the dumpster and seeped into the small strip of grass.

 

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

 

The hot afternoon sun, the post-lunch food coma, and the eventual crash from that morning’s bong hits made the world seem burnt and all too real to Dan. The canopy of green played with the sunlight and it streamed down from the branches in pollen-filled beams along with the Spanish moss.

As he walked with Molly, the aging pervert considered the freshman’s short, round body. While he’d never been terribly picky and actually liked a little heft on his women, Molly had the look of someone who had given up on fitness for good. Dan didn’t care. Fat, crazy, needy. These weren’t problems. Problems were for people who did relationships. Goldberg had problems, Dan had opportunities. And Molly? She was female and that meant he was waiting for an opening.

“I could use a coffee. You know if we finished off the coffee this morning?” The sound of the young woman’s voice was both strangely familiar and somewhat out of place to Dan’s ears. She hadn’t said much this morning, not much that made sense anyway, and somehow this straight forward, practical question was odd.

His response was cool yet friendly, betraying little of his thoughts. “If not, I can direct you to the Quick mart. I’ve been up since last night, so no coffee for me. More bong hits, maybe, but no coffee.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You are nocturnal. Isn’t that a little weird?”

Dan shrugged. “Nah. You find work or the work finds you. I’ve worked hard to get a life where I don’t have to work so much. Weird shifts are a part of it. Pays well.”

They rounded the corner to the street where Dan shared the apartment with Goldberg. It was the only quiet side street that had been paved recently, so there were a bunch of kids doing skateboard tricks on homemade ramps.

“But what about girls?” She searched for his eyes as they walked. “Don’t they, like, have a problem with it?”

He smiled and looked out for errant skateboarders. “I suppose the right girl won’t mind so much.” The clacking skateboards of a half-dozen young daredevils swirled around them as they approached the apartment. Shuffling up the dusty driveway, they slid through the open lower door.

Climbing the stairway, Molly said, “Well, I don’t mind it. Especially on a hot day, it makes all the sense in the world to sleep past this heat.” She got to the door to the apartment and pushed it open without a second thought.

“Well, you know… If you wanted to join me…”

She turned around with a shocked look on her face. Dan tried to keep his careful mask of nonchalance in place, wondering if he’d just made a huge mistake.

“I… I never thought you’d ask,” she said with a blush.

“Well, I didn’t want to rush it,” he replied with a grin and an internal sigh of relief.

Halfway hiding behind the door, she made flirty eyes at Dan. “So, can I make you a bong hit, Dan? Will you be able to stay… up… for me?”

He grinned. “Never a problem.”

Molly walked into the cluttered apartment with Dan now nakedly ogling the way her behind wobbled in her shorts. “Uh, Dan?”

“Yeah.”

“I think the cats got into your stash.”

His anticipation broken, he finally noticed that the coffee table was a total mess, the rolling tray upended and weed spilled out on to the floor.

“Crap! Look at this mess. Billie!” Dan went off looking for his cat.

He came out of the bedrooms with a blurry eyed white cat in his arms. Back at the coffee table, he picked up what could be salvaged. “At least they didn’t knock over the bong. Dang, they ate a lot of this. They are going to be acting weird all day.”

“Why? What do they do?” Molly asked.

“Junior turns into the ‘great gray hunter’ and Billie mostly just sleeps or chases stuff. They are hyper-annoying, though, so they get to play outside today. Besides, I think we want to be alone, don’t you?” He flashed a leering grin then turned and called into the house. “Junior!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Delgado drifted through the confused recesses of his own mind as it coped with the new doors opened and rooms created by the silver. In reality, he was in a toy car in the hot sun, but that world was lost to him now.

Thoughts drifted to dreams and dreams became crazy and jumbled, but surprisingly lucid. Delgado had not been much of a lucid dreamer. This nap though, this was something different and he knew it.

He began high above the desert, flying backwards, watching the sun set in the east. He knew it was east because a huge compass lay just beneath him, attached to his sternum with the north pointing off his left hand.

Bright light entered his eyes and then washed down to the color of sand. As the brightness faded further, the sand separated into a naked blue sky above and sand below. The horizon slowly sharpened and in the sand he could see acres of crops being planted along neat rows. The novel channeling of the far off river turning the silt to mud. Further focus found people in the fields wrapped in simple loin cloths, their bronze skin and dark hair marking their African heritage.

Delgado became momentarily disoriented as his view of the scene shifted suddenly. He realized that he was looking through someone’s eyes and that the viewer had been looking out a large, open window. Now the person whose eyes he was gazing through walked through the room. A high, thatched roof made of palm fronds kept the sun off of the dozen or so people examining papyrus documents and waiting for an audience with the man in the gold chair at the other end of the room.

“Nur!” a man called out, running forwards. Though Delagdo couldn’t understand the words, the meanings were plain as anything he’d ever heard in English or Spanish.

“Minister Makek. To what do I owe the honor? “

“Nur, I was wondering.”

“And what is it that I might help you with?“

“Well, it’s your brother. I was wondering if you might talk to him again.”

The man named Nur sighed. “Defense Minister, you have me in a bind. You know that my family is forever and always at the ready to serve the Pharaoh.  We are loyal people.”

“Yes, we understand. But the Assyrians from the East … Nur, they are a threat to us all!”

“I am aware, which makes my bind all the more painful to me. Pray thee, walk with me to my brother.”

The Minister stiffened. “I… I’m not…”

“Come now, Minister. We’ve talked of this before. My brother is a man and a simple man at that. I myself witnessed his birth. I myself had to shelter the boy, lest he fall to rogues. Retain a calm tongue and you’ve nothing to fear from my brother.”

“But if I’m to convince him to help us defeat the Assyrians once and for all, I must, I’m afraid, give evidence of the righteousness of our cause. These people are animals!”

“Then I’m afraid we reach, once again, my bindings. My brother is both simple in mind and quality and is, by his nature, very gentile. The thought of anyone suffering, even a foe – for he does not distinguish, upsets him greatly. You would have him aid our Pharaoh by bringing him to war, but his is the mind of a child. As such, he is much more attuned to playing with blocks.”

The pair crossed the room and swept aside palm frond doors and sheets of linen that separated the main room from the patio outside. The strangeness of the scene presented to Delgado in his dream made him question its truth. There on a pillow of white sat a young and frail boy with almost pitch black skin. He drank in the hot sun. Around him flatten disks of gold made crude mirrors that reflected even more sun onto him. If anything the blackness of his skin became even blacker for the light as it let no reflection escape.

As for the boy himself, his smile was docile and wistful. The glare around him was intense but the boy did not seem to notice or care. Instead, he looked off into the distance. There, Delgado could see both a quarry and a building site.   The site held the bottom third of a massive stone pyramid. As he watched, a gigantic stone rose up from the quarry and made its way over the land resting on a beam of golden light. It slowly rested on top of the incomplete pyramid and the boy stuck out his tongue, manipulating the stone into place. When he was done, he smiled again.

The boy noticed his audience and smiled even brighter. “Triangle and a square. Sun, Moon. The path of heaven in stone.”

“Yes brother, you have learned well of our spirits. You follow the instructions of our Priests and Architects. The gifts they have given you, you continue to repay.” Looking over at the Minister, he said, “To build is a calling, brother. Be safe with the men and give to the gods.”

The Minister’s eyes fell even as Nur smiled.

The boy turned back to the quarry where the quarry master had just raised a white and a red flag up, waving them. “Ah! Another block.” The boy’s skin seemed to suck the light in from the sunshine and the mirror’s refection. He smiled and stared again into the distance. The huge stone block rose from its place in the quarry and he said, “I like blocks.”

Nur turned to the Minister, who shied away from the boy. “Minister, we would like to help but it appears that all we can do is free up the men and resources while still giving our Pharaoh a just and fitting final home, a gateway from this world. My brother, though miraculous, is no weapon of war.”

The Minister stood straighter. “I can see that now.   Not all power is force. But we must remain vigilant. You say this boy is no god, I disagree. Let us pray that should the Assyrians find one of their number with similar qualities that they should be so peaceful.”

As the Minister turned from Delgado, looking through Nur’s eyes the scene washed out into the glare of the sun coming through the passenger side window of the micro compact car. Delgado shook his head, his real head, and tried to straighten out.

“Good morning sunshine,” Belatran said. “Or really, good evening.”

“What time?” Delgado said, but realized that he already knew. The silver had given him an internal clock. “Three thirty?”

“Yeah.”

The solid marine tried to untwist himself from his sleeping position. “What are we doing?”

“I’m asking questions, talking to people, getting the lay of the land.   You’ve been taking a nap.”

“Oh shit! Sorry.”

“Nope. No need. You are getting your training in.   History.   Let me guess, Nur?”

“Uh… yeah.   Did that…”

“Yep. Nowhere near the earliest, but interesting.”

“What happened to him… the kid”

“Pretty sure he eventually died.”

“Well, yeah, but… nobody bothered to note this, that he built the pyramids?”

“To be fair, he only helped with a few. The rest was blood and sweat. Look, recorded history gets weird around powers. The more power at play, the less reliable things get. People can’t handle the idea of powers so it all becomes folklore, explained away, outright changed and forgotten by the same forces that produce the strangers in the first place.”

“That’s convenient.”

“Yeah, but get used to it. These strange things happen but it’s hardly ever truly random. Too many coincidences. It’s almost like someone is fucking with us just to make it interesting.”

“Ah, now you are just being paranoid.” Delgado once again broke out into a big yawn. “It’s not like someone is watching us or anything.”

“You say that now.” He watched the younger man snuggle back into a nap position despite the heat. “You’ve got a lot more to learn.”

 

[Author’s note:  Back again in Houston.  Dad finally got out of the Hospital and though according to all of the doctors he’s not only extremely lucky to be alive but it’s a straight up miracle he doesn’t seem to have any lasting damage, he’s super weak.  And cranky.  Weak and cranky.  Glad to have him though.   So, The Strange hasn’t been a priority.  Sorry.

Thanks to everyone who has voted for the story on top web fiction and helped to spread the word that it’s here.  The likes and the votes and such help other people find the story, so if you could please help me out by keeping those coming I’d really appreciate it.

