Four chapters left guys. Hope you've been enjoying the ride.
He is thirteen years old. It’s an early August night and he’s sitting on the fifth floor balcony of a new apartment complex. Daniel and Simon. Simon and Daniel sitting on lawn chairs. The warm summer evening. The entirety of the exurb spread out before them, small lit up houses and car headlights moving down lit streetways.
He remembers this time vividly, Simon sitting in the chair next to him with a lit cigarette, his eyes staring up at the sky, that everpresent, knowing smile resting on his face. The night is quiet. The sounds of crickets chirping and the occasional car passing by underneath were the only things to break the silence. A cool breeze’s whisper passes them, offering a little relief on an otherwise hot evening.
“So you’re really going,” he remembers telling him.
He nods his head, turning down towards the town below. His eyes looking off into the distance,“Yeah. My plane leaves tomorrow afternoon.”
He remembers the fear in his heart then, that sick feeling running through his belly as he stared at Simon’s profile. What was going to do with him gone? How was he going to live? A new place to live, a new school to start in. A mother who was still a wreck, and the one sure thing in his life was leaving him. Even if he had known it was coming it didn’t make it any easier for him, “I’m going to miss you.”
Simon turns his head then towards him. His eyes look at him long and hard. He shakes his head. “Don’t be like that. I’ll still be here if you need me. You’ve come a real long way Daniel. You really have.”
He swallows,“I don’t know about that new school councilor.”
“Come on Daniel” he says as his arms lifts up and pulls him in next to him,“Carol’s great and you know it. You just got to give her chance. It’s the other stuff that worries me.”
“What do you mean?”
He takes a thoughtful drag on his cigarette, breathing in deeply and exhaling,“Highschool can be a rough place. When you got a lot of kids trying to figure out who they are they can do some really cruel things.”
“That’s why you should stay.”
He flicks the cigarette away, shaking his head,”It can’t just all be about you Daniel. Other people need to move on with their lives sometimes. And you have to give them a chance to do that.” His head turned hard towards his, looking at him, “Do you understand?”
He didn’t. He remembers how it felt like Simon was abandoning him. But at the same time that thought didn’t feel right, like maybe that feeling was wrong and what Simon was telling him was the truth. But he didn’t like that thought and he didn’t want to believe it. Still... “ I think so” he says.
It was several long moments of silence as Simon stared solemnly into his face. He wasn’t sure what he read there. All he got was a slow nod. Simon turning his attention back out towards the town and some words quietly spoken.
“You’ll get there Daniel. You’ll get there.”
He’s eighteen years old, standing on the fifth floor balcony of his apartment complex. He leans against the guard rail, his eyes staring long and hard at the town stretched out below him. He’s thinking about Lydia. He’s thinking about those words that he whispered to Sharon as she slept. Words that he had never used with his girlfriend before, his actual girlfriend. He sighs as his head lowers down towards the concrete, his thoughts continuing to run. For the first time in all of the other times that he’s had sex he feels like he’s cheated on her. But even at that thought, the dawning knowledge stands in opposition to it; he wouldn’t have done it differently.
He just needs time. Time to digest everything that is happening. Time to figure out what he has to do to change its path. But everything seemed to be going so fast. So much seemed to be happening so fast. Sharon, his friends, the creature, Andrew...the list kept running through his mind. His mind thinks back to those few words, that handwritten letter found in the mail slot as he entered his apartment with Sharon.
Now you know what I can do. I demand you acquiescence. You and Sharon only at the park on Maple. Friday 10:00am.”
It didn’t say who it was from. It didn’t have to say who it was from. Andrew. Andrew being carried away. Andrew screaming in fear. Andrew’s tearful eyes. Andrew shooting an innocent boy. Did this letter come before or after he committed it? Was it remorse that he saw in those eyes? And even then so what?
“What happens next?” he whispers to the night “Where do I go from here?”
