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]

Idle Hands – Episode 3 –The New Girl – Part 3

[Author’s note: This is the last of three parts and will likely not make much sense without parts one and two]

Mitch set up two drinks at the bar for Sal and Dee Dee.  The bar was deserted this late on a Monday, so he was cleaning glasses and listening in for the entertainment value.

“Hi, Sal!  I’m really glad you could meet me so we could go over this.”  Dee Dee took a sip of her Virgin Bloody Mary.

Sal felt both nervous and ungrateful.  “Yeah.  You know, I don’t want to do that job.  It just seems, and no offence to you, but it seems sort of … cruel.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.  But we do want to see you out working and getting paid, so let’s see what we can do”

She opened up her lap top and pulled up the ever-changing job opportunities board.  Putting in ‘Accountant’, she was dismayed by the choices.

Beaming a plastic smile only slightly too wide for her face she said, “Ok, I want to emphasize that we one hundred percent guarantee that you will get these jobs.”

“It’s that bad a list, eh?  Well, let’s hear it.”

“We have a foreclosure specialist.”

“Keep moving.  I’m not taking away houses”

“Tax auctioneer.  Ah, here’s one!  An auditor for child protective services.  I hear that they have great Benefits!”

She beamed her too-wide smile at him, which freaked him out.

“Oh, uh, you know what?  If this is at the top of the list, we should just stop.”

“But, I’ve got a few more openings!”

“Stop,” he commanded in a quiet tone.

She started to lose her composure and gave him a glaring stare. “Look, I’m sure I can find a job that is good enough for you and your… particular tastes.  You have no idea what placing you means to me.”

“I’m sure these are fine jobs.  I’m just not so… I can’t check my heart at home.  I’m sure others can, but that’s not me.  Really, these kinds of things, selling people’s homes and taking away their babies, that kind of thing keeps you up nights.  I don’t think I’d be good at it, either.”

She glared at him with blue sparks in her eyes before finally saying “Fine! But can you please just finish out the week?  I have other candidates for the job, but I need a bit of time to transition them in.  And I really want to try to get you another job.”

“Sure, I guess.  As long as I can give notice tomorrow.  I don’t want to cause you any grief or anything, I just want out.  I can stay until Friday.  But after that… I don’t know.  These are pretty much all non-starters.”

“Yeah.  Good.”  She got up and stomped to the back of the bar, barely able to control her mounting anger. “I’ve got to go take a wiz.”

Mitch leaned over the bar after she was gone. “Man, What a bitch.  Bet she pees standing.”

“She’s just doing a crappy job, Mitch.  I can sympathize.”

“That’s your problem, Sallie.  You are too nice.”

“Well, I’d rather have that problem than be a bastard.”

Both men turned to the back of the bar as a feedback scream of frustration grew louder and more intense.  Suddenly, the wall at the back of the bar blew open as if a bomb had gone off.  Shrapnel and plaster flew out into the table area near the bar.

“Oh my god!  That girl!  She was in there!”  Sal walked toward the exploded rubble and was about to call after Dee Dee when a large, silver hand shot out and grabbed his neck.  Through the dust, a huge, shock-laden smile stretched across the hole.

Mitch threw a bottle of vodka at the monster in a panic.  It burst into flame on contact with the demon’s sparking skin.  In its surprise, the monster dropped Sal and both men ran for their lives.

“What was that?” Mitch yelled as they scrambled in to the haze of the night.

Sal looked back.  “I don’t know, but Dee Dee!…”

“Don’t even think!” the young man said, breathing hard.  He came to an exhausted stop in a nearby alley.  “Ain’t Nothing you can do, Sallie.”

“Yeah, poor girl.”  Sal walked over and slumped against the brick wall.  He looked back at the now smoking bar, rubbed his throat, and tried hard to make sense of what just happened.

“Who are you calling ‘poor’?”  A voice from farther in the alley startled the men.  Dee Dee appeared from the shadows, dirty but seemingly alive.

“Hey Lady!  You OK?  We thought…”

“Well you thought wrong,” she snapped.  “Look, we need the Police or the army or something here.  Some kind of monster.  Can you call for help?”