I hope this episode finds you all well and still enjoying the ride.  I hope to post again soon, but my posting schedule hasn’t been regular for quite some time and I don’t believe that will change soon, maybe not until the next project.  I’m working from a draft and frankly some episodes need more help than others.  Between the recovering Dad, and everything else that seems to be cratering this summer, I’m not sure I can promise that I can do much of any thing with regularity.  However, I am committed to being a weirdo, so you got that.

Stay Weird

SC]

 

 

The Strange – Episode 27 – Take Your Best Shot

The doors of the Pen opened out into the bright sun of early afternoon.  The concrete plaza outside reflected the sun back up and made everyone but Goldberg squint.  Two sides of the plaza, one opposite them and one to their right had walkways one flight up and there was a set of concrete stairs going up just outside the door.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to my office to finish up grading papers,” Joy said facing toward Goldberg.  “Remind me later never to make an assignment due on Friday.”

“Now where have I heard that before?  You are clearly taking council from a wise man.  And I’ll… I’ll stay in touch.  Ok?”

“You’re cute when you are stoned and awkward.”

Dan slapped Goldberg and turned toward the bikes they had rode down on earlier.  “I’m done, dude.  Time for me to turn in and call it a day.  Try not to blow up the house or if you do, try not to wake me up.”

Goldberg turned to Joy as the group broke up. “So, I’ll see you later?”  his eyebrows gave away the neediness in his eyes, obscured behind the rose-colored sunglasses.

“Maybe,” she said, fingers straightening out his new haircut. “Now that you look presentable.”

“Yeah, well… This really hot hairdresser gave me this nice do.  I think she was coming on to me too.  She kept pressing her boobs into my back.”

“Ah, you noticed that, did you?”  Joy put her arm around Goldberg’s neck and pulled him down for a long kiss.”

“You all need to get a room.” Sarah said and turned to go with Teague.  The two climbed the stairs that led to the upper plaza, leaving Joy and Goldberg to their kiss.

Dan wheeled his bike over to Molly.  “So where are you off to?”

“I don’t know, really.”  Her face darkened. “I guess I’ve got to figure out my life again and Joy was going to take me shopping later, but until then, I’ve really got no place to go.”

Dan looked around with eyes blazing red.  “Hey, well, you can hang out at our house.”

She sniffed.  “Really?”

“Yeah, sure.  You know how to get there from here?  You just follow…” He pointed up the stairs where Sarah and Teague were climbing but then looked back at Molly.  She looked clueless and more than a little cute.  “You know what, it’ll be easier if I just showed you.”  He walked his bike to the foot of the stairs and hefted it up to his shoulder with Molly bouncing behind.

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

Hidden in the void between the wall of the student union and a planter holding a shrub, Mr. Aye opened his bag.  Inside he found, among other things, two guns.  One was a longer-barreled version of a revolver with a scope.  Kind of a cross between a handgun and a rifle.  This, he knew, was a medium range sniper rifle, at least in his trained hands, and with low-powder, subsonic ammo, as quiet as he could get.  The other was a longer version of the dart gun he’d used earlier.  More gas for more punch, better barrel for longer range, but still not lethal.

At that moment, with both guns in his hands, the door one tall floor down and across a paved courtyard Goldberg and his pack of idiots wandered into the sun.  “So much for catching them in the glare,” he mumbled.  “At least Carl got the head count right.”  The group formed clumps, then pairs.  Goldberg was entangled with one of the girls with funky hair.

Mr. Aye’s eyes squinted.  Veins appeared on his hands as he squeezed the guns tighter than necessary.  Without looking, he dropped the dart gun back into the bag.  He crouched behind a planter and steadied himself against the concrete.  Through the scope, he could see Goldberg’s smug, smiling face.

“Wing him,” Mr. Aye mumbled.  “Well, accidents happen.”

He went into his shot ritual.  Feel and mold your biology.  Breathe out, hold it, wait for the heartbeat to finish.

Ba-bump.  Squeeze.  Explode.

 

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

 

Hot expanding gases created a shock wave in a tiny space.  Lead jerked into motion, propelled by the gas and the wave, down a tube lined with swirling groves.  The tube was tight and the swirls cut the sharp point’s outer flesh, twisting it.  The pressure from the explosion did not relent, and the pointed lead projectile continued to accelerate. Twisting and pushing until it finally reached the end of the tube. It screamed spinning through the open air at fantastic speed toward the unsuspecting flesh of its target.

 

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

 

Goldberg and Joy continued to kiss.  After a while Joy broke it off.  “You know, this whole make-out as we are parting ways thing is really not my style.”

He smiled “Not really mine either, but I’m willing to make an exception.”

“It’s not like I’m evaporating.  I’ll see you again tomorrow.”  She chuckled as his hands were inadvertently tickling her.

“Yeah I know.  I just can’t shake the feeling like you are going to disappear or something.”

“Well you are just going to have to get over that.  Besides, I’m going to take Molly to get some clothes tonight after I finish grading papers.”  She glanced over to where Molly was following Dan.  “At least, that’s the plan.  You boys will just have to deal.”

“Sounds to me like you are ‘doing your hair’ or something.”

“Well! What! Ever!  You have fun getting lost, but here’s something to remember me by.” She jumped into his arms and gave him a big, playful kiss.  Goldberg wasn’t ready to be attacked like this and he stumbled back a good number of feet until he hit the front of the Pen.  By reflex alone, he quickly twisted Joy in his arms only by a few inches.  He noticed the sound of a fire cracker and Joy jumped.  With a naughty smile she said, “Whew!  Goldberg!  You pinch me like that again and I might have to give you a spanking!”

She kissed him again and Goldberg thought, “what pinch?”

 

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

 

Up on the upper plaza, Sarah Grimaced and spun.  “Ouch! Fucker!”  She held her left butt right butt cheek and crumpled to the pavement.

“Sarah!  You ok?  Baby?”  Teague crouched down and put his big hands around his girlfriend as she sat on one cheek and winced.

“Yeah, it’s just… Ow!  What the hell was that?”

“What was what?”

“I just had this really sharp pain in… well… my ass.”

Dan came up the stairs with the bike over his shoulder and Molly in tow. “Man, you could at least have gotten more than a few feet away before you start talking about me.”

“Can the crap, stoner.  I think Sarah might have dislocated her hip or something.”

“Uh… ow… Actually, it felt like …  Like being shot with a rubber band or a pellet gun or something.  It stings like crazy, but I’m ok, I think.”

“Really baby?  Who would do something like that?”

Dan looked around the scene.  He narrowed in on the planters that lined the path where the plaza wrapped around the student union building, becoming a balcony.  “I’m just pitching, but maybe you should ask the guy with the gun over there?”

“Where.”  Teague’s voice dripped with chained rage.

Dan pointed before he thought better of it.  “Dude’s right there.  Between the bushes.  Just walk along the wall behind the planters and he’s right there.”

“What.  Where?”

“Right there!  Oh for shit sake.  Are you blind or something?  He’s hidden in the plant fucking thing right there.”

Teague took off mumbling, “Stay right here baby.”

“Teague!”  Sarah shouted.  “Don’t hurt him!  You’ll get suspended.”

“I’m already suspended.”  Teague said.  He squinted and followed Dan’s directions, running full steam.

Dan looked at Sarah and said, “Really?” His face clouded with loss.   “Ah crap, there goes the season.”

 

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

 

Wedged in between the potted bushes and the student union’s wall, Mr. Aye manipulated his bolt action sniper rifle, ejecting the cartridge.  They had moved at the last second, but still, it was a dead-on hit.  Or it should have been.  But a look though the scope showed those two still sucking face.

“Bastard.”

Mr. Aye finally raised his head from his sight to see Teague barreling towards him.  He stood and calmly reached inside his jacket with his left hand while his right stayed in position on the sniper rifle.  His hand came out in a flash brandishing a black semi-automatic that looked small in his meaty hand.  The shot was almost casual, and dead on target.  Teague’s shirt exploded in a scorched rip, exposing his bronze chest between his pectorals.

A second shot ripped the shirt slightly to the left, but Teague kept coming.  He stepped right up to the man and grabbed him by the throat.  Two more shots went into Teague’s chest before Teague grabbed the gun and his hand.

“Dude.  Stop with them fucking bee bees.”

Wind had to force its way through the constriction in Mr. Aye’s throat before being formed into words, and even then, it also had to get through the bandages that now covered most of the assassin’s face.  “What Bee Bees?” He croaked out.

“Oh, you’re funny now.  You shot my girlfriend in the ass and now you owe me a new shirt.”

Mr. Aye’s eyes flicked over to where Goldberg and Joy are just now separating.  “Looks like she’s stepping out on you then.”  He tried to point with his eyes, but the way the big angry football player held him limited his motions.

“What the fuck did you just say?”  Teague’s eyes bulged out at the man dangling in his hand.  “You know I’ve been told today that I have an anger management problem.  They think I’m the same out of control street punk that came in last year, getting in trouble and shit, but you know what I say?  I say I’m being really fucking understanding here.”  He shook Mr. Aye by the throat and said, “Do I look like someone with an anger management problem?  I should kick your ass into paste, but I’m not.  You know what I’m going to do?”

“Urk.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not totally sure either.  But I am resisting the urge to throw you off this fucking balcony.  It’s not even a thing.”  Teague looked at Mr. Aye for a long moment.  “You familiar with the concept of Karma, mother fucker?  It means that if I do what I want to do and beat the ever-living crap from you, that I put a black mark on my own soul or som’thin’ like that.  But you see, Karma also says that you get what’s coming to you in the end.  Maybe not today, but some day, the bad man pays.

“Now here’s the deal.  You… are a Fucker.  A bad man.  You shot my girlfriend with your pea shooter and you ruined a perfectly good shirt.  It’s pretty well established that your karma here is pretty dirty.  You have some shit coming your way some day and some time, hanging over you like… like a fucking thing that hangs over you until it falls and wrecks your day.  But you know what?  I have the will and the means to help you out with that.  Right now.  You can pay right now instead of having it over your head, waiting to take you.  So, what do you say?  I’m feeling like being an agent of Karma.  How’s about we lighten that load you’re carrying around with you?”

“Merp!” the big man squeeked with nothing but his toes lightly tapping the ground.