His head turns up towards the lit display on his cellphone. He’d had it switched to silent for the last six hours. He toggles through the eight missed calls: one from Carol, six from Jim, and one from Simon. He flips the phone closed, grasping the phone firmly in his hand. The messages play in his mind.
”Daniel I just saw you on the ten o’clock news. Is everything okay? Do you want me to come down to the station?”
”Dude what the fuck is going on? That party man, all that shit involved with that. Jesus fucking Christ... I want to know man. I can’t believe what Art and Ryan are saying. If you need help-“
”I’m almost afraid to ask what’s been happening with you Daniel. But if you need me to come back early...I might be able to swing it. I hope this gets to you. I hope you call back. And don’t worry about what time it is. You know I’m here for you.”
His eyes stare skyward. Jim and Simon, thoughts of those two brings a smile to his face. If there was anyone he thought might call him, anyone who didn’t know what was really happening. Knowing suddenly what he had thought might be true... that they would be there for him. He had to tell them. They had to know. He would tell them.
But then what? Where did he go from there?
Professor Alexander Malarkey waved at the lone security guard minding the front desk. He nodded the pair through the main lobby with what seemed like a practiced indifference. Evidently the professor made a habit of coming in late to the lab.
Detective Bernake’s eyes scanned the tall glass windows and polished white marble floors of the school’s science building. His foot steps following closely behind that of the professor’s. The space was expansive, tall rectangular pillars supporting second story balconies that ran along either side of the lobby. The brushed chrome elevator doors seemed to complete the look. Bernake smiled at that thought of non-sequitur, the Matrix, Terminator, it was like they were entering default Hollywood Shoot Out office building number 1.
Malarkey caught the smile on Benake’s face ,“What’s so funny?” The elevator doors opened.
Bernake just shook his head as the two entered the elevator,” You have a very nice building Mr. Malarkey.”
“Well...it is new,” and that undeniable look of stupefication.
“And it’s very nice.”
That look of confusion never left his face as Malarkey pressed the “6” button on the elevator panel. The chrome doors closed, and the elevator moved upward.
He can hear the long silence on the other end of the phone, he can only imagine the kind of mental tailspin that his words have just put Simon through. He can imagine the kind of doubt and disbelief that his kind of story would have awakened in him. But if Carol would believe him so easily he hopes that Simon would too.
After several more seconds he hears him respond,“You aren’t joking are you?”
“I wish I was.”
He hears Simon swallow on the other end of the line,“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
Simon sighed on the other end of the line,“It’s the burden of the righteous.”
“What do you mean?”
“The righteous have to live by certain rules. The wicked don’t.” Daniel hears Simon sigh into the receiver, “It is the burden of the righteous to find an answer within the rules that they live by. They have to be more clever than their enemy. ”
“Simon...” spoken like a lament.
“Yeah, I know you don’t want to hear another lecture. But that’s all I can offer right now. I don’t have an answer for you Daniel. It sounds like a tough nut to crack. It really does.”
He paused,“Thanks for trying” he hears himself say. His head leaning into his hand. His eyes staring morosely down at the town below. He had been hoping for more.
“Daniel,” his words followed with the momentary silence, “that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to offer. I’ll see you Friday.”
“You don’t have-“
“I do. Because that is what real friends do.”
Daniel curled his lip in a strained smile.
He heard Simon call,“And Daniel.”
Daniel nodded his head,“I’ll try.”
He flipped his cell closed and hung up.
The florescent bulbs hummed to life, bathing the small laboratory space in light. Bernake cast his eyes about the open area, looking back towards the thick metal doors that they had come in through. He scanned along the room, the black marble countertops that ran along one side of the wall, glass cabinets resting overhead, filled with microscopes and different measuring implements. He walked towards the window and tapped on the tri-thickness plexiglass, his eyes looking out on the six story drop to the ground. Everything about the place seemed compact, like an attempt to maximize the most that could be done within the smallest space possible.
His head turned back towards the professor,“Small place for a premier professor of Xenobiology,” Bernake commented.