Sal looked at his phone.  “Strange, no.  My cell phone is dead.”

Dee Dee walked up to Mitch and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Why don’t you find a pay phone or something and call the cops?”  Her words dripped with fake sweetness.

“Why me?” he shrieked.

“Because Sal’s old, I’m a frightened little girl, and it’s your bar that’s on fire.  Now go!”  She pushed him into the street and he sprinted off into the night.  She smiled a smile that was uncomfortably wide and said softly, “Besides, Sal and I need to have a little chat.”

She turned around and faced Sal.  Her hand went to her hip and she tapped her foot.  The light from the street poured over her shoulder into the dark alley. All Sal could see was her clearly annoyed outline.

“Do you know how hot it is in hell?  I mean really?  You people think that this summer heat wave is hot, but where I used to work, now that was hot!”

Sal looked at her outline and couldn’t comprehend what he was hearing.  “Wha… HUH?”

“Oh, come on, Sal.”  She spoke sweetly but he could now see her spark-filled eyes in the dark, recessed shadow of her head. “You don’t think I’d go through all of this trouble just for a commission, do you?  You see, you are my ticket to a job working on the earth.  There are certain… fringe benefits… that I really like about working here.  The weather is just the beginning.”

She began to walk slowly towards Sal.  He could see the outline of her legs beneath her skirt suit.  They walked toward him in a smooth, sexy fashion, one leg slightly crossing the other.  But when her feet hit the pavement there was a crunching sound.  It was as if the pavement was complaining about having to support her.  Her smile, which was always a little freaky, now stretched to the very bottoms of her ears and her teeth shot sparks at each other.

“You!  You are the monster from the bar!” Sal started to back away from the woman who seemed to grow taller and less human with each passing step.

“Duh!”  Her voice now had a hint of the feedback-scream. “You really aren’t that smart, Sal. But since you brilliantly figured that out, I’m going to give you one last chance.”

Dee Dee’s right hand stretched out, becoming huge and metallic with sparks arcing between the fingers.  Her thin arms became long flexible.  The hand grew as it came toward him, fingers stretching out like knives. It snatched him up off the ground. “Take the job.  Any job. I really don’t care.” The hand made a cage around him and dragged him close.  “I’ll pay you a ridiculous amount of money.  I’ll send your kids to college.  Hell, I’ll even suck your putrid dick. Just take the job.  It really does mean quite a lot to me, Sal.”

His thin hair stood on end and he cried out in terror. “Ah!  Ah!  So, what if I still don’t take the job?”

“Well, that’s easy.”  Her huge mouth curled at the ends in a perversion of a smile. “Do that and I go back to plan ‘A’ and kill you.  Not as advantageous, I’ll admit, but it will make me feel better about going back home.”

Her spark-filled eyes gleamed as she held him above the ground in a strong, vice-like grasp.  She opened her mouth wide and he screamed “Oh God!”

“Not quite.  The boy-scouts stay out of our little game.”  It was a new voice, a man with the hint of a smile under his voice.  Dark red smoke filled the alley.  One rope of smoke formed around the arm that held Sal.  As he watched, it became a pair of sheers which closed and severed the hand that held him.  An inhuman scream erupted from Dee Dee as she turned around to try to find the source of this attack.

Sal dropped to the ground, still in the hand’s unyielding grasp. He kicked at the metallic fingers. They wouldn’t budge, but they no longer squeezed or sparked.  Whatever happened next, he was helpless to do anything but watch.

Dee Dee twirled around as the smoke quickly gathered in one place.  She shrank down to her human form as sparks re-grew her missing hand.  Clutching her wounded forearm, she looked at the man who formed from the billow of red smoke.  His suit was impeccable, and though it was a dark night, he wore yellow-reflective sunglasses.  With his blood red suit, black shit and black tie, he looked like a pimp or a rock star.

The wounded woman looked at him.  “Fuck!  You know how much that hurts, you dick?”

“Dee Dee!  Is that any way to talk to your Boss?  And here I thought we were becoming friends!”

“Friends, my ass!  You stuck me with a self-righteous loser that doesn’t want to work for shit.”