“Great!  I thought we could work this out.  Now here’s the deal.  I’m going to punch you, but not in anger.  This is Karma for you and for me, an equalizing of the scales.  So I’mma hit you just once, but believe it…  I’m going to make it count.  You fucking deserve that.”  He reached back his enormous arm and said, “Say hello to karma, ya asshole!”

 

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

 

From where Carl waited in the car he could see the punch, hear the wet, meaty slap it made and feel himself cringe at the result.  No stranger to fights, Carl had an expectation of what a punch should look like.  This one seemed all wrong.  When a fist hits someone’s face, there is always an interplay between the two objects, a negotiation of breaking strength and kinetic energy, not that he’d think of it that way.  In other words, even at its most lopsided, the face gave a little back to the fist, either by slowing it or diverting the blow.  None of this happened here.  The fist just plowed forward toward a point three inches past the plane of Mr. Aye’s face and came back out.  Carl could see the mercenaries head snap back, but it wasn’t enough, especially since the big black man’s other hand held Mr. Aye’s throat steady.  It was brutal and quick, like a piece of machinery stamping out a hole in sheet metal.  And when it was over, the black man simply dropped Mr. Aye and walked away.  No rubbing of knuckles or massaging of forearms.

“Holly fucking crap!”  Carl started the tan sedan and hopped up the curb with a loud scrape.  Mr. Aye lay like a pile of meat.  He carefully drove past the wooden benches and concrete planters that lined the balcony and rolled to a stop next to him.  A practiced hand threw the car into park as he popped the door open and stepped out.  The guy that had thrown the sickening punch was walking away and Carl had no desire to get his attention.  He walked around the car and opened the door to the back seat.

Once again, he had to get an unresponsive Mr. Aye into the car.  This time he didn’t even try to be gentile and instead relied on leverage.  He unrumpled the big man’s body and rested his face against the seat cushion.  Putting Mr. Aye’s ass on his shoulder, Carl pushed against a concrete planter with all his might, causing Aye’s body to fold and scoot across the back seat.  His face provided the foothold for this action and it both scraped along the seat and supported his whole weight.  Soon enough, the meaty body was in the back of the car and Carl slammed the door.  “You’re welcome, you comatose piece of shit.  You’d better not be dead.”

The Strange – Episode 28 – A lot to Learn

[Author’s note: Sorry for the wait – again.  Lots of life issues plus a lot of anxiety about this particular episode has not been a great combination.  I’m also now dropping it when people are least likely to be reading, so I’ve farked this along numerous vectors.

How’d you like, arguably, the first time the team went into action together?  Not exactly the X-men, eh?

I know I say this every time, but if you like what you are reading here, please spread the word.  Voting for me on top web fiction is extremely useful, as are likes and follows.

The story is getting a lot more actiony as the gloves come off, so hold on to your hat.  I’ll try not to have such a long pause between episodes again.

Thanks for reading and Stay Weird.

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 26 – The Eyes That Seek

Carl slowly opened the door to The Pen, trying hard not to open it too slowly, or too fast, or to do anything that might give any indication that he was anything but normal and definitely not being a spy.  The sharp scrape of the bottom of the door on the concrete outside turned every head in the bar towards him and people squinted to pick his features out of his silhouette.

“Sorry!”  He said weakly as he pulled the door free with an equally deafening squeal.  Finally inside the dim, close confines of the bar, Carl looked for the most logical thing to do.  He ducked his hands in his pockets and joined the back of the line of people waiting to be served at the counter.

From this vantage point, he scanned the crowd.  Students mingled with Alumni and the odd family with older children occupied the tables.  Over in a booth sat Goldberg.  There was no mistaking him. He was the only person still wearing sunglasses in the dim room, much less red tinted ones.  He didn’t look a thing like the picture they had in the paper, Carl thought.  Maybe money really does change people overnight.  He had an entourage, that seemed new.

Carl turned back to face the line, to see the cashier and the person in line in front of him both staring at him.   The line had moved on while he was casing the place and had left him standing alone.  Now it was his turn.  “Uh, hi.  I just…”

He shuffled up to the bar and tried to act natural.  “What do you have on draft?”

The cashier looked at the two tap handles not a foot from Carl’s nose.  “You mean aside from Bright Beer?  Nothing.  No bottles either.”

“I’ll have a Bright then.”  Carl smiled nervously causing the boy behind the counter to look at him twice.

“I’ll need to see some ID, Sir.”

Carl jumped in his skin.  The way the boy said it gave him a bad flashback to the last time he was arrested.  It wasn’t like he was trying to be stealth or anything.  Do you give out your drivers license when you are being stealth?  And anyway, he was pretty sure it was in the car.

Composing himself, Carl said.  “Never mind then, I’ll have a cola.”

“Sure thing.”  The boy lifted a red plastic cup from a stack and handed it to him.

Carl thought it was some kind of joke.  The two stood staring each other down, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  After a pregnant moment, the cashier lifted his eyebrows and looked of to the side.  Only then did Carl notice that he was practically leaning on a self serve soda fountain.   “Oh.  Yeah.”

“Buck Fifty.”

Carl fished into his pocket and pulled out a five, thankful to be done with this transaction.  He shifted over to the soda fountain and filled up his cola.  Again, he turned to scan the room.  Goldberg was talking in a group with one of the largest people he’d ever seen in person, bigger even than Mr. Aye.  The other kid was at that table, facing away from the door and there was someone small sitting next to him, across from Goldberg.  Using his deduction, he assumed that there was at least one other person who was in the party, but not currently at the table due to the large man being in a chair at the end of the table rather than at the fourth logical spot in the booth.

“Hey BUDDY!”  The bartender yelled.  Drawing everyone’s attention.  “Hey, you, in the skinny tie!  You forgot your change!”

Suddenly all eyes were on Carl again, sitting by himself at a table in the middle of the room.  He slowly stood up.  Turned and walked over to the kid behind the counter, who was holding out three dollar bills and two quarters.

Carl slowly slipped the currency from the kid’s hand and said, “Thank you.”

When he turned around again, most people had gone back to what they were doing.  He couldn’t tell about Goldberg, though.  Those damned glasses made it impossible to tell what he was looking at, and he was no longer talking, just sitting. The longer Carl sat, the more Goldberg’s eyeless gaze bored into his soul.

 

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

 

Goldberg wasn’t thinking of anything.   Still way too stoned to focus, he’d let his mind wander as Molly and Dan told Teague the story of the morning.  He was over the weirdness for now and was simply enjoying how the caffeine sharpened the blurry edges of his considerable buzz.

Teague looked at the three people in the booth with wide eyes. He looked from face to face and then he smiled wide. “You all had me going there for a sec. Pushed it a little too far, though, so I call bullshit.”

“Well, you did ask what was up.”

He leaned in and grabbed some nacho. “Shoulda know better.”

“Believe what you want, man,” Goldberg said, coming back to the moment. “So, they got you on two a days now?”

“Yeah, was… Long story.  New Coach is a hard ass. Said I was tackling too hard in our contact drills this morning. Gotta talk to him later.”

“But the team’s looking good?” Dan asked.

“Yeah, got a really good feeling about this year, even with the … recent injury problem.  Anyhow, we got this new set of plays that should keep people from teeing up on our backfield so much.  We were a little too pass happy last year, but they put in a trap package.  Should make D ends think twice.”

“Trap?”

“Well, yeah.  It’s a blocking thing, but it’s based upon Sun Tsu, you know, The art of war.”

“War?”  Molly burst out. “Football’s just a game.”  The boys all looked at one another, aghast.  “What?”

“So, where are you from again?” Dan asked.

“Connecticut,” she said, getting defensive.

They all grinned and Dan explained.  “Well, yeah.  You see, this is the South East.  Second only to Texas or Ohio maybe in how seriously people take football.  It’s not a game, it’s THE game.”

“Yeah,” Goldberg put in.  “Even I know what’s going on with the hometown team and I’m as nerdy as they get.  So is it top secret or something or can you tell us about this wrinkle.”

“Actually, it’s not secret at all.  We want people to know we’re practicing it.  The philosophy is… well, it’s like this.  It’s conventional to think in black and whites, yin and yang, right?  Can’t help it.  But with a trap, you flip that on its head.  Consider that there are just two sides, one has the ball and the other doesn’t, but aside from that the game is a struggle to push the line, right?  Well the power of the Offense is that they have the one thing everyone wants.”

“The ball,” Goldberg breathed.

“Exactly.  Without the ball, you got jack.  So, people will flow toward the ball, especially at the line of scrimmage.  So, you use that.  Flash the ball.  Play defense with it, defend the ball.  Make them the aggressors and over-pursue.  Make them go where you want them to go, then set up blocking to make sure they stay there.  Use their over pursuit against them.”

“Ok, so fine, what’s the pay out?” Dan asked.

Teague smiled. “Well, first off, if we do it right, it strangles the rush, sweeping them either into the middle or ripping a hole with a pulling guard for the running back.  Since you make the back wait a second, they can bounce out or use the hole to get to the second level.  Hopefully your happy four yards per down.  The second thing is that it looks like a pass play for long enough for the secondary to stay home and for linebackers to think about coverage.  Unless they bite huge, then it’s all up to your back to either be where they won’t be or for the QB to see it and throw against weak coverage down field.”

“You’re being sneaky.”

“No, we’re being smart.  We only have to use it once against someone and burn them good to plant the seed.  It won’t always work.  It’s not your high percentage bread and butter, but it doesn’t have to.  It only has to work once.”  He put up his huge index finger for emphasis.  “And having it in our pocket loosens up everything else that one little bit.”  Teague sat back and looked at the table.

“When does the season start?”  Molly asked.

“Season never ends, girl, but we play our first game last week in August.”

“Yeah, and let me tell you that first game is a sweat bowl,” Dan said, leering at Molly.

“So, what are you boys talking about?” Joy and Sarah walked over, Sarah putting an arm on Teague’s shoulder as Joy slid into the booth.

“Football, death, and explosives.” Dan said.

“It’s a regular Michael Bay movie in this booth.”

Teague tilted his head up to her.  “Nerd boy here is trying to convince me that he was in that building that had the gas leak this morning.”

“Where did you hear it was a Gas thing, Teague?”

“The news. Radio was on when we hit the showers and they covered it.  Had a press conference and everything.  The Mayor said something about upgrading our infrastructure.”