Professor Malarkey shook his head, leading the detective to a plain wooden door on the otherside of the room. The words “Private” staring back at him in cold black and white. “This is only a quarter of the space that I use detective.” His hand came down on the knob. His keycard fell in the slot. “The majority of my space is for the animals.”
Malarkey smiled, “Xenobiology Mr. Bernake, the study of strange animals. Where do you think I would need the most space?” He pushed the door opened in front of the detective. Bernake entered into a large, low lit room. His eyes looked upon rows and rows of animal cages, aquariums and storage shelves of preserved creatures.
The detective followed the professor as he walked down one of the narrow corridors between the cages. They came to a large desk full of random clutter and papers, and another black marble topped desk with a microscope sitting on it.
But that wasn’t what drew Bernake’s attention as much. In the mass of weird creatures, it was the two chimps sleeping together in a steel barred cage that caught his eye. He took a couple steps closer to the cage, his eyes looking closer at the pair. It was something else about them. It was the way that they were sleeping, the one curled up over the top of the other. The one on the bottom laying on its...
“Did those chimps fall asleep doing what I think they were doing?”
Professor Malarkey turned his head up, from a sealed jar that he had been looking at, “In the middle of coitus? Yes. Every night since Fred had one of the water parasites placed into him.”
“And Fred is?”
“The male primate resting on top.”
Bernake cast his head between the cage and the Professor, “ Why isn’t Daniel doing the same?”
Alexander Malarkey shrugged, “I don’t know. As I’ve said before, you’ve probably heard more about them from Daniel than I know.” His hand gestured to the jar and the gelatinous creature resting preserved in an ethyl alchohol solution. “What I can do is show you what they look like.”
Bernake turned his attention away from the cage and walked over towards the desk the professor stood bent over. His eyes peered into and through the creature resting dead in the solution. It was small, translucent, almost invisible in any kind of solution, with little tendrils reaching out from a center core. This was the creature that gave amazing powers to whomever it bonded with. This little, innocuous looking creature was the catalyst for turning his work into chaos, for seeing women disappear and harming a few and growing number of people.
His head turned up from the jar,“Where did they come from?”
Malarkey shrugged,“My guess? The chemical spill at Shire Lake.”
“Why do you only ‘guess’?”
Bernake watched the professor start pacing back and forth across the room,“Just shy of two months ago I received a sealed package with four of these things in it, no return address. There was just a sheet of paper in the box. It had the words ‘You need to study this’ written on it and some brief details on how to keep them alive.”
“So why do you think they’re from Shire Lake?”
He paused, his head turned towards him and wandered,“Because the note was written on Ministry Chemicals letter head.”
“And one of their major plants was situated on Shire Lake, at least before the quarantine.”
Malarkey nodded,“You remember.”
Alexander Malarkey just nodded his head again. He crossed his arms and stared longingly up at the ceiling with thoughtful eyes. There was so much data for him to take in, so little that he knew, and even less time to find out. He hated that driving need to rush.
Bernake sighed. There was still that feeling gnawing at the edges of his consciousness.“So you haven’t answered my original question.” He gestured back towards the cage, “Why isn’t Daniel or even Andrew acting like the chimps sitting there behind those bars?”
The professor turned his head back down from the ceiling and shrugged, “The short answer is ‘I don’t know.’ A lot of the characteristics that I saw play out in those two have never even come close to manifesting itself in those primates. My best guess is that it has something to do with the inherent complications of the human mind.”
“And that would mean what exactly?”
Malarkey sighed, walking back towards the detective and leaning his arms on the desk. His eyes fell back on the container, the dead creature inside. He stared at it for several long moments,“ Animals have thoughts and feelings. I can’t deny that, but human’s have philosophies, aspirations, carefully thought out plans. There are so many more intricate layers that come with having a larger brain mass. That of course brings its own problems.”
“How about you just get to the point professor?”