“So, you attack him?” He clasped his hands in front and looked at the ground.  “I suppose you might call that a bargaining technique, but I had asked you not to abuse the clients.  In fact, it’s a dismissible offense.”

Dee Dee snarled. “You won’t do that!  I’ve got the man himself backing me and that trumps your bullshit rules any day.”

He moved around and talked to the air, gesturing with his hands.  “You know, you’re right.  The Big D likes you and he really wants you to fit in and learn the ropes here.  Quite frankly, that is enough to overcome some infractions of the code of conduct.”

Dee Dee’s grin was spark-filled, wild and six inches too long for her face.  “Good, so fuck off!”

The man in the suit walked calmly with his hands clasped behind his back. “On the other hand, your employment was contingent on the successful placement of a certain ‘self-righteous loser’ for a period of five weeks.  And it seems to me that our little test is not exactly going well.”

Her crazy smile started to droop at the corners.  “We were dealing with that when you showed up and fucked it up.  Go back to playing your little games, doomed man.”

“Well, you see, it’s my duty to follow up with our clients and placement employees to gauge their satisfaction.  So, excuse me while I talk to our friend here.”

“What? Wait!”

He quickly became a cloud of smoke and swarmed around Dee Dee.  Re-forming on the other side, he walked over to Sal, still trapped in Dee Dee’s severed hand “Hi!  I’m here to enquire about your satisfaction with our placement services.  Do you have a second, or is this not a good time?”  He smiled a genuine smile which confused Sal all the more.

“What?”  The prone man was wide-eyed in disbelief.

“I’d like to know if you are happy with our placement services.  So, tell me, do you feel that you are in a position where all the elements are in place for you to succeed?”

“Huh?  No!  The job’s a nightmare.” Sal saw Dee Dee approach the man from behind, growing in height, strength and power as she did. He struggled furiously against the constraining, severed metal hand.  “Get me out of here!”

“This is stupid.  I’m being railroaded.” Dee Dee powered up her right hand to swipe at both the struggling Sal and his interrogator.  Her hand came across like a crane boom with talons, but smoke quickly formed around both men and hardened into a curved wall.  Her blow glanced off the wall, throwing her off balance.

The structure dissipated into smoke as quickly as it had formed.  From that smoke, the man in his sharp dark-red suit and tie emerged and walked towards Dee Dee.  She was quickly regaining her composure and was readying for another strike.  He raised his hand.  “That’s enough.”  The smoke rushed at Dee Dee.  She swiped at it with both spark-filled hands but to no avail.  A brick-red crust started to form around her wrists. Once it was thick enough to hold her, it pulled her arms behind her back.

“What the hell do you think you are doing!” She shouted.  Her mouth grew bigger and the sparks that made up her teeth arced out like crazy lightning.  Her voice boomed like thunder.  “LET ME GO!”

With his hand still raised, the man in the suit now pointed a finger and a large, constrictive gag went over her mouth.  He materialized a binder with the Idle Hands logo on the cover and calmly flipped through it as he strolled up to her.  “You see?”  He showed her a page in the book.  “Paragraph 4 of the agreement you signed.  ‘Third party satisfaction surveys are routinely conducted two weeks after an initial placement and every month after.’  You aren’t being railroaded.  It’s in your contract.  Plus, check out paragraph 7.  I can use whatever means necessary to carry out my survey.  You really should have read through the employee handbook instead of just blazing through to the signature page.  Your loss.  So, I’m not going to let you go.  You are interfering with my evaluation.” He snapped the binder closed and it instantly turned into red smoke.  “So, hang out while I finish this satisfaction survey.  Who needs a spell book when you can have an employee handbook?”

Dee Dee glared at him with sparking eyes and fought against her bonds as soon as he turned back to Sal.  “Sorry for the interruption.  So, where were we?  Ah yes. You had problems with your current placement.  Did you bring them up with your Idle Hands representative?”

“Yeah, I called.”  Sal looked down at the now disembodied and immobile, giant, metal hand that held him.  “Hey, can you do something about this?  It’s really uncomfortable.”

“Oh, of course.  How rude of me.”  Smoke swirled around the confining metal cocoon and it slowly relaxed its grip on the middle-aged accountant.  “So, what happened next?”