Goldberg looked at Molly.  “Did your kitchen use gas?”

“No, but it looked like it used to.”

“What are you thinking?” Joy asked Goldberg.

“I think I smell a rat.”

Sarah said, “Paranoid much, Nerd boy?”

“You weren’t at Bill’s place.  I don’t need my little bird to tell me that there was more there than meets the eye.  Besides, I would have smelled the gas, I was right there in the kitchen.  I told you guys I would need to investigate this personally.  I was given these abilities for a reason.”

“You mean, you really…” Teague’s eyes went wide again.

Joy nodded.  “Yep. Only good thing to come out of it is that it burnt off a lot of that hippie mop he’d been holding on to.  It’s crazy but true.”

“Well I still think you boys smoke way too much grass, man,” Teague said. “That shit poisons the mind. Plus, I bet you haven’t seen the inside of a gym since you graduated PE in high school.  Put down the bong and pick up some weights and your mind will clear.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that for a smart guy, you are buying your own press.  That’s why I never read any part of a newspaper I am liable to be in.  You are looking at that frontpage piece on your supposed luck and letting it mix with that drug addled brain of yours.  You may have been lucky, but that doesn’t make you superhero man.  Cooperate with the authorities.”

Dan looked at Goldberg.  “Makes sense to me, dude.  Told you that all along.”

“Yeah, but, I never even read that article.  And I did cooperate with the authorities and either they blew me off or… well hell, I don’t know what they are doing.  I gave them a lead, what else do they need?  And Dan, you were there with the dart gun guy.”

Dan’s voice went far away.  “Oh yeah.”

“And, no.  I’m not paranoid.  Look, if they are looking into leads, I’m a damned lead.  Maybe that’s why people are coming out of the fucking bushes at me.”

“So, go to the cops again if you are concerned,” Sarah said.

“Ah, I see you’ve been briefed.  No.  That’s not right either.  They would have just called me back, not send some dart throwing maniac after me.  Dan had his phone on him the whole time.  No.  Maybe there is some other player involved. …Unless they are about to come and pick me up for murder or arson or both…  Fuck!  I can’t go to the cops.  They think I’m a criminal.  I’m sure of it.”

“Well of course you are a criminal.”  Teague said.

They all went stone silent and looked at him.

“Hey man, don’t look at me like that.  Nerd boy’s a doper.  In my old neighborhood that’s a criminal, at least where the cops are concerned.  I know you all are more cosmopolitan and white about it and all, but that is against the law.  The man could come by and pop you whenever he feels like it, they just don’t.”

“I’m sorry, Teague, but that’s hardly helpful,” Joy said.

“It isn’t?  Perspective man.  You are no more a criminal now than you were this morning. It’s just that you have information that someone, the man, the… other man who ever that is… You have what they want.”

“Yeah, but what?” Sarah asked.

“Oh!” Joy reached into her bag and produced the wooden ball puzzle.  “This.”

“Hey!  You got it!”  Goldberg reached over and took the ball from her outstretched hand.

“Yeah.  Here.”

Goldberg started to press the ball in places and quickly had it shedding pieces.  “Did the police wonder why you wanted it?”

“Oh, we managed to take it without them noticing.  Seemed prudent.”

“Good,” Goldberg said as some of the last pieces fell away, leaving just a small square of plastic about the size of his thumbnail.

“What is it?” Molly asked, straining for a look.

Goldberg held up the small data chip and said, “A clue, hopefully.”  He looked at the home buyers guide which glowed faintly to him with possibilities. “And maybe a way out.”

 

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

 

“You are a regular James fucking bond you are,” Mr. Aye spat along with a mist of dark blood.

“Well, he’s in there.  I counted four at his table with a spot for at least one more.  Might have been in the john.”

“You were in there ten minutes.”

“Maybe they were pushing out a duce, ok?”  Carl was still pissed and agitated from going into that bar with the target and being out here with the recently re-bandaged Mr. Aye held little respite.  “All I know is people tend to sit in booths if the space is available not fucking drag an extra table over for the hell of it.”

“Oh, so now you are Sherlock Holmes?”

“Hey, why are you fucking with me?  I got your intel.  I did what you asked.  This is not my fucking job to be doing this.  I’m a god damned driver.”

“And you forgot my cola.”

“And I forgot your cola.  Fuck!”

Mr. Aye let the whole thing sit for a moment while looking over the area from the concrete balcony before spitting out, “prick. Thirsty.”

The two squinted into the concrete plaza below, letting the hot wind blow past them.

“I’m going to go find a coke machine just to shut you up!”

“Fuck it.”  Mr. Aye said in a tone that made it an order.  “Wait in the car.  This might be the best vantage point, but I’m going to need to be mobile on the hop, and that means you.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I’m gonna separate him from his group.  Like a wounded buffalo”

“You have a plan?”  Carl nearly bounced out of his shoes with tension as Mr. Aye remained hard as ice.

“We’re beyond plans,” he said, more to himself than to Carl.  The bandage on his nose hid the deepening of his scowl. “I’m going to trust my gut.”

The Strange – Episode 27 – Take Your Best Shot

[Author’s note: Well… Day job. Sorry about the wait.  Please keep spreading the word and I’ll try to be more prompt.  And Stay Weird.

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 25 – Come Together – Part 2

In the back seat of the sedan, Mr. Aye found where the pieces of his body had been jarred loose by the frat boys and hurriedly cobbled them together.

The big man could now feel his legs, his spine had started working again and his face, though swollen, was roughly the same as it should be.  Whereas he could have been described as meaty before, now, he felt more like a pile of meat.

He knew he had at least a couple of broken ribs and he had thought that he had been kicked in the back hard enough to not want to be kicked that hard in the back any more. Even so, he was starting to feel strong enough to try to turn around and at least lie facing upwards.

The effort was fantastic and at one point he had to settle for being half way, on his side.  The uncomfortable feeling of things sloshing around in his torso, as if nothing was anchored down properly, convinced him to hurry up and get on his back.

Again, he could feel things moving around, but decided it was just a combination of his imagination, having his bell rung, and lack of sleep.  The doughnuts he had that morning while taking the reconnaissance pictures outside the Collectors house probably didn’t help, either.  Was that really just this morning?  And now it’s the afternoon.  The sun at a slight angle…  When he looked up, though his swollen eyelids, the sight through the car’s window conflicted with the picture in his mind.

“Carl!”  It came out as a wet slap, making Carl jump.

“Jesus!  Scared the shit out of me.”

“Where do you think you are going?”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to base.  I thought I was going to be dumping your fucking body in the swamp!”

“I told you to turn around and find a place to get a coke.”

“Which would have been odd last words, for sure.”

Mr. Aye ignored all pain and pulled himself to a sitting position.  Outside he found that they were driving out in the campus’s agriculture plots, near the hospital and almost completely off campus.  He reached back and hit Carl hard in the ear with his open right hand.

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

The desk stared back at Clive Brace.  His report was done.  He’d gone before the reporters and delivered his findings.  He came back and had been collating what little information he’d gotten out of the investigation.  His mind reeled from the whiplash of it all.  Blank.  Nothing stuck.  Things just didn’t fall together.

“Go home, Slick.”

Brace lifted his head to see Commissioner Painter standing at his desk, baseball hat on and briefcase in hand.  At least he’d changed out of his jogging shorts. The words carried the weight of an order and came from someone who was more than comfortable giving them.

“Yeah.  I will.  I’ve got some things to finish up here.”

“No you don’t.  Clive, you’ve been on since six.  You did fine work today and we’re done.  Put a bow on it and kill it under a pint or two.”

Clive smirked.  “Don’t drink, sir.”

“What?  Why the hell not?  Religion?”

He shrugged and sat back in his chair.  “Never took to it.  And yeah, I know… but I just didn’t.”

“So what do you do to relax?”

“Read mostly.”

Painter gave him a sideways glance and shrugged.  “Do that then.  This place isn’t like Miami, Slick.  We don’t live the job here and we don’t let the cases camp out in the head space, especially when they are done.  I only got three detectives, Brace.  I can’t have you wearing yourself out chasing ghosts or burning my budget on overtime.”

The chair under Detective Brace seemed to sink a little as he looked at his boss.  The thing that bothered him came into horrible focus.  In his mind, a replay of a conversation he’d had in a Miami break room came up, the one that led to the Inspector General’s investigation and his transfer.

He made a conscious effort to keep his blank expression as he probed Painter’s eyes.  “You know, we may just get some leads from that press conference.  Brine gave me a bunch of shit for even mentioning the tip line number.”

“Yeah, well Brine is right.  People are scared, scared people jump at their own shadows and call us to bring them a flashlight and hold their hand.  Still, knowing the Sargent, he was probably a dick about it.”  Clive knew a smirk was expected, so he smirked, his poker face gliding over his suspicions.  “So don’t worry about it.  Penington is detective on duty now.”

“I just want to clean my desk off before I leave.  Put a bow on it, as you say.”

“Good.  I’ll see you on Monday, slick.”

“Yeah.  Have a good day sir.”

The old coffee was stale and shook as Clive brought it to his lips. Bitterness slapped him as he hoped it would and his hand was steady resting the mug back on the desk.

Code fifty three fourteen.  Clive knew it well.  He knew that a detective could not be forced to leave a case within two days or if there were active leads without proper hand off.  An anti-corruption clause from the days of the old south.  Penington would close the case on orders the minute he clocked out.  Clive was certain of it.

He was on the clock.  Time to get going.

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

The Car skidded to a stop, stuttering and smoking.  It drifted off to the right and came to rest rubbing a curb.

Carl got out of the car in a panic, not completely understanding what had just happened.  His hand was up to his ear and when he looked at it, he saw the blood, his blood, coming out.  Two more steps and vertigo forced him to one knee.

Behind him, a door opened.  Mr. Aye swiveled out in a single motion and reared up to his full height and girth.  He looked like he has been hit by several cars, but none of this surface damage was evident in his stance or his gait as he walked over to a now cowering Carl.

Mr. Aye’s shadow fell across the driver.  “I said East, fucker.”  The voice was low, loud and crackled with blood.  “We are on the hunt, man.  You don’t give up on a hot lead because of a little boo boo.  What the fuck is the matter with you.”

“You were dead.  I saw you.  You weren’t breathing.”

