+++++++Go, old man, +++++++You with the folded ear +++++++(a leftover from a disease only dogs get) +++++++and the paunch that cats get, old cats get. +++++++You who once leapt majestically into the air to catch birds +++++++But who nestled and protected chicks; +++++++You who beat up the neighborhood dogs +++++++And lived outside in –40 weather. +++++++I shall miss your dark tabby bulk
++++++++++++++Your fierce grin
++++++++++++++Your thieving ways
+++++++I don’t know why I am crying +++++++Men do not cry over the deaths of animals +++++++We say ‘that’s life, time to move on’, +++++++And get on with it. +++++++No, I do know why your passing has struck so hard, +++++++Bloated again this shrunken heart, and left it to drown in its own fluids.
+++++++It is not just who you were, it is because you were hers
+++++++And she left you ++++++++++++++++++++++And me.
+++++++And you were never really happy afterward, for 5 years. +++++++You and I remembered, gazed out the window at passing birds +++++++That we would never catch because
+++++++You were too old ++++++++++++++++++++++And I was too slow.
+++++++And now you aren’t here anymore, +++++++With your demanding paw and questioning cry, +++++++To help me remember her smiles and happy voice +++++++Or the anger and the pain.
+++++++And now what am I supposed to do? +++++++There is no deep purr forming in the darkness +++++++There is only silence as
+++++++++s m a s h e s .
+++++++I had given up picking up the pieces of all the things you knocked over. +++++++Now I must begin to clean up, like a junkie who’s hit the bottom. +++++++I will miss you, old cat, for all the things
Stare, if you will, at the stars that hide in depth and mystery
Roaring their silence through the waves which bind us to this sea
Where hollow bodies neither float nor die,
But wait, alone, in the desperate sky.
Small lives breathe upon the swelling of blood and change,
Enclosed, blind to the emptiness in which all the Gods must rage
Forgotten, seeded with the passion of loss,
Bitter, time addled and madness tossed.
Now spinning upon the wheels of our lost childhood’s throne,
We wander in search of something that shall never be known,
While the music of our laughter grows diseased,
Arrogant, ignorant, and ever displeased.
And contempt sips where breed the cold frenzies of greed,
Sucking the beauty from miracles until the dark earth bleeds.
The Inevitable begs for the world to end,
Wanting to touch, caress, then rend.
So I dream in the morning light of blinding hope and fear.
Naked, I stare at the Madness that smiles and lingers near,
Left alone to live under this ravaging heart,
Waiting, should you and I ever part.
The tongue of time ++++knows all languages:
A river of secrets ++++ that sweeps over stones
More ancient than the world, ++++ more hallowed than death.
Boldness is not a curse ++++ but a slender wisdom
Balancing between beauty ++++and the art of betrayal:
The fate of a life ++++lies in a splintering heart.
If you ask they will tell you ++++the mountains are not to be fooled with ++++as young as they are.
Yes, they are pretty, all purple ++++with Monkshood and Larkspur, yellow ++++in Buttercup and Saxifrage;
And there is something unknowable ++++that aches under all this wonder;
That whispers to our bones.
But if you happen to see visions ++++of Mystery playing in the rivers ++++look the other way
As modesty becomes all, everyone ++++who would swirl in eddies ++++and leap between rapids,
For cold, cold is the ice of ten ++++thousand years of change:
Such a desperate need
That sings in our blood.
In this world, ++++nothing can truly be known,
Yet everything ++++must somehow be loved
If you wish ++++to journey far.
So a few still think ++++of you that summer day,
The sun in your hair, ++++alone in transcendence,
At the edge of the ++++Infinite, of life itself.
The sun had finally drifted down into a dark orange sunset burning the western sky. Slowly the night began to peel away the twilight and the stars began to loom over the eastern horizon, tiny twinkles of light in a dark blue sea that lay between twin white towers of pink tinged cloud. The sweet scent of wild strawberry, common yarrow and goldenrod still lingered in the air, driven up by the mid-summer day’s humid temperatures and a light breeze and then abandoned there by the settling of the late afternoon. The birds had gradually grown quiet and everything seemed to settle down to rest, with the exception of a raven cawing somewhere in the trees and an occasional insect whirring through the air. In the distant pond the frogs had begun to chant their hymns to the night.
Little Adam lay on the small knoll in the dew-moistened grass and stared up at the darkening sky. The final embers of a long life well lived, he thought, and that consolation almost took his mind off the wretched pain searing his chest and the sharp jabbing of a broken leg. But it was only a fluttering thought, jangling on the edge of the hard final day in one’s life, and it did not reach much deeper into his consciousness then a nasty paper cut. It was the feeling that was under that cut, pumping the blood to the gasping lungs that he feared the most. It was this feeling that crawled all over his insides like a spider wrapping a fly, a sort of wretched sense of inebriation and delirium and helplessness that kept whispering that somehow he’d failed in a manner more profound than he could ever understand.
He had thought about trying to call out, but he knew no one would hear him. Even if they did, he wasn’t so sure that they’d care about an old man dying in a pasture, his body twisted and broken, the taps of life trickling out like streams in the early snow melt. In fact, he knew there were some who would be very happy if they didn’t hear anything at all, at least until it was too late. He was a bit bitter about this fact, had been for a while. Years ago neighbour helped neighbour. The debt would be repaid somehow, sometime, or maybe not, but at least you usually knew whichever way the wind blew. Now, it all seemed to be about the short-term money, and his land was worth a lot of money. Some people resented the way he hung on to it, like it was worth more then money. He was just being an old sentimental fool, they’d say. He studied the advancing stars. He used to be able to see them better, before the light pollution from the city, back when the McKenzies still owned the Bamdarrylls. He had thought of them occasionally over the years, like some sort of lost relatives that no one could be bothered to find, but now, as he knew he was lucky enough to die on his own land, he thought of them more fully then he had in sixty years. He had an urge to cry, but he didn’t know why.
God help their souls, he thought, and mine.
The McKenzies had been the original pioneers of this tabletop and the first to see the huge forests of spruce, pine, and poplar and drink from those clear streams that wandered down into the valley and into that big slow river called the Frost. They had a lot of land up north out of the valley and away from the small town of Courtship that lay snuggled down by the river. Before newcomers like Adam’s family had come, the townspeople people had only known the McKenzie family existed because they had come down once and awhile for supplies. Otherwise, people rarely ever saw them, and rarely ever talked about them.
Adam’s family, like all the newcomers, had come to the Frost looking for new lives, new chances. His father was a drunk and his uncle a gambler, and their wives were worn out from all the troubles that come with being married to such men. They all came looking to leave all those problems behind. Adam and his younger cousins, Becky and Nate, had hated it here, but liked it better than the hot and poverty stricken south, a fact none of them ever cared to admit. It was a hard, cold, and stubborn land, and every inch one took with saw and blood and fire was paid for twice over with worry, trouble, and bad weather. The McKenzies had more land than all the ten newcomer families put together. Adam’s family had gossiped about how the McKenzies managed it, as there weren’t that many of them, but never thought to ask.