“What happened next is she tried to kill me.”  Sal dusted himself off and looked at the man.  Fire from the bar lit him from the side, the flams making jumpy patterns on the brick wall behind him.  And those mirrored shades held the flame. “I looked over the jobs she had and I didn’t want any of them.  She lured us out here, got me alone, and threatened to kill me if I didn’t take a job.”

“You know, we have strict rules about that sort of thing.”

Sal shot an angry look at Dee Dee.  The fire dancing off of the shining metal facets of her demonic form.  “I’d hope so.  And why am I not scared?  I should be terrified of you two, but I’m not.”

“Oh, I find I have a calming influence when I get involved in HR matters.  And on that point, are you sure I can’t place you anywhere?  Based upon your experience here at Idle Hands, with Ms. Dee Dee, you are sure you want to sever your relationship here?”

Sal nodded and said, “Absolutely.”  The word carried forever, as if it had broken some sort of spell.

Dee Dee fought wildly against her restraints and finally managed to slip free.  She used this free hand to tear free the gag that held her mouth shut.  “This guy is full of shit.  You set me up!”

“You can think what you want Dee Dee, but he just quit, your contingency came up and now…”  He grinned an evil grin that seemed right at home on his face. “I believe that you are dismissed.”

Dee Dee screamed a feedback scream of utter contempt as she lunged at the two men.  As she attacked, a great burst of hellfire surrounded her.  She continued to reach for Sal even as she burned.  The hellfire yanked her back down to the pit just in time as her lunge stopped just short.   Screaming an awful metallic scream, she was sucked back into hell.

The fire went out in seconds, leaving no trace of ever having been in the alley.  Sal looked at the mysterious man who had saved him and tried to think of something to say.  He finally settled on “Thanks … I think.”

“Don’t mention it.  I’m just doing my job.”

“And what exactly is that?  I have a strong suspicion that I’m not going to remember any of this so you may as well tell me the truth.”  He tried to look the man in the eye but was blocked by his sunglasses.  “I’m right about that, aren’t I?  People don’t just have this kind of thing happen to them and get to tell about it.  You’d have heard.”

“Yeah, Sal, you aren’t going to remember anything odd about me or Dee Dee.  You’ll get paid well … extremely well … for your hours and I’ll make sure there is a bonus in there for you, because…”  He paused and faced Sal.  The man was middle aged, rumpled, and defeated by life, yet he had an air of dignity. He’d never given in to the struggle.  “Because I like you, Sal.  I deal with people all day … and they are assholes.  They just suck, but you … you have done me a favor by just giving a damn and being a good guy.  If I have one true gift of my own it’s to be able to size a guy up and know what he’s good for.  I saw you and knew you’d be able to do this for me because you are fundamentally decent.  And while you were doing that, I have done you an insulting disservice.  Think of the bonus as my way of saying sorry, you deserve better.”

“Well, that’s kind of you.  Thanks again. Money isn’t everything, but it does buy some nice stuff.”

The man chuckled behind his glasses.  “Yes, it does.”

“But I’m troubled.  You seem nice and all to me, but the things you are doing… you and that… whatever that was … They aren’t very nice, are they?” They walked out of the alley and into the stuffy night.  Mitch’s bar was now fully on fire and the two could see him wandering around outside.

“I’d like to say you don’t have the right of it.  But, you see, we didn’t come up with the postings.”

Sal stopped walking, which made the man stop as well.  “But you fill them.”

The fire from the bar lit the man’s face and glinted in his yellow-mirrored sunglasses.  “Sal, the world is a place that is filled with horrible consequences and even worse random shit-storms.  You didn’t deserve unemployment.  That Barron shit kid doesn’t deserve to fuck supermodels.  And no one deserves to be on the receiving end of a screwing, but life is risk.  That foreclosure job?  How do you know those people reached for the ring and came up short?  Actions, consequences, free will.  For instance, no one is forced to work at Idle Hands, not even me.”

“Or me.  This… I’m probably still in shock, to be this calm …”  A throaty woosh came from the bar as something inside of it gave way.  “… but really, I just want to forget all of this.”