Malarkey nodded, “If I’m right these water parasites have been on this planet for the equivalent of a fraction of a fraction of the blink of an eye. Behavioral patterns take time to develop, a long time.” He gestured back to the clear jar, and the creature within, ”They can’t possibly know everything that they’re capable of, and that’s dangerous.”
The phone kept ringing. The connection on the other line clicked. Daniel could hear the message kicking in. I’m sorry Jim is sleeping right now. What the fuck do you think your best friend would be doing at one in the morning on a school night? Daniel sighed slung out over the balcony railing, his eyes gazing out before him. He flipped the phone closed and continued to stare outward, thinking. He should have known better. Sure Simon picked up, but the guy had always been something of an insomniac. Jim was normal. He needed to tell him what was going on. Jim was his best friend. He owed it to him.
But even as he thought that he knew that wasn’t the reason. Jim had been in the dark about what was going on or days. What was another half day?
His mind drifts back to the message pulled from the mailbox, the message from Andrew. He had a time table. Two short days to figure out what he was going to do. Every option that ran in his head had its perils. Option 1: Go to the police. But what happens to him? What happens to all of the slaves that Andrew has? So many innocent people would have their lives torn away just because of some silly boys’ indiscretions. Option 2: Make more slaves, get an army to fight Andrew’s. But if he did that what made him any better than Andrew? Option 3: Arm himself and his people with guns . That lead to escalation. He could die. All of Andrew’s innocent slaves would definitely die. And that didn’t even include innocent bystanders. Option 4: Give in. No way in hell.
It was as Simon had said it to him,the burden of the righteous. If only he didn’t care none of this would matter.
There were other options. There had to be. And it was his vague hope that somehow he would find that answer in the counsel of another. But could he trust him? He wasn’t sure. But Jim was his best friend. He had to believe him. Jim had to help him. But what if he didn’t? What if it wasn’t his problem? What would Jim do then? And if he suddenly knew that his best friend wasn’t there for him...
He hated being here. He really didn’t want to be doing this. He really didn’t want to be testing those people that he considered important in his life. But what other choices did he have? Things were serious and he knew that he couldn’t go it alone.
< What kind of answers do you expect to find in this night?>
The sputtering hum of a scooter passed underneath. The lone light on the street below barely entering into his consciousness.
Daniel turned his head back through the glass sliding door. His mind traveled to his bedroom. His thoughts carried to Sharon peacefully asleep in his bed. Maybe the creature within him was right. Maybe he should be sleeping right now.
But he wasn’t tired. He couldn’t sleep. He wanted to sleep. But he couldn’t, not without hope and somewhere to go with it.
That was when the phone rang in his hands.
He saw them standing just beyond the glass door entrance into his apartment. Jim standing just outside the door with his backpack still on. Carmen stood one step back, her helmet hooked into her elbow.
Daniel waved walking down the corridor passed the mail boxes and opened the door.
“What’s up Jim?” his eyes shifted to the right, as he stepped out, closing the door behind him, “Carmen.”
Carmen smiled, “Long time no see Daniel.”
His eyes moved between them,“What brings you guys here?”
“What was all that crap that you told me Daniel?” Carmen said forcefully, stepping forward.
Daniel’s eyes moved to Jim, his look of vague disbelief. Jim just shrugged. Daniel turned his attention back to Carmen, “Feeling better, huh?”
But she wouldn’t be swayed, “Why is my sister’s car sitting out front?”
Daniel’s eyes drift out to the beat up grey chevy sitting out on the street. His head turning back towards Carmen. He hesitates, staring at her. He hadn’t expected on telling her anything. It was Jim he owed the explanation to. It was Jim he had been willing to take the chance with, not Carmen, not this girl that he hardly knew.
<You did tell the police detective Daniel.>
He sighs. “Fucking ‘A’ Carmen that’s not why you’re here.”
“Okay. Enlighten me. Why am I here?”
“You and Jim want to know what’s been happening right?”
“Yeah I do,” Carmen said.
Daniel’s eyes roved towards Jim. As they met Jim nodded thoughtfully.