Very early on a gray June morning, when he was fifteen, Adam Cromwell met Walt McKenzie and his siblings for the first time. He and his younger cousins had come out to admire the newly graded main road, wet with dew. It had originally been built by the McKenzies but had been taken over and upgraded by the government to encourage farmers to settle the land the McKenzies did not already own or lease. The road crew had spread gravel, but like many things in this part of the world, it had simply sunk into the moist earth leaving the smell of fresh clay, damp with moisture and newly exposed minerals. This earthy tone was still novel to the children’s dust scorched noses as they had only been living in the middle of the spruce forest for a little over half a year. And the pungent smells of resin, especially when the forest was being cleared or bucked up for firewood, still amazed Adam. He felt intimidated by the nature he saw surrounding him like some sort of wild prison, but invigorated, too, challenged. It was a strange perception, but it was shared by most in his family, excepting the patriarchs, who had been raised in the mountains to the East. The two older men had returned to what they thought they were good at, but somehow they had lost their knowledge along the way, or perhaps it was the work ethic, opinions were divided. Mornings would often find the brothers either fighting or recovering from a fight and the resulting reconciliatory celebration, from the day before. Similar men had married similar women and the repeating cycle left both their wives disillusioned, depressed, and frequently raging at their husbands and their children and each other. Mornings could turn the rest of the day into a living hell for everyone in the blink of a wrong word. An early escape was always one’s best bet.
It was quite cool that morning, and silent. The sun wasn’t yet up but, through the tall spruce and the odd straighter-than-straight poplar, one could see a glimmer of cold twilight haunting the east. The early morning grader had left ridges of ready ammo lining the road and Adam and his cousins threw mud bombs at everything, including each other, not caring if the lumps contained gravel. Down the families’ driveway, and to the right, one could barely see ancient silver trailers behind the black spruce, sitting abandoned like residual alien spacecraft. On the other side of the driveway the forest had been nearly cleared to the main road and through the thin line of remaining trees one could see an ancient D8 Cat tractor sitting in the middle of a large patch of thistle and aging roots. It almost glowed in the low light, huge, yellow and rusting, a sad mutant elephant of metal, hobbled by the broken tracks spread forward and backward, its rollers bare for all to see.
From up the road came a sort of chuggu-chugga sound that didn’t seem to belong to modern time, echoing off the trees into the still morning air like a dog bark. The children stared down the road until an ancient green tractor came into sight, hauling an old wooden flat deck trailer. Around the edge of the trailer were loose wooden panels to form a box such that, when the wagon occasionally hit a rock or a large piece of dirt, they bounced up and down with a cascade of crashes. Not being prepared to be sociable, Becky and Nate retreated home for breakfast. Adam stayed and watched the tractor come, until it stopped in front of him.
The two pretty girls on the wagon first caught his eye. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, they briefly smiled at him and went back to their conversation overtop a cooler. Behind them, at the end of the wreck, was a boy of about eight who glanced up from his dangling feet with dark eyes. He stared at Adam with open and unadulterated distaste, before going back to his feet. Adam looked up at the tractor.
Looking down was a lean and handsome youth with big mop of strawberry blond hair like his siblings. He flicked a smoldering cigarette butt off the tractor and smiled as he puffed out smoke. Then he hopped down off the tractor and walked over. He was taller than Adam by quite a bit, and about 18. He held out a strong lean hand.
“Walt McKenzie,” he announced with a big smile. There was something slightly arrogant about him, but likeable all the same.
“Adam Cromwell,” Adam pronounced, and held out his own small paw. Walt shook it firmly.
He pointed at his siblings in turn.
“The mouthy one is Gillian.”
The prettiest girl stuck out her tongue at them but kept smiling.
“Rachel. Our local slut.”
“Bastard!” the shorter, slightly wider girl yelled, hopped off the wagon, grabbed a lump of dirt and hurled it at Walt. He dodged it easily. “Asshole,” she grumbled as she climbed back on the wagon.
“And Darryll.” The boy didn’t pay attention. He was frowning in the direction of the Cromwell trailers.
“Hey, Darryll, meet Adam.” The boy looked back at his feet.
Walt grimaced. “Don’t worry about him. He’s just moody.”
Adam nodded politely. The girls went back to talking.
“I’ve got a job for you,” Walt smiled. He saw Adam hesitate and added, “If you’re interested. We’re going out to do some fieldwork.”
Money was not an issue in Adam’s family as there was never enough to make an issue about. Standing there in his third hand clothes with his taped up glasses Adam thought of his mother and how her latest cheque had bounced at the liquor store and her ensuing embarrassment. He didn’t know much about fieldwork but he was sure willing to give it a try. They negotiated a fair wage and, after Adam had run home to tell his mother where he was going and pack himself a quick lunch of a coke and potato chips, they set off.
Adam went to sit down on the wagon but Walt called him up to sit on the dented fender of the tractor. Then the youth gave the tractor a little gas and popped the clutch. The sudden jerk brought howls of protest and condemnation from the wagon.
“Sorry,” he yelled back. “The clutch is pretty loose.” Howls of disbelief echoed back. He smiled at Walt and winked as he went on driving.
“How far?” Adam asked over the loud engine.
“Just down the road,” replied Walt. He shifted the tractor into a higher gear. They sped up.
“You like it here?” he asked.
“I dunno. It’s ok.”
The wagon banged as it hit a hole. Walt looked back to make sure things were ok, then over at Adam.
“Yeah,” he said. “It can be hard. Just wait ‘til you see a real winter. The last one was pretty easy. You seen the school yet? I guess that now you guys are here we’ll get the school bus.”
“You didn’t have one before?”
“What? All the way out in the mud and sticks for the four of us? Not bloody likely, as Father would say.”
“How’d you go to school then?”
“They send you school work. You do it and send it back.”
“Nah,” Walt continued. “Out here you don’t mean anything unless you’re either big enough to buy the town next door, mean enough to scare people or you have something people want. Otherwise, you’re usually just in someone’s way.”
“Your family’s got a lot of land,” Adam said, tentatively.
Walt smiled up from behind the wheel. “Not enough that the government didn’t decide to open it up for folks like you.”
Adam wasn’t sure what that meant. He looked away.
Walt looked at Adam for another second then turned back to the wheel.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “That wasn’t meant as a shot at you. It’s just the way things are. Can’t stop progress, no matter your size, but maybe you can slow it down a little, as Father says. Me,” he said with another big smile, “I figure you gotta change with the times or get crunched, like a cat under a wheel. See, your folks came all the way up for change didn’t they?” Adam nodded assent. “Well, I’m glad they came. See, here you are, coming to help us. We haven’t had neighbors in a long, long time, least none we could trust well. It’s strange seeing the country open up, but you can’t stop it.”
“So we’re progress?” He pushed his glasses back up his nose.
“You’re more progress then we’ve had in fifty years, I betcha.” Walt lit up another cigarette and offered Adam a puff. He refused and Walt inhaled, his face clenched together in deep concentration.