“Yeah.  I can do that for you.  Kinda have to.”  The man avoided Sal’s gaze. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“But how do I know that I’m now done, that you won’t test me again or use me as a pawn?  Can I get your assurance that I’ll never be messed with by you or your people again?  Can you give me that?”

The man smiled.  “I give you my word and my promise.”  He raised his hand and said “We are done.”  A small puff of smoke blew out of both of Sal’s ears.  He stared blankly for a while and turned to help Mitch, having forgotten all about his dealings with Idle Hands.

“And Heaven forbid, Sal, that I would ever tell a lie!”  He chuckled, and in the street the echo of his laughter lingered.  The haunting sound stewed in the sweltering heat of the summer night, becoming one with the sound of the burning bar and the approaching sirens.  Real flames now poured out of the broken windows. And the man in the red suit, slowly turning to smoke, joined with them and drifted away.

[Author’s final note:  Sorry for leaving you hanging over the weekend.  I’m still not sure about the final edit on the last bit, but either I left it alone for a week or shoved it out on stage now with cue cards.  Hope it’s not too hackneyed.

And here again I’ll ask you for likes, to tell your friends and random people on the street about the story and the site.  Also, if you like Idle Hands, Maybe you’d like my main ongoing, “The Strange” which has a much slower burn than this, but is starting to tighten the screws.  I’m not advertizing and my social media ability is kinda crap, so word of mouth would be absolutely huge for me and help me justify continuing to write stories for you all.  I love to do it, but it is a bunch of work.  Please help me out if you can.  More than enough said.

Stay Weird.  More Strange coming this week.

-SC]

 

 

 

Idle Hands – Episode 3 –The New Girl – Part 2

[Author’s note: This is part 2 of 3 and will make not a whole lot of sense without part 1 which is here.]

The next morning Dee Dee slipped from behind a street lamppost in the middle of the town’s central park.  The grass was well watered but suffering under the summer’s heat.  The gray paving stones of the park’s walkways radiated heat back at the demon woman as she walked.  To her it seemed like a fine spring day but the people in the park were wilting under the heat and humidity.  In her pinstriped skirt-suit she stalked seductively through the park looking for her new boss.

“You are late.”  From the bench she just passed, the man in a sharp, red suit took a drink of coffee from a red ceramic mug.  The logo for Idle Hands, Inc. smiled from the side as he took a drink.

She smiled as sweet as she could, through the rough lines on her youthful looking face.  “Good morning to you too.  I was, um…”

“Sun glasses.  You should wear sun glasses, especially on the surface.”  He produced a pair of Ray Bans from a cloud of red smoke and tossed them to her. “Makes you look cool.  People like that.”

“I’m sorry,” She flipped the sunglasses back. “I already look cool, thanks.”

“No you don’t.  You look bitchy.  There’s a difference.  There’s cool, and then there’s frigid.”

“Excuse me?”

He put up his hands as an illustration.  “You are giving off two different vibes here.  One of them is ‘fuck me’ and the other is ‘I’m going to kick your ass.’  Combined, it comes out to looking bitchy.”

He stood up and his mug disappeared in another puff of red smoke.  “Let me help you out with something.  You may have been the big D’s pick for this position, but you are still my employee, and that makes me your boss.  You think that D gave you the run of the place, but you are wrong.  Use the glasses.”  She looked surprised that he was talking to her that way.  “Besides, you say way too much with your eyes.  You want to keep that you’re going to tell the big man that I’m mean to you a secret?  Use the glasses.”

She snatched back the sunglasses, put them on and said, “Yes sir!”

He looked at her and smirked “And don’t be smart.  Take a good look around.  The downtown’s screwed from unemployment.  A veritable playground.  See anyone you like?”

She looked at the men with newspapers and pens, some with briefcases in suits.  Pointing at a particularly rough looking young man, drinking from a tall boy beer, she said, “How about that guy?”

“Nah, He’s given up already.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Taking that guy is a waste of time.  He’s already on his way to hell.”

He looked at her and raised an eyebrow.  “You still don’t understand the plan, do you?”

“I understand fine, I just think the plan is a little ‘pussy’ is all.  I mean, look at these fuckers.  You telling me any of them are good for shit?”