“Don’t care.  You follow my orders.  If you do anything else against my orders,”  He bent down to get right into Carl’s face.  “You won’t like it.”

Carl got his nerve back.  “I don’t fucking like it now.  Why can’t you drive yourself, you big asshole?”

The skinny man braced for another blow, but Mr. Aye backed off a bit.  “There are things I will need for you to do for me, like drive, like go into places I can’t go looking like this.  I’ve been spotted by our prey, you have not.  We will require more cunning and stealth at this juncture.”

“Hah!” Carl said “Big man needs me!”

“I didn’t say I needed you, just someone who isn’t me.  Your importance is defined by me now.”  He turned around and opened the door to the back seat.  “Let that sink in.”

Carl got to his feet and swerved back to the car.  “Sink this, mother fucker!” he mumbled. “We get done, we’re going to resume this little trip to the swamp and you get to meet my friends for dinner.”  He opened the driver’s side door with more force than was necessary and flung himself behind the wheel.

“So, we’re going to go get a coke.”

Mr. Aye nodded, looking around the back seat.  “Yes, and hopefully, a smile.”

 

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

Joy followed Sarah up the hallway to the bathroom, but raised an eyebrow as she took a turn and headed through the exit door instead.  Beyond the door, lay a cinder block hallway lined with emergency lights.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Joy said.  “And what’s with all the cloak and dagger?”

Sarah whirled, her black and purple hair umbrella-ing out in recognition of centrifugal force.  “The thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m going crazy, so hang with me.”

“Oooooh, Kaaaaayyyy”  Her eyes grew wide.  “So what.  What’s up?”

“Have you been having thoughts that seem a little off.  Maybe like they aren’t yours or don’t have anything to do with what you are currently doing?”

“Maybe a little.  I kept on thinking about how the apartment needs tidying up, getting a coffee.  But honestly this day…”

“Well, let me tell you about the thoughts I’ve been having.  I’ve been thinking about going and visiting a bombed out building with some freshman girl I’ve never met before.  Picking up a ball shaped thinger… Oh yeah, getting wasted first thing in the morning before that.  Going and reading some absolutely horrendous stories.  I’ve even got a list and a synopsis I wrote down as proof.  Then I wrap it up by coming here.  Sound familiar?”

“So what are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that ever since the bomb blast thing this morning I’ve been… um…”  She closed her mouth and said into Joy’s mind ‘… hearing your insipid internal dialog.’

“Holly Shit!”

“Yeah.  I’ve been trying to get you to shut up too, but apparently you haven’t been getting the hint.”

Together they sighed and said “This is not cool.”

“You know, if you try, you can shut it out a little,” Sarah said.  “I have tried focusing on what I’m doing and that pushed the impression of what you are doing into the background.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want you looking over my shoulder at all. But why is this happening?”

“You tell me.  It’s your boyfriend that goes into burning buildings and the like.”

Joy opened her mouth, breathed in as if to speak, but then shook her head.

“Yeah, it is like something out of a stupid comic book.”

Rounding on Sarah, Joy snapped. “Hey! Stop reading my mind.”

“I wish I could, but you are leaving it too open for me. Keep your damned thoughts to yourself.”

Joy looked at her twin. “Nice hair.  Did you somehow do this?”

“No.  Goes with the territory I guess.”

They both asked each other. “Read anyone else’s mind?”

“Guess not,” They both said, dropping their chins in identical movements.

“So what do we tell and to whom?” Joy asked.

“Well Teague won’t like it.”

“No shit.  Teague doesn’t do weird.”

Sarah scowled.  “I was referring to how attached he is to me and his general love of privacy. This is going to be threatening to him.”

“And don’t forget weird. Ok, fine. But I think we tell Goldberg.”

“Why?”

Joy turned back toward the main part of the bar but stayed in the hall.  “Well, two reasons, First he’s got his own thing going on with that whole ‘Lucky as hell’ act he’s working on.”

“And the other?”

Joy looked over her shoulder and said, “He’ll figure it out anyway and may already know.  Come on.  Time to rejoin the party.  We’ll catch up tonight if not… you know… sooner.”

The Strange – Episode 26 – The Eyes That Seek

[Author’s note: This section was quite short for me so I didn’t feel good about having everyone wait a whole week for it.  I’m also testing the ability of WordPress to schedule releases so I can build up a buffer and get more consistent with the updates.  I figured this would be a good dry run.

Again, votes on Top Web Fiction are hugely useful for helping spread the word about the story.  Likes and comments in wordpress are also very helpful within the population of wordpressers.  I always feel a bit needy asking for word of mouth, but nothing happens without a request, eh?

So I hope you enjoyed our little interlude here.  I’ll be back next wednesday with more, if not sooner.

Stay Weird

-SC]

 

 

The Strange – Episode 24 – Come Together – Part 1

Carl drove the car down Frat row trying to find where Mr. Aye had gone.

“Big fucker has got to be around here somewhere. What was he thinking, tearing off like that?  And he says I’m an asshole.”

The street was lined with the huge houses for the fraternities.

“Wow, this takes me back a ways, I tell you. I remember that one year I had, pledging. Too bad I couldn’t stay. Grades and all that. I’d have moved into the house the next year if I’d a been able to stay.  Damned ROTC!  Flunk a couple of classes and you’re in the fucking army!  This, though… this is awesome! All the organization of the military, but with the sole purpose of scoring with chicks.” He drove up to where a group of boys, all with the same hat, were huddling. “You see? That’s organization.”

He looked into what they were doing and realized what was happening. “Holy shit!  That’s Mr. Aye!”

Bloodied and beaten with new welts on his face, Mr. Aye lay in a blob on the grass.  As Carl swerved the car up to where he was, the boys had become disinterested and drifted back to their house.

Carl got out and rounded the car.  Mr. Aye hadn’t moved.  When he touched the big mercenary, his back felt soft, like a bag of broken parts.  Fighting squeamishness, he pushed at his back, trying to wake him.

“Aye. Hey you big fat fuck, wake up.”  he squatted near the unconscious man. “Man, you really are stupid, you know that? Some big Mercenary you are, can’t even take out a couple of geeks. You know, I thought that when they assigned me to work with you that I’d see some really next level merc shit, maybe get into the bigger leagues than driving a truck for Loveless, but now that I look at you, you ain’t nothin’ special. Just some asshooo!!”

Aye’s arm shot up and grabbed him by his shirt while the rest of him stayed as still as the dead.  Carl’s extended “o” extended even further in shock as Aye turned his head mechanically, not bothering to lift himself up off of the turf. Only once the head was turned did he open his eyes and when he did, his eyes were soulless.

“Ooooooooo!” Carl continued, having lost control of his verbal faculties to fear.

Mr. Aye arched his back awkwardly and pulled himself up by Carl’s shirt.  The soulless eyes still staring at the scrawny driver as his other hand flopped into a position under his body.

“Get me into the car.” he said.  A bubble of blood came up where the bandage on his nose had been punched off by a drunk frat boy.  Blood now started to flow from the lesions the boys had made on his face, giving him the look of a candle that had been put out to melt.

For his part, Carl ran out of air, and his “o” finally stopped. Mr. Aye repeated. “Get me into the car.” and the lean man nodded. He half carried, half dragged Mr. Aye the few feet to the brown sedan, then dropped him while he fumbled for the door. Aye made a wet thunk sound as he hit the grass and made no effort to catch himself. Carl felt bad about that and took a step to help, but Aye was already flat on the turf. He jerked back to what he was doing and opened the passenger’s side rear door.  The door swatted Mr. Aye on the top of the head, making a new gash on his scalp.  While Carl winced, Mr. Aye stayed motionless with his face in the dirt.  “In the car” Mr. Aye said, sounding angry and muffled by the grass.  Carl straddled the man’s back and put his arms under his armpits.  Mr. Aye did not move, but merely accepted this, even as Carl trotted quickly with his feet, dragging him.  Once they got to the car, Carl’s form of carrying didn’t give Mr. Aye the necessary clearance and their forward motion mushed the large man’s face into the side of the rear seat’s cushion.  “Higher” he said, his voice muffled.

Carl regrouped and pulled him up from the side, kicking at the grass and pushing at Mr. Aye’s chest with his back. The large man fell into the foot well with his head resting unnaturally on the transmission tunnel. To get better leverage, Carl went around to the other side and opened the door.  He could now grab Mr. Aye by the jacket and pull him in, but with Aye being just dead weight, it wasn’t’ going to be easy on anyone.  As Mr. Aye’s face dragged across the bottom of the foot well, he left large crimson streaks.  Finally, he was in enough and Carl backed up.  It looked like he had a dead body in the car.  To belie that vision, Mr. Aye’s cushion side arm wriggled itself free and tried to pull himself up.

“Ah, good.  Finally helping out, you big bastard.  I thought I’d be on disposal duty here in a second.”  With that he slammed the door shut.

With the recent movement, Mr. Aye’s head just barely was in the way, so the slamming door jarred him and made a wet thudding sound.  By the time the skinny man had started the car, Mr. Aye had rolled up onto the rear seat and proceeded to bleed into the cushions.

“So boss, where to?”

Carl didn’t think Mr. Aye was in a position to answer, but he his wet voice asked, “Where is the nearest place to get a soda?”

Carl thought and blew out a breath.  “On campus. Summer. Weekend. Pretty much everything is closed.  Except the Pen.   …The bar at Student Union.”

“Which way?”

“East of here.  Up the hill.”

“Go there.”

“You get beat to a pulp and you want a coke?”

“No.  I want to kill someone.”  His lips rose. “Someone with cotton mouth.”

Carl looked in the rear view just in time to see Mr. Aye fall over and stop breathing.

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

Goldberg wished he’d brought his bike all the way to the woods.  As it was, they were hoofing it.  The bikes would have just gotten in the way and anyway, the ride up the hill wasn’t nearly as fun as the ride down, especially not stoned.  Though a solid plan, Goldberg still wanted his bike.