They didn’t say much after that. Walt watched the road and smoked and Adam looked back at the wagon and down at the big tire treads as they whirled around beneath him. The sun had started to come out and a powerful blue sky, tinged with pink and orange and aquamarine, began to appear from under the gray dawn. The earth seemed to grow warmer, but the cool morning air still pierced Adam’s worn pants and sweater and he would occasionally shiver. He looked wonderingly at Walt’s light red work shirt and looked back at the girls and Darryll. They were all dressed lightly and yet seemed immune to the cool new day. Adam wondered what kind of people they were, if they were really that tough or he was that weak.
Despite the cold, Adam was still thrilled and he felt like he had just embarked on a mission of real change in his life. He decided that if he worked hard enough that day maybe the McKenzies would hire him again; maybe it would lead to steady work. He had never worked for anybody but his family before, and they never paid. As he sat on that fender trying his best not to shiver or clench his teeth, he decided the best strategy was to work as hard as anyone there, including Walt. Not only was money on the line, but pride. He knew his family was getting a bad reputation. He wanted it to stop with him.
They came to where the road crew had gone no further, leaving a large turnaround at the edge of the McKenzie property. They passed through the turnaround and bumped onto an old dirt road made up of two lonely tracks that disappeared deep into huge looming spruce trees unlike anything Adam had ever seen before, with a light green lichen that drenched the lower branches and tops that he could barely see. It was almost right out of a fairy tale except that on the right, shattered by numerous bullet holes, hung an old “NO HUNTING NO TRESPASSING” sign slightly askew from an old Bam poplar. He knew it a Bam from the rough gray bark going far up the wide trunk. As they entered the forest he noticed that the spruce and poplar trees were not in random order but, in fact, were spaced so that the poplars lined the road, looking like white pillars against the dark impenetrable background of the spruce. The light seemed to poke among those deeper trees, sending strange, savage stabs through the subtle shades of morning darkness. An uneasy feeling rose in his mind as they idled along, bumping and banging on bare stones and through old ruts, as if he was entering somewhere else entirely different from a place he had previously thought of as a forest.
They traveled along the old road until they came to the top of a hill from which the view was magnificent. Even in dim light, Adam could see that the road curved down to the north into a huge pasture, shrouded in a mist that occasionally parted to reveal a deep dark green below it. Then the tractor moved on and they submerged into the forest, weaving back and forth again and again until Adam finally saw the pasture at the end of the road. He could see it had an unusual gate, the details of which he couldn’t yet make out.
“These,” said Walt waving his arm across to indicate both sides of the road and the pasture ahead, “are what we call the Bamdarrylls.”
“The Bamdarrylls,” said Walt again. “Father started to brake the ground the day Darryll was born. There were a lot of huge old Bam poplars on the piece, where the field is now, so that’s where it got its name.”
They had come to the gate. There was no fence on either side of it, just a row of small and very dense willows that extended out along the forest edge and into the mist where it disappeared. Except for a wide clear patch in front of the gate that centered on a small knoll, the field was hidden, awash with the thick mist that drifted slowly across it like a massive herd of clouds. The gate was taller and longer and stranger then Adam had suspected. It was decorated with welded machine parts like totems and masks and weird abstract designs and interwoven with misshapen wood and knots of grass and a table that ran along its top on which there seemed to be some sort of inscription carved. But dominating the entire gate was a giant moose skull that hung at the very center above and stared down at them all from black hollow eyes. Though he knew next to nothing about the local fauna Adam felt intensely intimidated by the rack of antlers which seemed to stretch for at least six feet above and to either side of the fleshless bone, which was now beginning to glow a whitish pink in the first morning rays. On either side, at the gate’s corner ends, were the skulls of some very large predators, whether bears or wolves he did not know, but they too stared down at them in some sort of deathly judgment. The morning seemed to strike him with an even more electric chill but it was his curiosity that he stopped from rising up his throat. On the other side of the gate, dripping with water, was a very rich dark green grass, like new shoots of wild oats but denser. It seemed to send out a curiously strong smell of pollen and fresh mint. Adam could smell it even over the diesel fumes of the tractor.
Walt had obviously watched his face change.
“Our family has a pretty weird sense of humour,” he said, smiling and pointing at the gate. “Don’t let it scare you.”
“I’m not scared, just curious.”
“Ah,” said Walt, smiling even broadly, “my mistake.”
When Adam went to get off the tractor and open the gate, Walt pulled him back. Adam looked at the young man in confusion, as Walt hopped off the rumbling Tractor.
“It’s a bit tricky, and the girls would never let you forget it.”
Adam accepted this with a mute nod, as he couldn’t even see a latch. Walt walked to the center of the structure and somehow seemed to push it so that the gate spread open and away like wings. Then he climbed back on the tractor and they continued on.
Walt stopped the tractor on top of the knoll and everyone hopped off. The grass was even taller than it had looked from the other side of the gate, coming up to Adam’s hips. His pants were already getting wet with dew.
“You ever done any rock picking before?” asked Walt.
“A little here and there.”
“Well, get ready for a long hard day. There isn’t any going back now. Throw any rock you find on the wagon. Don’t worry too much about the tiny ones,” Walt said, reaching down into the deep grass and picking up a rock about the size of a child’s fist. It was craggy, the crevices lodged with black soot, and almost seemed translucent, like a piece of mica Adam’s father had once shown him. “They should be about this size or anything bigger. These ones get jammed in the seed drill and the discs.” He threw it on the wagon. “They’re a real pain to get out.”
Adam swept his foot across the grass and bumped into another rock. He picked it up. It glinted in the sun like gold.
“They’re kinda pretty, some of these rocks,” he said, and threw it on the wagon.
“Iron pirate,” said Walt, waving his arm dismissively, “fool’s gold. There’s all kind of stuff like that here. Looks like silver, copper, you name it. It’s really just rock. Nothing valuable.” He started throwing rocks in the wagon.
The children spread out from the knoll but only to the edges of the mist, searching in the deep grass for whatever they could find. Adam kept sweeping the grass aside to look underneath only to see dark shadows, getting more wet and more chilled. Soon he was cold and frustrated. He stopped and watched, wondering how the family seemed to find rocks everywhere they turned. All except Darryll, who stood almost completely hidden in the deepest grass staring at Adam from dark eyes like a small vicious predator. Because he was being watched Adam didn’t risk looking at the girls, though, as cold as he was, he desperately wanted to.
So he continued trolling the watery grass, sweeping it aside with his legs and peering down into the depths. Occasionally he’d come across a rock or even, once, a mouse, which quickly vanished. But soon he ran out of clear-lighted room as the mist shifted closer, gently sweeping along as it began to glow and dissipate in the morning sun. Even as he watched the mist go he saw that underneath it the grass was very short, like it had been grazed or was that part of a golf course near the tee. He felt an intense relief and walked onto the short grass. Here and there the rocks were evident, lying on top like they were floating, or vaguely submerged. He picked a few up, then more, trying to carry as many as he could. Some were strangely heavy, some quite light considering their size. Then he turned to the wagon, head down, trying desperately to hold on to his hard won trophies, as they seemed to try to slip from his grasp like fish. He finally reached the wagon, having lost only a few items, and dumped them inside.