The man stroked his goatee, raised a finger, and pointed at the sour looking young woman.  “Hmm, well understand this.  We need workers, not slackers.  No matter how inherently evil, a slacker makes no impression on the world.  We want people to work to further the cause of misery, because through human suffering, comes human temptation.  It all has to fall out of free will.  People choose to give each other a hard time, leading to more and more desperate circumstances.  Eventually even good people turn to evil of their own free will.  It’s a domino effect, with each domino getting bigger.  And it’s working.  The big D must think so or else you wouldn’t be here.”

“Fine, we play it your way,” she added a snide, “Sir!  But I’d much rather be making some of these bastards’ nightmares come true.”

He quietly said, “This is a placement agency, not a dating service.  You can work on your love life in your own time.”

“What?”

“You heard me.  So, you got anyone you like?”

“No, they all look like desperate losers.”

“Well maybe we can take a break and see if you can score some dates instead.”

She turned on her heel and put a hand on her hip.

Ignoring her poisonous stare, he said, “Come on, I think I have your challenge.”

🙂 😦 😉

 

“God, it’s hot.”  Sal slumped into the shady park bench.  The humid breeze reminded Sal of an open oven from which there was no relief.

The truth was he had seen many of the places that were hiring already.  Every one of them had said that they would keep his resume on file, in case something showed up.

He looked around at the buildings that ringed the park and imagined his resume residing in dozens of offices, just waiting to be hooked up with a job.  “Something is bound to happen,” he mumbled.

From a place beyond the vision of mortal eyes, Dee Dee and her new boss looked at Sal.  “Him?  That old fart is my test? And what is he, like, Fifty-two?  And he’s going to heaven, so far.”

He nodded.  “Yeah, and he still might, even if he keeps one of our jobs.  It’s a strange system, getting into heaven and it’s not even our concern.  We’re spreading woe through the abstract layer of the system, not singling out our workers for damnation.”

“Yeah, but…”

He cut her off.  “Look, I thought you were the people person and the crafty manipulator.  You think this guy can beat you?  I need to give you a challenge, not just a hall-pass to torment the living.”  He waived off the thought. “You get this guy one of our jobs and keep him there? You’re in.  If not, well…”

“How long?” Dee Dee looked at her hand.  It dissolved in a shower of sparks and twisting metal until it became a cell phone attached to her wrist.

“Month.  Five weeks to be exact.”

She snarled with more venom than should be possible with her girlish human face and tiny frame.  “Fine!  Save your reverse psychology bullshit.  Not only am I going to get this guy working for us, I’ll damn his soul too.”  She pressed a button and Sal’s cell phone beeped.

“Hello?”

“Hi, this is Dee Dee from the Idle Hands employment agency.  We ran across your resume and would like to speak to you about a position we have opening up at Barron Brothers Holdings.  Do you have a moment?”

Sal looked around the park, cupping his hand to the phone.  Dee Dee watched him from her invisible vantage point.

“I guess I can take a moment.  One thing though.  What’s the pay rate?”

The small woman smiled a smile that was too wide for her face and she said, “I’m sure something can be arranged.”

🙂 😦 😉

 

Shelly came through the still un-repaired hole in the office wall and sat in a chair.  “She’s a total nightmare.”

Without taking his sunglasses up from the paper he was reading, the man behind the desk nodded. “I know”

“She’s totally botched my filing system and is an utter bitch!”

“I know”

“Did you know that she has been dating topsiders to death for sport?  Not to mention that she keeps leaving us with the bill at happy hour.”

The man looked up.  “That’s actually kind of funny.”

“Not on what you pay us it’s not.  She’s prancing around here like she runs the place.”

“I run the place.”

“Not for long and at this rate there won’t be anything left to run.  You’ve got to wonder what the Big D was thinking, sending her here.”

At that, he stopped and put down the paper.  “Ah yes, the Duke of Deceit.  I tell him we’re growing and need some help and he sends me someone to help force me out and no doubt send me back to eternal torment.”