The heat made his sneakers feel melted against the pavement and the softness made them squish just a bit.  The feel of it echoed inside Goldberg’s buzz, dredging up unwelcome thoughts of his completely fucked up morning. The whole episode with the guy and the tranquilizer dart was now like something he saw on TV, but was not actually a part of.  Likewise, the whole thing with Bill being dead and his house being destroyed had a plastic feel of unreality to it.  This always happened when Goldberg physically exerted himself while stoned. His life became TV, or like he was an alien riding around in the head of a big human shaped space ship. So, there he was, a meat-based giant robot trudging through the sticky heat of this alien planet for refueling on coffee and nachos. That idea put a smile on his face. Even if the alien inside had questions and problems, the Pen made some good nachos.

Glancing back at Dan, he noticed more than the normal amount of redness in his eyes. “Hey dude, you look like hell. Do you have sunglasses?”

“Nah. Fuck it.”  Dan waved his hand trying to move as little as possible.  “Someone wants to know if I’m stoned, let them know. I’m not proud.”

“Yeah, you and proud parted ways some time ago.”

“Just like you and… Ah crap, I can’t think of anything.”

“Dead Joke!”

“More like a zombie, it was walking around and didn’t know it had already died. I need a coke.”

“We’re going to a bar and you are getting a coke?”  Goldberg smirked.  “Who are you and what did you do with my friend?”

“Eh, It’s close enough to bed time that I’m going to start to slide. What time is it, like two?”

“Just about.”

“Good enough.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to go to work tomorrow.”

Dan grimaced.  “Thanks for reminding me, ass clown.”

“Sorry. But hey, at least you got me!”  Goldberg grinned wide.

“You supporting me big boy? My mom always said I’d make a good wife someday.”

“Really? your mom knew you were playing for the other team way back then?”

“Fuck you.”

“Hey man, I’m cool with it. Just keep it out of our bathroom.”

“So does that mean I can have homo butt sex in the living room?”

“Only if you wipe up the eventual spill.”

“Over the line!”  Dan protested.  “That’s just foul.”

“Considering we’re talking about your love life, anything short of foul would miss the target.”

“Well not all of us can bag a hottie like Joy. Then again, she does have a twin. Maybe I can saddle up to Sarah.”

“In your dreams. First off, she’s taken.  And she likes the athletic types.”

“I’m athletic!  Did you see the jumps I got on that guy with the dart gun? Tell me that wasn’t athletic.”

Goldberg frowned. “That was unreal. Dude, when did you learn to jump like that?”

“I don’t know. It just seemed the thing to do, you know?  It was cool though, felt all ninja!”

Again he frowned. He did know. That’s exactly how he had felt when he finally made good his escape inside Bill’s house. Though he knew it was remarkable, it seemed the right thing to do at the time. Natural.

His thoughts were interrupted as he took the left into the drive to the Student Union. Just before turning off, he saw a slight girl with straight red hair walking blankly down the street coming from the Natural History Museum. He wondered what could have happened to the girl to give her that look.

From inside his head, his power responded to the query.  ‘Insufficient data.  And with everything going on, you bother to ask me about some random stranger?’

‘When did you get so snarky?’

‘I’m you.  And for a full answer, it appears that person, from her physical state recently suffered a fall and trauma, though not enough to significantly wound.’

‘Well good for her.  And I have to ask, are you stoned?  I mean, I’m baked!’

‘Apparently the drugs do not affect the parts of the brain responsible for your power, leaving me to contemplate and continue to reflexively act to keep you from minor misfortune.’

‘That’s damned handy.’

‘Yes, but you still need to watch where you are going.’

Goldberg glanced off a light post and stumbled making Dan burst out in laughter.

“Dude!  You ok?  You looked so surprised like…”  A look of utter astonishment passed Dan’s face before he resumed his laughter.

“Yeah.  Just not paying attention.  I need coffee.”

Wiping his face Dan said, “I guess.”

They passed by the bikes, all alone on the rack, and walked to the unassuming doors to The Pen.

 

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

The two men crammed themselves into the tiny car, turned it on, and silently drove off on electric power.

“I am so not over having to drive a god-damned golf cart.  Wouldn’t be so bad if it had at least a little air conditioning.”

“Well,” Delgado tried to sound encouraging. “At least it’s not like we are battling LA traffic in it.”

Belatran scowled and stopped just a little too fast at a stop sign.

“So we’ve been rebuffed.  Belatran, what does that mean?”

“It means we adapt.”

Belatran manipulated the silver box like a lump of clay and said without looking up.  “And we have to hurry up and get your upgrades on line.  Get your memories in place.”

“Wait.  Memories?”

“Yeah.  Especially because that fuck Nixon apparently wiped out our mandate.  Though you have powers.  Not powers, so much as enhanced human abilities… senses, but you don’t know how to use them.  In order to fix that, there is a guide book of sorts in your head.  Or there will be when things click in.  Memories of people who knew how these things worked.  Get the memories and you will too.  There’s also history.  Past cases because they are often relevant.”

Belatran shot a glance at Delgado, who was still having trouble focusing his gaze.  “So.  What do I do?”

“Sleep.  Helps to sort out the memories and tune the body.  Right now, you’re a mess.  We’re pressed for time, but things can wait and I need to think without you jabbering.  So just see if you can…”  Belatran looked over at Delgado, who already had his chin in his chest. “… nap.”

 

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

The inside of The Pen was low and dark, even with the few windows looking out to the empty patio.  Dark wood on the walls and ceiling sucked all the light out of the room and gave it the earthy feeling of a cave.  Except Caves didn’t smell like a beer bong.

A counter stretched across the remainder of the wall that held the front door.  It was this configuration that conspired to give Goldberg and Dan a weird vibes as they walked in.  Everyone in the line looked over at them. The noonday sun flowed in from the open door and lit their faces in a pale white of reflected concrete.  To a man, these were the new summer admittance students, so their unease with lunch away from mom and dad still haunted their faces, especially since this bar was currently their only option without venturing off campus and into the strange, wider world.  They were refuges, lining up for their life sustaining nachos and cokes.  To Goldberg, it was like feeding time at a prison camp.  Though they were happy to be fed, none had the slightest idea what lay ahead.

As the door closed, the mob in front of the counter retreated into the shadows and Goldberg regained equilibrium.  He stepped awkwardly around the line, secretly hoping he didn’t just betray how utterly he had just lost his shit.

“Jesus,” Goldberg said as he slid into line.  “Did you see that when we walked in?  That was fucked up, man.”

An incredulous smirk raised the corner of Dan’s mouth.  “What are you, some sort of blasted amateur?  You never stare down the public, even if they are a pack of washed-out freshman zombies.”

“So you did see that.”

“Dude, you are so baked.  Besides, how can you even see things being washed out with those Glasses?”

“It’s all about contrast.  You get used to the color and interpret.”

Dan flicked a hand.  “If you say so.”  He took a quick look around.  “Speaking of light, it seems way brighter in here than I remember.”

“Maybe they cleaned.  Besides, when was the last time you were in here?”

“Early spring semester.  Remember when I was having time with… uh…”

“I believe her name was Ronda.”

“Yeah.  Ronda.”

“What ever happened to her?”

“She dumped me.  Thought I was just using her.”

“Well?”

Dan shrugged.  “Observant girl.  Whatever, she had really nice knockers!”

“As I recall, she was more than a little on the plush side as well.”

“What are you trying to say here, pal?”

“That you are an opportunistic poon-hound, and possibly a chubby chaser.”

“Yeah, whatever.  The world is just full of opportunities then, isn’t it.  Speaking of which, I think that’s Joy over there.  I’ll fly if you buy.”

“Cool, get me some nachos, a coffee and a salad….  And a coke I can swim in.  Here.”  he handed over two twenty dollar bills.  “And don’t sponge my change, ya bastard.”

“Hey, would I cheat you?”

Goldberg smirked. “Only if I were wearing a dress.”

 

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

Joy smiled when she noticed him coming over to the table.  “So, have fun in the forest?  Did you leave nothing but footprints and braincells?”

He slid into a chair and stuck up his chin.  “I’ll have you know that my braincells are all present, accounted for, and having a good time.”

“I’ll say.”

Goldberg scanned the scene.  “Jesus, would you look at this place?”

“What?”

“Well, it’s funny.  It’s like… bar-light.”

“Not exactly Dirty Fanny’s is it?”

“You have been to Fanny’s?”

Joy feigned incredulity. “I’m amused and slightly insulted that you think of me as being above slumming it.”

“You just seem to have more sense than… well, me… is all.”

“Ha!  I can assure you, I make sure I’m current with all my shots before such adventures.”

“Yeah, but this place… sure you can get booze, but the place is so…”

“Tame?”

“It’s like one of those recreations you see at a theme park.”  He puffed up like a tour guide.  “And here on your right we have a early twenty-first century bar.  Note the DVD jukebox, beer taps, and distracting flat screens ensuring that you can completely ignore your friends while they ignore you.  Now if you step this way…to… futureland!”

“You know, if you didn’t want to come here we could have just met for dinner or something.”

“No, I… It’s just weird.  I mean, I wonder how many times I’ve been here.  A good couple dozen.  Mostly with students for a token appearance that the teacher is not a grading machine or worse some vindictive prick.”

“Don’t sell yourself short or anything tiger.”  she smiled.

“Yeah, well, check out the people here.  Only three types.  Alumni in unfashionable shorts, Parents thinking of sending their kids here, and the kids.  Where do we fit into that?  Where do I?”

“You will always be a kid.”

“Yeah, but it’s been a few years since I sat for my last degree, my recent interview with Rodger outstanding.”  He gestured at a table of gray haired men in polo shirts.  “I’m one of them.”

“You are not, Goldberg!  You’re a teacher.  A professional.  You took your students here as a bonding exercise because you are more them than the aged frat-boy club over there.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.  And I guess it’s scratching at my brain that Bill was often with us at those things.”  He looked down at the faux wood grain and added, “Now he’s dead.  How is it that I’ve almost forgotten about that?”

“Oh Goldberg you can’t think that way.  You haven’t forgotten.  It’s not like you haven’t been busy, or trying!  You did tell the cops all you know.”

“Yeah, but I can’t help but think it’s far from done.  Some jerk off came after Dan and I after we were done toking up!”

“Campus cops?  I told you that was foolhardy.”

“No, it was… you know I’m not sure what the hell that was, but it wasn’t a campus cop.  Campus cops don’t shoot darts at you.”

“Darts?”

“Yeah.  Totally bizzare.”

Molly came over to the table from the direction of the bathroom.  “What about darts?”