He looked up, and stopped. The mist had cleared away well enough now he could see most of the field, except the edges, where the mist still hung to the trees. It was huge, and beautiful, by Cromwell standards, well over 400 acres, surrounded on all sides by the tall dark forest of spruce. The sunlight now lit the almost perfectly flat grassland, showing up shadows of tufts of grass and thousands of small lumps that were surely stones. To the south there was a small rise which Adam recognized to be shaped like the dirt of a dugout pond, hinted at by a few cattails looming above the pasture edge.
He breathed deeply, letting the cool morning air fill his lungs, the sun warm his face. The scent of pollen and crisp sparkling air seemed to sever him from the chill he had felt before, only to enfold him as part of the very solitary nature of the place, embracing him in a stillness and silence so profound and primal he could not move for fear of shattering it with anything other than his awareness. Despite his fellow workers, he felt an awareness and peacefulness filled with life that he had never felt before, as if he had somehow become a tree, rooted deep into the soil, fated to watch the ages pass by in this place, even though some part of his mind cried out that it felt timeless, like eternity could pass by and he would still be here, watching the sun rise, feeling it warm his skin and sparkle in the drops of dew on the grass, like he were in a field of tiny diamonds. For the first time in his life Adam knew what it was to want a piece of land, to feel it under his feet and know it was his to love and cherish, to shape it and or let it go, to guard it, to want to die for it.
Nothing in his brief life had ever prepared him for such an overwhelming epiphany. He could not have explained it to anyone had they asked why he was standing there, for he did not have the words and they would have not had the patience. And a proud part of him wanted to explain, longed to cry out his discovery and self-discovery, to engage with the world, to make it pay attention to his newfound wisdom. And yet another part of him, that which resided in the common world, could only whisper that it would mock him, for in a world where everything is to be bought and sold there is no price for a feeling, as his parents had so definitely showed him, unless it is the cost of defeat. And still another part him said that this was not for the world to know, it was an experience only to be shared between him and this land at this very moment, and that it would pass in the universe of time, like all things did, but that it had branded him, changed him, altered him such that nothing would ever be the same, that his eyes would always see a different world than the one he had known only a few hours ago. And so, at this moment of mysterious transcendence, Adam could only stand there, transfixed inwardly and outwardly, waiting for whatever would happen next.
It came with a crash of rocks on the wagon. Adam turned, feeling not only startled but also on the verge of hatred for being ripped from his strange euphoria. On the other side of the wagon was Darryll, his eyes still piercing holes through Adam, his shirt now smudged with dirt and tiny pieces of rotted wood that clung like they were on an invisible string. They stared at each other for a while, and then Darryll turned and walked away. The girls approached and dropped their loads into the wagon, Gillian still smiling, Rachel concentrating on her load until they turned and left. Walt came up and jumped on the tractor.
“Finished in this area,” he called down to Adam. “Always takes a while with the tall grass. Now we’ll walk and collect. Just follow along.” He started up the tractor. It belched black smoke. Then he threw it in gear and started across the field.
Adam nodded, though no one saw him, and began to follow the others who spread out like a guard detail on either side of the trundling wagon, throwing whatever rocks they found into the wooden box as Walt slowly drove the morning away in an up and down pattern.
By the time it was noon the day had become almost too warm. They had stopped for a few very short breaks to drink, but Adam was quickly learning that this family would have considered the work ethic of his parents laughable. The McKenzies rarely stopped for anything more than a quick drink and to brush sweat off their brows. They were always walking quickly, moving here and there picking up everything considered worthy, arguing one moment and helping each other the next to move some large rock or pull out a stubborn weed. Occasionally they would switch drivers, and it seemed the only real rest anyone got was sitting on the tractor driving. Adam spent a great deal of time wishing he knew how to drive a tractor. By the time they broke for lunch Adam was worn out, tired like he hadn’t been for a very long time.
“You look tuckered,” said Gillian sweetly.
“Nah, I’m ok.”
Rachel looked at his lunch.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. “Pop and chips?”
Adam felt embarrassed, but instead just glared at her.
She shook her head and went back to her ham and cheese sandwich.
The sugar and caffeine helped, but the chips weren’t very filling. He was very glad of the break, but the moment Walt lept up his heart dropped.
Rachel was handing him half of her sandwich. He looked at her suspiciously. She frowned at him.
“Don’t be an stump.” She laid it beside him, hopped off the wagon and wandered off into the field picking as she went.
He gazed at the sandwich hungrily, then picked it up and jumped off the wagon just as Gillian started to drive. He wolfed it down. It was really, really good. He gazed over at where Rachel was still picking. He wasn’t sure what to do.
The afternoon was worse. There was no wind, no clouds to cover the sun for even momentary relief. It had become so hot that heat waves seemed to layer the field everywhere, distorting the cool reality of the trees at the edge of the field. Adam had drunk all his Coke by about two in the afternoon. He had thrown the bottle out into the field when Rachel glared at him and pointed at where the bottle had landed. Shamefacedly, he went and picked the bottle up and placed it in the wagon where it wouldn’t be broken. He didn’t look at her again or anyone else, all of whom he was sure had seen his comeuppance. By now he was thirsty, drenched in sweat, dirty, physically tired beyond anything he had ever experienced, and humiliated to boot. His thoughts were mostly about quitting and walking away—even though it would be miles to get home—lying down and dying, going for a swim in the pond which they had passed earlier this morning, and the shame he would feel for doing any one of those things. So he kept on bending down, though his back hurt, picking up rocks, though his fingers hurt, and piling them on the wagon, which they had now unloaded three times at the edge of the cool forest. There always seemed to be more to pick up, and they weren’t halfway through the field yet. Adam was already regretting tomorrow.
He found himself walking next to Walt.
“Umm,” he started, trying to be subtle, “what time do you stop?”
“When the sun starts to go down and we can’t see anymore,” he said, and laughed at look on Adam’s face. “Don’t worry, we’ll only be a couple more hours.”
Adam wasn’t sure he wanted to wait that long.
“Here,” said Walt, and walked up next to the moving wagon, opened the cooler and pulled out a thermos. He stopped, poured a drink and handed it to Adam. Adam drank thirstily. It was Tang, orange and sweet and not quite dissolved enough. Walt poured him another. They walked as Adam drank.
“You’re pretty tough,” Walt said. “You’ll make it.” He looked at his siblings as they continued picking and dumping. “We grew up doing this. It takes years to get a normal field clean. The roots eventually disappear, but the rocks keep coming up for years more, usually pushed up by the frost. It’ll take us another day to finish this, but then it’ll be done for this year. We’ll probably have one more year and then it’ll be good enough.”
They worked away under the hot sun for two more hours. Adam thought he was going to die, or at least sleep for a week.
The sun was far down into a definite decline when they tipped a rock load beside the willow fence. Walt had started the tractor on another line when Rachel decided to make a stand.