He kicked back in his desk chair and laced his fingers.  “One thing I learned while wandering in hell’s endless desert is that a fervent devotion to deception, lying and chaos tends to make a being predictable, if you are organized and observant of its behavior.”

Shelly flipped her hand and a bit of blood oozed over her palm.  She mentally pulled it back in. “Moot point if you are sent down.  My afterlife is going to suck.”

Leaning forward, the man smiled under his sunglasses.  “Now shelly, would I make your hereafter a living hell?”

Her face brightened. “You have a plan?”

“I have better than a plan.  I have a man.”

🙂 😦 😉

 

Papers shuffled in nervous hands as Sal prepared for his first meeting at Barron Brothers Holdings.  It had taken three weeks to draw up detailed prospectus sheets on the two companies the firm was looking into and he was happy to find two solid companies.

He walked into the meeting room five minutes early to find people he didn’t know joking and talking.  “I’m sorry, I’m here for the ten o’clock meeting for Foster Inc. and Stewart Manufacturing.  Is this it?”

“Yes!  You must be Sal.”  The young man in a well pressed shirt offered his hand, but did not stand.  “I’m Duncan Barron.  Bill told me you have been going over the Foster and Stewart records with a microscope.  I appreciate the attention to detail.  But can you nutshell it for me?”

“Well, they both are medium manufacturing outfits with reasonable profit margins.  They are solid corporate citizens and both are in reasonable shape with no hidden bombs on the books…”

The smirking young man put up his hand.  “Just tell me, where’s the fat?”

“Excuse me?”  Sal still hadn’t sat down and everyone who had been in the meeting room were now looking at him with half smiles.

“Is there anything in these companies that is doing worse than other pieces?  Less profitable?”

“Well, the Medical Products Division of Foster has operated at a loss for the last two years, weighed down by R&D spending, but is working on a promising new material.  And Stewart’s Auto Parts Section has been hit hard by changes in the auto industry.”

“Ah, well, there you go.  We buy these companies, close down the crappy divisions and sell them off when their stock prices jump up.  Three years, max, make our money back tenfold and wash our hands of the whole thing.”

“But the R&D is what gave Foster the growth in the other sectors, and Stewart has a very good plan to modernize …”

“That’s great and all, but in the now, the companies are weak and our plan is a solid win for our shareholders.”

“But there are four thousand people working in those divisions!”

The room went quiet.  Everyone looked nervously at the seated young man in the crisp shirt and the standing older man in his rumpled brown suit.

The young man smiled. “Well they weren’t working hard enough to be profitable, now were they?  Maybe we can find someone who will want to buy them, but that’s not my concern.”

“Not our concern?  What do those four thousand people do?”

“Look for jobs.”  The room erupted in laughter.  “You are new, so here’s the deal.  It’s all about the quick flip here.  My only concern is to put lipstick on these pigs, make them all sexy looking and sell them to the highest bidder.  If I lop off a few limbs from them, fine.  Thanks for the reports, Sal.  I appreciate the quick turn around.”

The tall blonde man took the two binders from Sal and left him standing in the conference room.  He had the rude impression that he was being dismissed in all possible ways.

Sal looked around the room for a moment and couldn’t believe the apathy of the collected executives.  He turned on his heel and walked out of the meeting room.  As he walked, he could hear the room once again erupt in laughter and understood that he was probably the butt of the joke.

🙂 😦 😉

 

The rhythmic pumping under the railroad overpass came to a climactic stop.  In the pale blue light of an almost full moon, a large man rolled over and revealed a much smaller woman pulling down her miniskirt.  They laid side by side on the railroad tracks, using the hard steel as a pillow.  The smell of cheap happy hour drinks and sweat floated around the pair.

“Wow, you sure are a special kind of woman!”

“You know it, babe.”  She lit a cigarette with a spark from the tip of her finger and straightened her blonde bob cut wig.  “They don’t make them like you every day, either.”  Though there was a bit of sarcasm in her voice, he was much too drunk to hear it.  “It’s been so long for me, Stud.”

He had a goofy grin on his face, which increased the magnitude of his dough-like double chin. “I tell you what, this is the wildest thing I’ve done in … forever.”  He looked over at her, still grinning. “I mean it.  You really are something special.  I’ve got to get your number.”