Goldberg noticed a power related shine about the booklets she had in her hands and said “Ah nothing.  What do you have there?”

“I’ve got to find a new rental, I guess. They had a couple of stacks of these over by that weird quarter operated phone.”

“It’s called a payphone and it’s from a time when people didn’t have phones bolted to their asses.  Anything interesting?” He asked as the power told him of multiple possibilities in that book.

Her eyes lit up.  “Plenty!  My mom was a realtor, so I just love looking through these things. Unfortunately, on my budget I can only afford a no-bedroom piece of shit.  My last place was the only one bedroom I could find and… it’s currently off the market.”  She shook her head.  “I’m starting to come to peace with it.”

“Ah.  Good.  So, but you said you found something.”

“Well, I picked up this homes guide while I was at it and there are some really interesting properties here.  And really cheap, too!  Did you know that the city is providing assistance for people to do renovations to historic properties?”

“I think I heard something about that.”

“Totally!  You can pick up a lot of real estate for a SONG if you have a working plan to spruce it up.  I mean, check out some of these homes!”

Goldberg took the book and started to leaf through it when Dan arrived.

“Ok, Ok, Clear a space.  We got Nachos we got wings, we got coffee…”

“Uh!  Coffee?” Joy wrinkled up her nose.

“Who drinks Coffee on a day like today?  At lunch?” Molly asked.

“And with nachos!”

Dan put the mug in front of Goldberg who just noticed the girls looking at him with disgust.  “What?”

“That’s pretty foul, tiger.”

Smiling, Dan said, “Bad crack kitty!”

“No, really, what’s the big deal?  After bonging it up in the woods, I gotta keep my edge sharp lest I get sleepy.”

“You hadn’t possibly thought to take one less toke, now did you?”

Goldberg looked genuinely perplexed.  “Well why would I want to do that?”

Joy rolled her eyes and picked up a wing with her long fingers.  She dissected it into long strips of sauce-covered meat before grabbing the whole concoction and dipping it into the blue cheese sauce.

Goldberg looked again at the homes magazine.  His power highlighted a connection between the business card stapled to it and himself.  He reached over and ripped it off, reading it.  “Hey Dan!  Check out who’s hawking real estate!”

“I wondered where that guy went!” Dan grinned. “Didn’t we score a quarter pound from him back in the day?”

“Nice to know he went legit.  I hear he got married with kids and all.”

“Who?” Joy asked.

Goldberg showed her the business card.  “Virgil Filtcher, aka ‘the Ack!’ for his horrible habit of getting drunkenly sick at parties.”

“Oh, that guy?  I remember him.  He threw up on my shoes once.  Selling houses, eh?  That just doesn’t seem unremarkable somehow.”

“Yeah.  Weird how that kind of thing fits,” Dan said.

When the door opened, Joy looked up.  Two figures, one massive and the other slender, stood silhouetted against the noontime sun.  Joy raised an eyebrow.  Once the door closed and the normal weak light of The Pen returned, the slight figure’s hair betrayed a very familiar shade of purple streaks.

Sarah slid across the room with Teague in tow, striding directly up to the booth.  “Hey Sis!”

“Hey.” Joy replied.  “Nice hair.”

“I could say the same for you.”

Dan motioned to an empty table with two chairs.  “Grab a pull in, I think we can get away with end-in’ it.”

“Uh, yeah.”  Joy struggled.  “Molly, Dan, this is Sarah, obviously my sister, and her boyfriend…”

“Teague London!”  Dan burst in.  “Last year’s Freshman wonderkid!  How’s it going?”  Dan put up a hand.

With a smile, Teague returned the high five.  “‘S good,” he said in a baritone rumble.

“And you guys know Goldberg.”

“Hey Sarah, Teague.”

“’Sup nerd boy.  Heard you got lucky.”  Joy started to blush but then he added, “What cha gonna to do with all that money?”

“Oh!  Yeah, that.  I’m really not sure yet.  What you see here is my first major purchase, actually.  Dig in.”

“Thanks.  Yeah, didn’t get a chance to eat.  Kinda got sidetracked.”

Giving Goldberg a little shove Joy said, “I’ve got to wash my hands.”  He got up just as Teague was moving over two chairs for himself and Sarah.  Standing together, the similarities between the two were even more striking.  Identical didn’t even begin to say it.  They even moved the same.

As if to accentuate the effect, the two of them turned and said, “We’ll be right back” at the same time.  Goldberg fell back into the booth as Teague looked at him, Molly, and Dan.

The situation was awkward.  While Teague was a local celebrity of sorts, his real tie to the group had just left.  His unique position on a chair outside the booth accentuated that fact.

Molly was fascinated.  “So, uh, Teague… How do you know Goldberg?”

“Nerd boy here helped me get through pre-calc last year.  So what’s up with the hair and the glasses?”

“He’s in disguise,” Molly said, grinning.

“Been a rough morning,” Goldberg added, sipping his coffee.

Teague broke into a grin and said, “So what’s been going on?”

All three considered the question for a beat too long. It was Molly who finally said.  “Well, should we tell him?”

The Strange – Episode 25 – Come Together – Part 2

[Author’s note:  Hi.  This one is a little long and the next is going to be a little short.  I’ve been able to hit 3k or so words with updates pretty consistently, but I didn’t want to break the scene.  And hey!  It took 24 episodes, but everyone is finally in one place pretty much.  It really has been a very full morning.

Please, if you like the story so far, please tell people about it and vote for it in top web fiction.  It really helps to draw in people looking for a story.  Also, if you are a wordpress person, likes, comments and follows also help get the story recommended to people wandering through their readers.

So that’s it.  I hope you are enjoying the story.  If you like something a little darker, you can check out the story I just posted in Liquid Wax called Idle Hands: The New Girl.  I’m still deciding if I’m going to Hell after I’m done with this story of The Strange.  Let me know what you think.

Stay Weird

-SC]

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]

 

The Strange – Episode 22 – In the Weeds – Part 1

Dan led the way as he and Goldberg wandered through the woods behind one of the newer dorms.  The natural environment made even the unreal heat and humidity tolerable.  Civilization had not yet reached this part of campus. It made a kind of sense because this is the edge of civilization where the fraternities lie and people hack sack.

“It’s fucked up.  I can’t get a signal in the house, but my phone works just fine out here.”  Dan flashed Goldberg his phone which looked like a cross between a deck of cards and a jellybean.

“You should turn that thing off on principle,” Goldberg said. “We’re here on purpose to get lost.”

“Ah yeah.  Memories of freshman year.  What?  Has it really been this long? years?” Finding a grassy place near a shallow pond, they sat and Dan got out a doobie.

“Yep, I can’t believe we’re still here.”

“Well I can’t believe you won the damned lottery and moving out.  Lost my job and my roommate all in one day!”

Goldberg pushed the grass away from the hem of his shorts.  “Who said I was moving anywhere?  And are you going to light that thing or just play with it?”

Dan looked slightly hurt.  “I’m fixing it.”

“You make joints like… I don’t know… a grandma or something.”

Flame sparked from Dan’s lighter and he said, “How do you know grandma is a spaz?  Maybe she’s a reefer freak and has had decades of practice.”

“You’ve obviously never met *my* grandma.” Goldberg grabbed the newly lit joint from Dan and toked.

Dan blew out his smoke and said, “You forget, I *have* met your grandma.  Nice lady.  So, you’re rich now, huh.”

“I guess so,” Goldberg croaked, holding in his smoke.

“Bummer.  I mean, it’s great for you and all, I guess.  But I suppose you won’t be hanging out anymore.”

With a huge cloud, he said, “What makes you say that?”

“Well.  You’ve got Bank now.  Everyone knows you have Bank.  That makes you different, a target.”  He took another toke.  “Don’t get me wrong, you’re still nerd boy to me.”

Goldberg took the joint back and said, “Thanks.  Hey, why are we still passing this thing like it’s gold if I’m so ‘bank’ why don’t we both just have our own, like cigarettes.”

“Waste not want not, dude.  Anyway, to other people, you’ll instantly be ‘that guy’ and either they will want to manipulate you for your cash or prove their street cred by dissing you or something.  Money does fucked up things to people, dude.”

“But I will still be hanging out,” Goldberg said, trying to mask the question.

“Oh sure.  But it will be uncomfortable.  Gradually you will find some place that is comfortable, but it won’t be with us lowlifes and working stiffs.  Nah, you will find people who also have money and so aren’t afraid of someone who has money or have something to prove to them and you’ll go golfing or some shit.  Whatever rich people do.”

Goldberg took a huge toke off the joint and then handed it back to Dan.  Still holding his breath he croaked, “I fucking hate golf.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because you’re a spaz.”

He blew out white smoke and said, “And I liked hanging out.”

“Yeah, well, you will be missed.”

Dan took a drag and stared off into the distance.  The humming insects mourned the loss of Goldberg.

“But that’s just bullshit, man!  I’m still the same guy I was yesterday!”

“It’s the nature of change, dude.”  He blew out and added, “You win the big game and all of a sudden you are getting your ass blown up in a house.  You already got yourself a freeloader.”

“What, Molly?”

“Yeah.  You see, this shit happens quick.”

“She’s hardly a hanger on,”  He said, taking the dwindling joint and trying not to whine.  Goldberg looked at it, letting the words and his feelings swarm around, mix within his power and his developing buzz.  “And anyway, you are clearly fucking with me.  I see how people might now look at me different and all, but it’s not like I got canned or anything!  I still have my job and all.”

“Thanks for reminding me, dick.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.  But you see!  How is me having cash any different than your losing your job?  They are both changes in state!”

“You know what, Joy’s right.  You suck with people.”

Goldberg took his toke and handed the joint over.  “Ah, and Joy.  Now there’s a good piece of luck.”

“Well you’ve been getting lucky all over the place, haven’t you?”

With a thought, the power within Goldberg swarmed up to tie all the recent occurrences together and was displeased by the match.  “On second thought, Joy was not luck.  That was my own innate charm.”

“I stand by my previous statement. you suck with people.”

“Yeah well…”  he let the comment die.  The vision from the power within him showed him the probable movements of the long blades of grass along the water’s edge.  “Look, aside from higher quality weed, I’m not inclined to change my state because of money of all things, nor am I playing fucking golf.  Sure I may make some upgrades here and there, but on the whole, I’m not intending to change a thing.  I like my life.  I liked it fine yesterday and it’s still fine today.”  He took a huge toke on the joint and handed it off.  “I am not going to change!”