“No, we’re finished. I’m going for a dip,” she declared and made off for the pond with Gillian.
Darryll and Adam looked up at Walt, who watched the girls go and then looked ahead into the field. He shrugged his shoulders.
“There’s always tomorrow,” he said, then turned the tractor towards the pond, signaling Darryll and Adam to hop on. When they passed the girls waved them on.
The large pond was clear down to the bottom where a brown aquatic forest grew, in some places all the way to the surface. It was also occupied by a family of Mallard ducks who quickly swam to the safety of the middle. The brothers kicked off their shoes, pulled off their pants and shirts and plunged into the water, stirring up the muddy bottom immediately. Adam stood completely still for a second, staring at them, and then looked over his shoulder at the oncoming girls.
“Dare, I think Adam’s shy,” called Walt to his brother, loud enough for the girls to hear.
Adam looked back at the boys to see Walt smiling and Darryll looking at him with no particular expression. Adam hesitated for a few seconds more, carefully folded away his glasses, then pulled off his jeans and shirt and plunged in, feeling it was safer under the water than above it.
The plunge took his breath away. A mix of shear shock and exuberance swept through his body, energizing and refreshing him like hadn’t even been working, like he was all of a sudden alive. He swept up to the surface and breathed deeply, wiping the water from his eyes and sputtering.
“Oh God, this is so good!” he cried.
Somewhere Walt laughed.
Adam looked around. Everything was slightly fuzzy. The ducks made for the other end of the pond, the little ducklings crammed around their mother. Adam started to swim for them.
“Don’t,” said Walt from somewhere. “Let them be. This is their pond.”
Adam’s curiosity, and those innate urges every young thing has to introduce itself to other young things and to chase, crowded his mind as he watched the ducks disappear into the tall green bull-rushes. But then the girls were there and he forgot all about the ducks. He couldn’t help but watch as Gillian and Rachel stripped off their dirty jeans, but left their t-shirts on. Rachel plunged into the water while Gillian slowly eased herself in, inch by inch, until she was getting splashed too much by her brothers and simply fell over into the water.
Thereafter passed mud-fights, water fights, and dunkings, with Gillian, Darryll, and the feisty Rachel giving as good as they got from the larger Walt and Adam.
It was sometime, during a dunking from a laughing Rachel, that Adam thought he saw Darryll stare at him with those sad accusing eyes, and then turn and leave the pond. Rachel dunked him again. When he came up he looked for Darryll and saw him walking towards the forest. Probably going to relieve himself, Adam thought, and then he turned his attention to revenging himself on Rachel, who was now helping her sister pull Walt under the muddy opaque water. Thereafter, he simply lost a sense of time until Gillian said she was tired and couldn’t they all go home now? They unstuck themselves from the muddy pond and began putting on their pants.
It was then, in the looming shadows of the oncoming evening, they noticed Darryll was gone.
“Where the hell is he?” Walt muttered.
Adam pointed towards the forest. “I saw him go over there,” he said. “He probably had to—“
But he stopped talking. The others were looking at him with strange and disturbing looks of fear.
“Where?” whispered Rachel.
“There,” said Adam with trepidation, and pointed again to the looming spruce and the black spaces in-between.
“Oh, no, oh no no no no,” said Gillian, and began walking in the direction Adam had pointed, not even bothering to stop to put on her shoes.
They all followed, tramping over the warm grass until they reached the edge of the pasture. There Gillian abruptly stopped at the willow fence and pointed to some newly broken twigs. They lined up on either side of her.
“Why would he do this?”
Adam was very confused. Darryll couldn’t be far. He started to step through the fence, almost eager to smell the spruce sap and see the sun through the thick boughs overhead. Many hands took hold of him and pulled him back.
“Don’t, you might get lost,” said Walt.
“Okay,” said Adam, “then I’ll just call.”
The siblings all looked at each other as if making a worrisome decision. Adam put his hands to his mouth. Nobody stopped him, so he called out Darryll’s name into the darkening woods. He did this for three or four minutes up and down the fence, wondering why the McKenzies didn’t join him. They only stared at him, and the forest. Gillian started to shiver, then to cry. Rachel and Walt moved to comfort her. Rachel seemed to be on the verge of tears herself, and Walt’s face had become a solemn stone.
They stood there, continuing to stare into the depths, listening for anything in the woods, anything beyond the willow fence.
“Come on,” said Walt, “we’ll need help.”
They turned and started to walk back to the tractor. Adam didn’t understand anything; why they didn’t go into the forest, why didn’t they move any faster to the tractor. It was almost as if they knew Darryll was gone, dead gone, and now they were leaving?
No, it wasn’t right.
Adam turned and ran and plunged over the fence before the others could stop him, and didn’t stop running until he entered the woods.
The McKenzies didn’t call out after him.
He slowed to a stop and looked back. Through the tall trees he could see the edge of the field and the willow fence and the glooming sunlight beyond so he knew how to get back. He looked down as he started to walk, searching for tracks.
“Wow,” he mouthed to himself. The light brown forest floor was made up of old spruce needles, spruce cones, and spruce seeds, dotted with a very few small shrubs, none of which he knew. There were no game trails, not even the occasional track to be found. In the gloomy light Adam noticed that he didn’t leave any tracks either on the spongy carpet. It probably goes down for meters, he reflected, looking at the massive trees surrounding him. They were larger than any trees he had ever seen. Maybe not as big as those trees in California and on the West Coast he had heard about, where you could drive cars through them, but a cross-section of one of these could still become a dinner table for a family of eight. The forest was a maze of these giants, a weaving of tree beyond tree beyond unseen tree beyond the unseen. He thought about being lost in this forest, like Darryll obviously was, and it gave him a disturbing sense of eternity, as if one could wander here for the rest of one’s life and never see the field, or anything else but trees, ever again.
He looked back over his shoulder. The light from the field was gone, and it was dark enough that, even if he could leave tracks, which he was sure he couldn’t, he probably wouldn’t see them anymore. A small sense of panic caught him but he brushed it away. He knew the direction out: he could find it again after he found Darryll.
Now he looked up, and stopped. The farther up he looked, the more he stared up at the turning sky barely visible above in tiny glimpses, the more awed he became. The branches reached out over him like giant green and black feathers, layer upon layer everywhere he turned, an impenetrable wall of needle and bark between him, the sky, and the light. The trees now seemed more like giant gray pillars, their roots digging like claws with ferocious tenacity, curling deep and mysteriously into the unknown soil. The pungent smell of slow decay wafted into his sensitive nose, wrapping itself around his senses like an ethereal snake, infecting his mind with a strange idea of comfort, of welcoming. Adam swallowed, but his mouth was dry, and he almost gagged on nothing. A sense of vertigo tugged at his stomach, like he was looking down from a great height and not up. He felt very small here, both in a sense of size and time: a fly who had stumbled into a meal he could never truly understand, only slightly taste, which bore down on him with an immense weight of unknowing, a sense that no matter where he looked, he would never find what he was looking for because he was only a fly, and flies only knew the world as flies can.