She smiled a grin that was just ever so slightly wider than it should be.  “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be sure to stop by so we can relive this night forever.”

“You mean it?”

“Sure I do.  Now lean over here.  I’ve got something to tell you.”  He leaned over onto his elbow and she cuddled up close to his ear.  She sweetly breathed into his ear, “train” and dissolved into a shocking mass of writhing metal that escaped under the oncoming locomotive.

The train passed in a loud, hot rush.  Squealing wheels trampled and crushed the lecherous drunk into man-cobbler.  Minutes passed as the train spread the gore for the better part of a mile before obliviously sliding around the bend and back into the night.

A shower of blue sparks and silver wire coalesced into the form of the woman wearing the blonde wig.  She stood looking at the tracks and watched the last remains of the lecher’s soul slip slowly down into the earth.

Her smile was just slightly too wide, as she said “Oh, we definitely will have to do this again.  But next time, I’ll be on top.”

A few Yards away, a door opened in a solid concrete wall, revealing a bland office corridor.  A man in a dark suit, colored black by the pale blue of the moonlight, came through the door.  She only barely acknowledged the man as she took off the blonde wig.  Her straight black hair, now free, fell to the middle of her back.

“Do you think this wig makes me look bitchy?”

“Uh, No.  It’s not the wig that makes you look bitchy.”

She looked over her shoulder with her hand on her hip.  “I suppose you are here to chastise my choice of dating activities.”

He put his hands up in the air as if in mock surrender.  “Hey, what you do on your own time is none of my business.  Just don’t drag it into the office.  Actually you have someone on hold, waiting for you at your desk.”

“Oh really?”  She smirked.  “They must be important for you to make a new door.  So who is it?”

He smiled. “It’s Sal.”

Her face went white and her smile disappeared as she ran through the door in the concrete slab.  The limbo workers were knocked off their feet by Dee Dee as she passed at a full sprint.  She threw herself into her office.  Straightening her skirt and putting her headset in her ear, she slammed at the phone to get Sal’s call.

“Hi Sal!”  She greeted him with a fake smile and saccharine sweetness in her voice.  “What can I do for you?”

Her face became white, then angry and finally started to crack while listening to the man ramble.  “So, Barron Brothers isn’t what you expected?”  She listened. “It’s really so bad you can’t work it out?  I mean…”  White hot sparks came from the small fissures, metal wires started to snake from the cracks and wind around her face, both binding and breaking.  “Sure, sure.  I understand.  Listen, um, can I possibly meet you somewhere where we can talk about this?  You know, I’d like to be your friend in this.  Maybe you just had a bad day or…”

She continued to nod and reveal more of her monstrous true appearance as a blank-eyed, limbo-bound soul came in carrying some paperwork.  “Sure, Sal, that sounds great.  I know that bar.  It really means a lot to me to see an – uh – upstanding man like yourself up and working.  So, let’s see if we can’t work this out.”  Her face was twisted in a demonic mask of metal wires, spikes and sparks as the last remains of her perky voice chirped “Ok!  See you there!  Bye!”

The man carrying the paperwork said in a limp voice, “Shelly wanted to make sure you filled out all the proper forms for Sal’s change in job status.  She’s a real stickler for that kind of thing.”

Dee Dee suddenly grew a mouth larger across than her desk and lunged at the man.  His eyes bolted wide with panic as she bit his head off with one sadistic “Chomp!”

🙂 😦 😉

Idle Hands – Episode 3 –The New Girl – Part 3

[Another Author’s Note: This is part 2.  Things get a touch nastier here, so … uh … hi mom! 🙂  Part 3 is coming up soon.

I’m still trying to figure out if I’m going Crabtree, Idle Hands or something else after I’m done with “The Strange” so if you like this, please hit the like button or if you have a comment, I’m up for those too.  By the way, “The Strange” is about to get a lot nastier too, so maybe, check that out?  Thanks.

And please spread the word!  I’m trying not to be a self-aggrandizing and pushy bore to people, but it’s tough to let potential readers know that any of this stuff is here.  I’m not advertising so any word of mouth is extremely helpful to me.

Thanks for reading and 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