This wasn’t what he had hoped for. This wasn’t how he had wanted. But it seemed to Daniel, looking as Carmen and Jim stared at him that the time was there to do it. And for better or for worse he was going to tell them, both of them.
And he did. Carefully leaving out what had happened with Sharon.
Jim stood thoughtful, his hand rubbing at his head. He ran the night of Wendel’s party through his head. Lydia standing naked in front of him, Ryan and Art; Lydia acting so strangely. And those words, what Daniel had said to her. How she had responded. The story sounded nuts, but Daniel had always been the level headed one, thoughtful, sometimes quiet. And as sick as it was it made sense...in a twisted, but vaguely believable kind of way. Jim nodded his head slowly in acceptance.
But of course Carmen hadn’t seen anything of what had happened.“That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard Daniel,” she exclaimed, “No way in-“
“Give me your hand” Daniel said straight up.
“Give me your hand I’ll show you” he repeated.
Jim just watched silently as Carmen continued to stare at him suspiciously.
“If I’m so full of shit what is there to fear?”
He saw Carmen hesitate. Her eyes shifted between Jim, Daniel and his hand. It wasn’t that she actually didn’t believe the story was complete bullshit. It was in how Daniel said those words. He was so confident, so sure of himself. Either he was fucking crazy or he was right. There was no in between. And if he was right what would he make her do?
Carmen caught herself on that thought. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. What was she thinking. He couldn’t be right. It wasn’t a sane story that he gave. It was just bullshit. She’d thought she’d call him on a bluff and he’d doubled down in response. Well she had just the right response for him.
“Alright Daniel lets see what you-“ Her eyes glassed over as Daniel’s hand took hers and the chemical flowed into her body. As the many times that Daniel had seen it before, Carmen’s hands fell to her sides, her eyes staring blankly forward, standing on wavering legs.
Jim started, stared.
Daniel turned towards him, “So what do you want to make her do?” he said indifferently.
Jim just stared for several moments more. It was one thing to accept something as true, it was quite another thing for him to see it actually happen. His eyes began to wander in a way that he seldom dared, at least when the girl was so close. His eyes started down at her round ass, slowly moving upward to the somewhat small roundness on her chest. Sharon had definitely gotten the breasts genes, but Carmen was really cute in an elfin kind of way.
He stepped in front of her, waving his hand, making silly faces. She didn’t react, her eyes just stared forwards like he wasn’t even there. His eyes fell down on the plunging neck line, the loving place where those gorgeous mounds of warm flesh were pushed hard together by a wonderfully tight shirt.
Jim could feel himself getting hard. He could even feel his arms rising up towards Carmen’s chest. He stopped himself, shaking his head. He turned to Daniel with a wicked smile on his face, “What do you think I’d want her to do? What do you think any guy in my place would want her to do?”
Daniel shrugged and turned,“Carmen, are you wearing a bra?”
“Yes” she said in the resonating monotone.
“Take off your shirt.”
Carmen didn’t hesistate. Her hands moved down to the hem of her shirt and she lifted her plain white tank top over her head. The shirt fell to the ground as her hands fell back to her sides. She continued to stare blankly forward, black bra, medium breasted, and nothing else from the waiste up.
Jim just stood, staring, a shit grin on face.
Daniel just stared hard at him, “And we’re not going any further than that Jim.”
Jim nodded, “That’s cool Daniel I understand, but a man can dream,” his head turned towards Carmen, “Jump on one leg.” Carmen lifted her left leg up and started hopping up and down on the other leg. Her eyes continued to stare forward like nothing was amiss. She really had no idea what was going on.
Jim started to chuckle, his eyes following her breasts bouncing up and down.
“Jim” Daniel said, deadpan.
He just shook his head, staring and smiling,“Explain to me how the hell you haven’t abused your powers.”
Jim turned his attention back towards Daniel, “Ms. Pappadakus?”
“She kind of had it coming. I mean she was a real bitch.”
Those memories and feelings that he saw of hers flashed through Daniel’s mind, “No she didn’t. And she wasn’t.”