He turned around, put his head down and ran, calling out Darryll’s name over and over and over, not really looking where he was going in the gathering darkness, hoping, praying, he would run into the willow fence, trying desperately to keep that horrifying sense of being lost in the infinite out of his mind. But it kept brushing his edges of awareness, tickling his imagination and reason with mystery weighted upon mystery, almost whispering to him not in words or song, but in awareness, in that fire that is excruciating revelation where everything must change. He had know that kind of pain before, felt it weigh his soul, if such a thing existed, when he had learned things he had not wanted to know, about himself, about his family, about his world. But that which chased him now was nothing so mundane, so trivial; it was as if the world was about to eat him—
He wanted to scream.
But he stumbled then, and fell to the forest bed. And that was all he knew.
When Adam was waking he heard a man’s voice speaking in low tones. It was strong, with what sounded like a diminished Scottish accent. It was angry and pained at the same time.
“What was the big idea, bringin’ him down here? Do you know what you’ve done?”
“I meant no harm, Da.” Walt’s voice, tired, sad and desperate.
“You know what you meant.”
Walt was silent.
“It was supposed to be you,” Mr. McKenzie grated. “You. Not him and definitely not Darryll. You. And now we have the whole bloody town searching these woods, and you know what they’ll find. Don’t ya?”
Walt said nothing.
Another male voice came in from the distance.
“Nothing yet, Mr. McKenzie. Don’t worry, we brought in Arnason’s dogs and there must be about fifty people out there right now. We’ll find him.”
“My thanks, Officer Jones, for everything.”
“Just doing my job. Ah, looks like the young man’s awake. How’re you doing, son?”
The officer came and stood over Adam where he lay on the ground covered in a blanket. He stared up at Constable Jones in the inky night, the large man’s features lit only by a few distant headlights and a nearby lantern.
“Can you tell us how you came to be unconscious?”
Adam held the blanket tighter against the cool night. He shook his head.
“Did you find any trace of Darryll in there?”
Adam shook his head again.
“No, eh. Well, get your parents to drop you by the shop tomorrow and we’ll get your statement. Ah, here they are now. Good evening folks.”
“Evening, Jones,” came his father’s voice. Adam winced. He father was slightly drunk.
“Better take him home. Not much you can do here now. Lucky we only have one lost boy. Good thing that MacKenzie cousin found him. Saves us a lot of looking.” The Constable waved at a young man dressed in old-fashioned clothes talking with the other MacKenzies at the edge of the lights. The young man tipped his English wool cap and smiled, his fair features and shaggy strawberry blonde hair s striking portrait in the glow. Then he turned back to his family. “Though you know,” grumbled the Constable, looking after them, “after a century of owning this land you’d think they’d know where to look for one of their own. Still, you never know with them. I’ve never even heard of or seen that cousin of theirs before.” He was gazing at young man with the cap curiously. “Must be new. Looks like he just came from Scotland.”
“Yep,” came his father’s reply.
His mother bent down.
“Come on, time to get you home. You’ve had enough excitement for the day.” She pulled Adam up to his feet. He stood for a second expecting a headache or something, but, other than being a bit thirsty, he felt fine. She steered him away.
“Sorry about your boy, McKenzie.”
McKenzie waved disinterestedly at Adam’s father.
“Boys, eh?” chuckled Adam’s father.
McKenzie turned away, taking Walt by the arm and leading him into the darkness. The strange cousin stared at Adam for moment, then nodded as if recognizing something and followed the other McKenzies away from the light.
As Adam watched them go a sadness rose up in him, dusky and alone, that crept into those little hidden corners of the mind whispering forbidden thoughts and horrifying possibilities. Then he was bundled into his parents’ truck. He sat silently between them while they argued whose idea it had been to let him go in the first place, conveniently forgetting that it had been Walt’s idea. And he sat there trying to remember the last time he had seen Darryll, trying to re-imagine the look on the boy’s face, because some part of him felt he would never see that face again.
Ten years later Adam found himself back in the Bamdarrylls with Walt, signing the final details of sale on the hood of Walt’s old beater Ford under a hot June sun, the alfalfa hay up to his knees. After he signed, Adam looked over the 400 acres of hay with a sincere happiness he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
“Yep,” said Walt. “It’s a little Eden. All four sections are yours now. I guess this makes you a little Adam.” He laughed at his joke and flicked his cigarette into the grass. He looked a lot like he had when he was eighteen, except wrinkles were starting to form around his eyes and a thin line of black stubble bumped across his chin in patches. He smiled down on Adam and crinkled his eyes in amusement.
Adam had never grown any taller since that day all those years ago. But he was strong as an ox, short legged with a strong back, and determined like every farmer in that country had to be. And now he owned the only piece of property he had ever really wanted. Life was treating him pretty good, he had to admit, so he ignored Walt’s dig.
“Tell me, Walt, what happened that day? I always figured I never got the truth of things.”
Walt eyed him for a moment, and then his tan face broke into wide grin.
“Which would you rather hear, Adam, an ugly truth or a pretty lie?”
“Dunno,” said Adam, and fidgeted with his lunch box.
“I figure,” said Walt, “I figure life is all about pretty lies and death is the truth. I figure we spend all our lives trying to live those pretty lies so we can avoid the truth, although I guess for some of us we see that ugly old truth head on and we use pretty lies to soften our bed, if you like.” He tapped another cigarette and smiled. “And some of us, some of us, well, for some of us believing pretty lies are the truth and that means you can do anything you want in life if you’ve got the right magic wand and the guts to use it.”
Adam was silent for a moment.
“Which are you?” he asked.
Walt peered down at him.
“All of them.” Then he hopped into his truck.
“Where are you gonna go now, Walt?”
“Think I’ll head for Vancouver. I hear there’s a lot of money to be made in the film industry over there. Maybe you’ll see this handsome mug on the big screen some time soon.” He gave a wink and a smile. “Otherwise, Rachel’s husband could use a good manager at his feedlot over in Pincher. We’ll see how things pan out.”
“Sorry you have to go.”
“Nah, don’t be. Farming never suited me anyhow. Pretty glad to be out, actually.”
“Thanks for showing me how to open the gate. That’s quite the trick, that hidden lever.”
“Ah, kept the riffraff out,” said Walt. He looked around the pasture and sighed. “One last thing about the pasture… let’s see… how can I put this” he began rubbing his chin, “there will be years when you’ll just feel like you shouldn’t touch the field. Trust your intuition and let it grow. It’ll be cropped and then the rocks will appear like before. They’ll just look like they came out of nowhere. Frost acts strange in this field. Make sure that you plant only native grass in the pasture, don’t put any animals on the pasture, until after the rock picking that year. Keeps the rocks down.” He smiled that knowing smile, but then he suddenly turned somber and looked out over the pasture at the surrounding forest. “Look, there is one last thing you could do for me.”
Walt looked back at Adam with sad eyes.
“If you ever find Darryll out here, could you, well, could you just bury him right where you find him? It’s really his place, after all. Even the deed was originally made up in his name.”