“Cool.  You still need a roommate?”

“Sure, know anyone who isn’t an asshole?”  Goldberg smiled.

“You really are a jackass, dude, and I get first pick at the bedrooms this time.”

“We gotta find digs first.  Now are you going to hit that or are you just going to bogart all day.”

Goldberg and Dan fogged their brains while the heat baked them even in the shade.  Unnoticed, Dan’s phone happily continued to report in to the network.  Every few seconds, it gave its position relative to the nearest cell phone tower, its GPS hit and its status as ready to take a call.

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

“So, Joy, why do you teach English?”

Joy dropped the paper she was reading to regard Molly.  She had, for the first time today, a bright questioning look of true curiosity.  For a moment, she had the weird feeling that she was baby-sitting and that Molly was the annoying toddler that was walking in on her making out with her boyfriend.

She blinked away the vision and concentrated on answering the question.  “I suppose it’s for the love of words.  There is so much power in communication, which means the study of English.  Even when we are talking to one another it’s by using the same constructs critical to written communication.”

Molly blinked.  “Yeah, but what power do words have?  I mean, yeah, you can report news or make a speech or something, but it’s not like creative writing actually helps to do anything practical.”

“That is a supposition and you are supposing that all one learns in creative writing is how to write personal essays and stories, the verbal equivalent of mere trinkets and baubles.”  Her face opened, but her eyes remained hooded.  “Now, I agree with you on that.  The personal essay is the literary equivalent of junk food, easily produced, just as readily consumed and completely devoid of nourishment.  Valueless tripe in the form of social networking.”  She tilted her head.  “I think I might have picked that up from Stephen King or someone a little better known and practiced than myself.  Anyway, stories wind up being just that little bit better than the personal essay in that at least the author makes the attempt to build his world rather than ranting about whatever it is that has gotten their undies to ride up.”

Molly let out a giggle at this comment as Joy pressed on.

“But consider this.  Creative writing encourages the author to become more practiced at lies.  What is the value to society of our ability to lie?”

Molly recoiled.  “None.  Lies are bad!”

“Oh really?”  Joy’s lips curled into an evil smile.  “Anyone ever told you ‘It’ll be alright.  Those people who were mean to you, they suck.  They will get what’s coming to them eventually.'”

“Sure.”

“And that made you feel better, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Well, they were full of crap.  It was a lie.  Now does knowing that make you feel worse, having been separated from the situation?”

Molly looked around the room and frowned.  “No, I don’t think so.”

“Because with the distance you can look at the thing with more objectivity.  That little piece of bullshit wasn’t such a big deal.  You got momentary comfort and were able to get on with your life and gain that distance that made things not quite so bad.”

“I still say lies are bad.  It hides what is actually true.”

“Well then consider this, which is the most interesting part of written language.   Someone tells you a long, large story about something dangerous, say a war or something heartbreaking like losing a child.  In the hands of a skilled liar, you feel every emotion, every pain and horror.  It makes you think of your own mortality.  Makes you examine how you would react and tells you things about yourself you wouldn’t have known had you not experienced that stress.  But the great thing is, once you close the cover on the book, or page, or turn off the TV and get out of your seat at the theater, you are safe and sound, returned to your carefully planned life.”

Mouth agape, Molly sat hanging on Joy’s words.

“That right there is the power of English.  That is the result of creative writing.  It allows you to actually live another life.”

“And that’s why you teach English?”

“That’s why I started.  Now it’s for the salary and the benefits.  I mean, hell.  You should see the number of days off I get!  Plus, my students are a hoot, even if they can’t write for a damn when they come in and aren’t much better going out.”

“That seems pretty cynical.”

Joy waved her hand.  “Cost of getting older. It’s ether this or get a real job and let true cynicism seep in.  At least this way I’ve got time to write when I choose.”

“So, you’ve written books?”

“I wrote one.  Everyone hatted it.  Even as I was working on the sequel, everyone said I should be working on chick lit because ‘genre fiction is the realm of pimply-faced youth and nerds that haven’t left their mother’s basements.’  I can’t stand Chick lit.  Strong and bitchy or weak and weepy, the heroine is always a thinly veiled approximation of the writer, oftentimes a writer themselves, and a weird wish fulfillment manuscript in long form.  Now I do literary reviews and editing professionally and try not to be bitter about it.”  She went back to her reading and said, “Those who can’t do, teach.  Besides, writing is a time-consuming pain in my sweet backside.  Doesn’t pay anything either.  I’d be better off working at Blunderbuss, slinging espresso.”

Molly nodded.  “You are really not helping me with my search for a major.”

“Thank my inner muse, Molly.  He’s a mean jackass.”

She winced.  “I noticed.”

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

Sahara leaned over the table, and rested her chin on the cool surface.  The Cap of the pen she had brought with her was square and she now stared at how the pen stood on end.  Her mind was blank.  That didn’t mean, however, that it was empty.  She picked up the pen and wrote in her notebook.

“Paul Gauchaux – kid with too many characters in his name to have only two syllables and too many words in his assignment that didn’t fit. He should get a C for completing the letter of the assignment in an absence of spirit.”

This was one of many notes she had written down since retrieving her coffee.  People she’d never met and assignments she’d never laid eyes on.  It was as if writing it down was a way to make real something that was clearly false, like she was writing fiction, Joy’s usual shtick.  From her more sociological point of view, her native point of view, she appreciated the irony that in this aspect, she now knew what it was like to be Joy.

She sipped down her drink as Luxury Automobile continued to play over the crowd.  He was quite good.  She’d seen him around town plenty of times, but this is the only time she’d ever actually listened to him play.  He had a voice that was like a honey lemon drop and he used it to punch out notes and words from the air.  His guitar work was loose and fluid, not always on the beat, but close enough and more in tune with the phrasing of the song.  It was above standard busk fare, and well done.  By the look of him, Sarah guessed he didn’t have much else to do but practice.

Her phone buzzed against her thigh, giving her the false feeling of heat.  She left the pen to stand on end and fished in her pocket.  “Hey baby!  Aren’t you supposed to be…”

Her face flashed concern.  “The hospital?  Are you…?”

“Oh Teague, that’s awful. …  No, of course I’m not still … ok, maybe I’m a little mad about this morning still, but what … So what does that mean?”

She stared off into the cafe for a long moment listening to Teague.  “So you’re waiting.  Look, don’t just sit and stew about this.  Why don’t I come over there and we can walk down to meet Joy for lunch, you can still go right?…  And what did I tell you about stewing?  Your dorm room among the jocks is the last place you need to be right now.”

The phone chattered and she smiled.  “Of course I’m smarter than you baby, that’s because I’m awesome.  I’ll be there and maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll set up another surprise for you!”

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

“You are shitting me.  This is the car?”  The three men looked down at the tiny car that was as wide as it was long, and it wasn’t very wide.  It was white and shiney with red accents, making it look like a child’s toy.

“Yep.  And actually it’s brand spanking new.  Prob’ly not more than three months old by now.”

“It being new isn’t the point.”

Delgado cupped his hand on the window and inspected the interior.  Looking at the two over the car’s red and white top he said, “You know, Belatran, I don’t think I can fit in that thing.  I mean, really.”

“Oh them seats go all the way back.”

Belatran fixed the man with a hard look.  “Where’s the trunk?”

“Yeah man,” he shook his head. “There ain’t no trunk.”

“What’s my other option?”

“Ain’t none.  Walkin I guess.  You want a car from us, this is it.  And we’re the one car place that didn’t shut fer the summer.”

“What the hell!”  Beletran shook the printed receipt in his fist.  “Why did the web site say I could have a car?”

“You can.  Tomorrow.  We don’t do no nine hour turn around here during the summer.  Nobody here!  We get those things in as a special request and have them driven up from Orlando.  Shoot, you are lucky I’m here myself!  No flights in today.  We were closed.  I was just using the tools in the garage and heard you ring the bell.”

“So, this is your car?”

“Oh hell no.  Owners kid’s. Mine’s the fastback GTO in the garage.  Kid was grounded for smoking weed so it’s been put in the lot to keep it away from him.”

“Awesome.  So how do you work this go cart?”

“Well, it has an electric motor and a gas backup if you run out of juice.  You can just plug it into a wall.  Charges up overnight or run it and it charges in… well… It charges.  Not sure how well it does though.  It’s pretty new.”

Delgado sat in the passengers’ seat and pushed the seat all the way back.  “Woah.  This thing is freaking weird.”

“It’s this or walk?”

“I could call you a cab.  Damned few of those though.  It’s summer and…”

“… Nobody here.”  Belatran took a last look at the baking and empty parking lot and asked, “You take a check?”

“Nope.”

 

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

 

Mr. Aye quietly stalked through the woods, looking for his prey.  He was uncomfortable in the glare and brightness of the day, but at least here, there were no other people.  Or cats.  He held up the GPS locator that was tuned to the phone’s number and scanned the tame wilderness while occasionally looking at the map.

He neared a clearing and squatted in a thick of reeds at the edge.  He found he was looking at Goldberg’s exposed back some thirty meters distant from a slight side angle, Mr. Aye listened for any distraction at all and found none.

With only the slightest click he freed his semi-automatic pistol from his shoulder holster and leveled it.  There was nothing at all that would stop him now.

“Dude!” Carl did his best quiet-walk up to Mr. Aye’s perch.

The large man put his hand back, giving the sign for him to freeze and shut up, but Carl ignored it and crouched in the blind.

“Dude, you took the wrong gun.  Here’s the dart gun.  Capture.  We are supposed to capture him.”

The white of Mr. Aye’s eyes were blood red and fixed on him.  Anger poured out of that stare and into Carl’s soul making him say, “Dude?”

“Right.  Capture.”  Mr. Aye put the gun away.  “Now if you are done fucking up my stalk?”

The young thug’s eyes flicked through the scraggly brush and saw Goldberg and Dan toking on the small stream’s bank.  “Oh yeah,” he whispered.  “I’ll wait at the car.”

Mr. Aye nodded and aimed the tranquilizer pistol at the two.  Two shots one second. Goldberg first, then his loser friend.

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