The smile faded from Jim’s face as he looked into Daniel’s. His face went solemn, he turned back towards Carmen. “Stop jumping.”
She stopped, standing back in place like nothing had changed.
“I fucked up Jim. I really fucked up.”
Jim sighed, “Dude I’d have a harem of hot chicks by now if I had your powers. I mean anything that would give me the chance to wrap my hands around Anne Hathaway’s tits-”
“Jim this isn’t a fucking fantasy,” Daniel growled.
“No it isn’t, but reality ain’t so bad either. You’re just so intent on focusing on only the things that depress you. You always have been.”
That made Daniel pause, again thinking. Movement in his peripheral turned his attention away. Jim followed his eyes. Carmen was coming out of it. Her head shook, her eyes paused over her exposed chest. She smiled ruefully, reaching for her shirt on the ground.
The amused smile remained on her face as she approached the two of them. She looked between them, just shaking her head, “I bet you guys enjoyed that.”
Jim chuckled. Daniel shook his head.
“Is that a smile I see Danny boy?” Jim said
“Maybe,” he said, making an effort to cover his face.
Carmen looked down at her cell, slowly nodding her head. Less than five minutes had passed. Her head turned back up towards them, “Okay so we believe you. Where’s my sister?”
Daniel saw Jim’s face crinkle, as he suddenly seemed to peruse over his face. He hoped that Jim wouldn’t catch the sexual after glow. Then he realized in his mischievious smile that he did, which led him to hope that he’d have the sense not to- “And what was she doing upstairs just sleeping?”
And there it was, and Daniel had absolutely nothing to say.
Carmen’s face registred shock,“You banged her didn’t you?”
He raised a reassuring hand upward, his tired eyes staring down,“It was a little bit more than that.”
Jim just stared at him, solemn and thoughtful, the way Daniel’s eyes stood away, deeply contemplative on those words, “You love her don’t you?”
Daniel returned Jim’s stare. He smiled wanely, nodding.
“She told me first.”
Jim looked at him for several moments and then he just started laughing. His head turned skyward, his arms lifting up.
Carmen’s eyes shot back and forth between the two of them,“I don’t get it. What’s so funny?”
Jim head slid down from the heavens, “He’s got amazing powers. He’s got the girl.” He gestured towards Daniel, “He has great friends like me, Simon and Carol, he has everything that any sane man would wish for.” Jim turned his head to stare at his friend, “And you’re still a miserable son of a bitch.”
Daniel continued to stare at Jim in bewilderment, “But I don’t know what I need to do.”
“Something,” Jim dropped his backpack down on the round. Unzippering the main compartment he pulled out two books. He handed them to Daniel. “I think these might be a good place to start though.”
“What is it?”
Jim shrugged, “I don’t know, how about you read them for yourself.”
Daniel turned his attention down to the two thin tombs, his eyes reading across the titles: Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Miyamoto Musashi’s “A Book of Five Rings.”
He turned his head up towards Jim, “How did you...”
“After what I saw at the party and all that crap on the news. I put two and two together Danny boy.”
Daniel scoffed, “You’re such a dork Jim.”
Jim shrugged,”Guilty as charged. You can thank me later.”
His eyes fell back on the covers, his fingers grazing the smooth surfaces, his thoughts running. Head turned back up to his friend,“This is where is begins isn’t it?”
Jim shrugged, “Fuck if I know. That’s up to you.”
Daniel’s eyes turned up to Jim and Carmen, looking back and forth between them. They were part of this, Simon, Carol, Sharon, they were all part of this almost as much as he was. He wasn’t alone. He had never been alone. He shook his head, “No” he said “It’s up to us.”
Jim smiled, “That’s what I’m talking about.” He came up to him and grabbing his arm into his they embraced. Daniel began to smile.
Daniel’s awareness turned to Carmen, standing just behind, her eyes on the two of them “You in?”
A wide smile formed on her lips, and she nodded, “Fuck yeah.”