Adam looked steadily at Walt’s eyes for a moment.
“He loved this place,” said Adam.
“Yeah, he did,” said Walt quietly. “More than anyone knew.”
Adam held out his small powerful hand. Walt looked at it for second and then reached through the window and shook it strongly.
“I think he would have been real glad to know you’re going look after it for him,” said Walt, waving as he drove away.
Remembering vaguely how Darryll had looked at him, Adam rather doubted that.
When Adam had told his wife Emily about the “Little Adam” tag she had liked it immediately and soon it was what everyone called him. That had been over sixty years ago, thought Little Adam as he gazed up at the burning clouds. He had never heard from any of the McKenzies again. He never found Darryll. Never really even looked, as he had never entered the forest again in all that time of cultivating and seeding and harvesting. Never even hunted down there, though he had seen a few good-sized animals wander through the field and disappear into the spruce when he worked early in the morning or late at night. It had just sort of slipped his mind. He guessed that is what made him the saddest. He would not be the one to bury the boy. After this night he knew his children would sell the farm to the developers he had been fighting off for 10 years and those machines would find an eight-year-old’s skeleton from over 70 years ago. A tear trickled from his eye and glinted in the light of the rising moon. He doubted that those people or those machines would respect Darryl, or they might not even notice him, as they scraped away the forest and the grass and laid the concrete for the latest sub-division of the city called Courtship. The boy would be lying under concrete forever. They probably wouldn’t even keep the name of the land. It would be called Meadow Heights or some such nonsense. Now, in his blackest thoughts, Little Adam could feel Darryl under the concrete, scratching at it, screaming to feel the sun on his face, to run through the forest, to feel the hay scented wind once more, to hear the birds sing.
One last time Little Adam cursed his old mare for dumping him, but had to admit it was a good place to die. He was glad it was a nice warm night as well. He coughed a little blood up, and tried to feel his legs but there was nothing. You would think, he thought to himself, you would think that horses that had been exposed to dangers for generations would lose their fear instincts after awhile when they were with their human. He bet himself that she had run those full six miles back to the barn. Still, he thought, it was strange. A wolf howl hadn’t been heard in this part of the country for 70 years. Just goes to show, he grimaced with pain, you can’t always change hope for reality.
He stared at the oncoming stars and then he saw something in them he hadn’t ever bothered to notice before, a design, a pattern. Where had he seen that before?
He looked over at the gate, the same gate, as had been there so long ago, glowing in the last vestiges of the sun. He had kept it up as Walt had asked, though it never seemed to need it, nothing seemed to weather or fall down in the strongest winds or fade in the hottest sun. His wife had complained about how ugly she thought the gate was and how he should cut it down, but she never came down here anyway, so he had left it as a job to do every “next year” until she had passed away. Little Adam had replaced the willow fence as the plants had died. The Bamdarrylls were in almost the exact same condition as they were the first day he saw them, except there were piles of rocks on the edges of the pasture. He never did understand what the McKenzies had done with theirs. Emily had thought he was crazy for keeping it as it was but he had never forgotten the place’s magic.
“Shoulda named it Magic, then the boys mighta understood.” He thought about it for a second. “Nah, they wouldn’t ‘ave.” It was just another field to them, more work. They picked stones with him once when they were small and had never forgotten the experience and had always something else to do when he mentioned the Bandarrylls
He had never spent the night here. He thought it was kind of ironic this would be the first and last time, being a no-cut year. He had forgotten about the design in the stars and the gate.
As he looked back up everything went a shade darker and the stars drew close. The redpink sky in the west slipped over the horizon past the spruce forest as the murky darkness ate away the light. The stars seemed almost to descend, down, down, their edges flaring, their colours becoming individual, their particular sizes and shapes alive, and they seemed so close, closer than he had ever seen them anywhere else, like they were in the field itself.
“We don’t get fireflies up here,” he mumbled.
From somewhere in the silent night came a boy’s laughter. Then a small hand gripped his old mitt and pulled him up into the wonder and the horror.
When a neighbour finally noticed Little Adam was missing from his farm his sons came in from Courtship to try and find him. They found the old mare saddled and bridled, dirty dry sweat underneath her saddle blanket, but calm as she ate her hay in the barn. They had an inkling of where to find him then, but when they went down to check the Bamdarrylls they could not find the entrance into the trail that led to the field they had so infrequently visited. Even from the air no one could find the field. And when air photos and satellite photos from over the decades were examined none of them showed any such field had ever existed. People who had been to the field, including the brothers, were mocked until they began to doubt their own sanity. After a couple of weeks the search was given up and the brothers returned to their lives, trying not to even think about what they thought they had known. They waited respectfully for a half a year, and then put their father’s land up for sale, including the densely forested area once known as the Bamdarrylls.
A year later a geologist came running into the office where the site manager was overlooking the development of a new gated community to be called Meadow Heights, situated conveniently ten or so miles outside of the rapidly expanding city of Courtship.
“What’s down your pants, Rich? You look like you’ve swallowed naptha gas,” the site manager asked while eyeing the geologist’s trembling fists.
“Look at this, Eldon” said Rich, and handed the site manager a few large stones. Eldon looked at them, noticing they were heavy and glinted, one in silver, one in copper, one in gold.
“Huh,” said Eldon, “pretty weird. What are they?”
“They are pure silver, copper, and gold,” quivered Rich.
Eldon’s mouth popped open. “You’re kidding.”
“No, no, I’m not. There are piles of elements out there, iron, carbon, gold, uranium, yes uranium, you name it, if it is solid in this temperature range and hasn’t been eroded completely by the weather or rain then it’s out there in heaps, like it’s been dumped by something or someone. But the spruce trees around these piles are at least three hundred years old.”
“That’s crazy. This isn’t even mining country,” exclaimed Eldon.
“You think that’s crazy, you haven’t even heard crazy yet.” A strange look of fascination passed over Rich’s face. “I did some tests. Sent some of these samples off to my old lab mates at U of T because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But they confirmed it: these samples could have only come from one place, and very recently, like in the last fifty years or so.”
“OK,” said Eldon, taking a deep breath while wondering how he could turn this all to his advantage and profit, “hit me.”
Rich pointed at the lumps on the desk.
“Those,” he said reverently, “come from the very hearts of stars.”
Somewhere in this pure night, far off on the dark horizon that rims the edge of a world that does not brazen its sky with illusions of progress, somewhere among the trees that hang silently weeping red and yellow leaves veined with dying green, somewhere, surrounded by the verdure and gold of someone’s insignificant fields of hope and misery, or among the dark brown eyes of cows as they lie in the moonlight chewing yesterday’s distant memories, out there, maybe lying on the highway heading out of town, its back broken by a misconception or a lack of hesitation, a panic before the final predator, ragged eviscerations running the length of a convulsing body, one last glazed look down the paved black river of life before death, somewhere out there where only the careless, the vicious , and the disenchanted go, from somewhere out there, like a pitiful sounding call for the final battle between will and gravity, comes a scream, a cry, a blood-soaked breath, the likes of which has been heard for hundreds of millions of years on the face of the earth, and will be heard for hundreds of millions more beneath the incremental movements of long lost stars.
Brad, I’m very disappointed in your assignment. This is not what I asked of the class in terms of an argumentative paragraph on the benefits of living in a small town. We went over what I wanted thoroughly in class. But in your work there is not only no argument but it is just one huge run-on sentence that is all melodramatic image and no substance. You obviously are not taking this class seriously and need to get up to speed if you want to graduate. Please see me after class and we will see if you can rescue this assignment. Until you do some revisions I’m afraid this mark will stand.
For the first time in five months, the wind swept in from the north. Outside, a branch tapped and scraped on the house, irritating Nicole as she grunted up the steps and into Anna’s bedroom. The sharp afternoon sun of early September glared in through the narrow single pane windows, carving paths of light on old green carpet. Here and there pictures of horses, friends and family dotted the yellow walls, arranged, it seemed, in orders of importance. Clinging precariously to the old boudoir mirror a flutter of birthday cards gently swayed in a draft. They said things like “How old are you? Holy crap! And I thought I was old!” and “Happy 23rd, Bitch.”
The envelope felt slippery in Nicole’s fingers, like it wanted to escape and go back where it came from. In printed block letters it said “University of Calgary” and “Anna Liebermann, 145 Bitterroot Street, Great Sky, Saskatchewan”. She gripped it tighter, and looked around for somewhere she could release her burden. She decided on the dresser in the corner. A year earlier Anna had painted it a sickly pink to cover up the scratches and dents from the multitudes of previous tenants. The colour had not been Anna or her mother’s idea.
“That damn Achey,” muttered Nicole as she set the envelope firmly down between a bottle of facial cleanser and a small jewelry box. One drawer sat open at an awkward angle from Anna’s morning rush to work at the little town’s remaining supermarket. Nicole slammed the drawer shut and turned to go. Then she stopped and quickly looked around, as if worried someone would see her, before turning back to the drawer. It slid open unhappily, catching on time and rough use. Inside were panties, bras and socks, arranged neatly in rows and piles. Nicole lifted up each pile and looked underneath before putting it down exactly where she had found it. Nothing. She grimaced a little and tried the next drawer. Shirts. And nothing. Next. Pants, and still nothing. Nicole looked around the room, a chubby finger pressed against her lips. Then she pulled up the mattress. Underneath was a little black book with gold lettering that was starting to flake off. It said “My Diary”. Nicole smiled and took the book out and sat on the bed. Inside the cover was written “To my dearest daughter, Anna, on her 23rd birthday. All my love forever, Mom.” Nicole flipped a couple of pages. In painfully neat handwriting Anna had written “September 5, 2004. Dear Diary, I can’t really think of anything to say right now. Maybe I will write something later.” Nicole flipped through a few more pages, then the whole book. There was nothing else. Shaking her head, Nicole put the diary back where she found it, straightened the bedspread, and left the room.
In the early evening, Anna came up the back steps, tired but fairly happy. It had been a long and busy day, the kind she liked best. The walk home had refreshed her, her discman supplying a droning electronic soundtrack to a lovely, if cool, twilight. At the top step she stopped. She took a deep breath and opened the back door. Nicole, short and compact, verging on being fat, stood at the stove, a pot or pan on each burner, her once pretty blue eyes quietly assessing the progress of each new bubble and spit. Anna didn’t look at the stove or her mother as she took off her jacket and hung it on an iron coat hook on the back of the old door.
“Mmmm…Lessee, sauerkraut, bratwurst, Kraft Dinner, and….” she hesitated, took off her worn out running shoes and put them on the dusty mat. “And…”
“Going German tonight, Mom?”
“German Canadian,” Nicole smiled, pulling on her cigarette. “How was work?”
“Does Mrs. Wolcawski ever shut up?”
“Not since I’ve known her.” Nicole turned a bratwurst. It spat and sizzled, burning a little on the sides. “And that would be about 30 years.”
“And that makes you how old?”
“Old enough to be your mother. Go get your brother. I’m mad at him and I’m afraid that if I see him right now I’ll say something I’ll regret. But I can still eat at the same table with him.”
“What did he do now?”
Anna turned and moved up the orange shag stairs. Each step creaked under her bulk, sending an echo through her heart. She stopped for a second and felt around the roll of fat that hung over her jeans, and sighed. For a long hour that afternoon she had watched Jeffery Toznow stroll through the produce section, all muscles and smiles and those piercing brown eyes and found herself smiling and giggling far too much at his idle comments, but she knew she would never have him, could never have him, the way some girls had. And each step that creaked under foot seemed to bear a little more of her growing disappointment and confusion.
She knocked on Brad’s door, and opened it, expecting he couldn’t hear her with his headphones on.
He didn’t have his earphones on.
“Holy Jeezus,” cried Brad as he scrambled to pull up his jeans and stuff the magazine under his pillow. “Jeezus, Jeezus, don’t you ever knock? Christ!”
She walked in, sat down on the bed and pulled out the magazine from under the pillow.
“Hey, screw off, bitch girl.” He reached for the porn magazine but she easily held his half-hearted flailing off as she flipped through the pages. She stopped and held up a page.
“Oh,” she said, “that’s how you do that.”
“Yeah, what would you know, you grumbling grimoire of the grotesque?”
“Grounded again, are you?” She smiled at him.
Brad huddled up against the old yellow paint of the wall that he had tried unsuccessfully to hide beneath posters of Metallica, the Ramones, Dark Tranquility, My Dying Bride, Keira Knightly and too many other bands and girls Anna didn’t recognize or care about. They stood guard above him and his narrow bed with the old red and black Hudson’s Bay blanket, a swath of sneering and leering faces, pouting lips, folded arms, chains, leather, denim, weird logos, and long hair that complemented the stacks of comics, cds, and second hand science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels that littered the floor and rose up into stacks in the corners of the room.
“Mom’s pretty pissed at you.”
Brad said nothing. He stared out the narrow single pane window at the darkening sky. Anna flipped through the magazine some more.
“Yuck,” she said. “Is that real? Do they get that big?” She held the picture up to Brad. He looked at it out of the corner of his eye, and then looked away.
“I’ve seen Eric Johansson’s in the change room. He walks around all the time like he owns the world.” He was quiet for a second. “He might be that big.”
Anna shook her head again and put the magazine back under Brad’s pillow. “So wha’dja do?” she asked.
“Told Principal Tate to screw off.”
“How’d she take it?”
“A week’s suspension.”
“Better than last time.”
“Yeah, well, she had it comin’ this time an she knew it.”
“Anyway, butthead, supper’s ready.” Anna got up and headed for the door.
“Mom gonna talk to me?”
“Don’t think so,” she said as the left.
“Crap.” Brad took a deep breath and got off the bed.
Anna saw the envelope as soon as she entered her room. She stared at it a little, a pudgy finger to her lips, then she quickly picked it up and ripped off its end and read the letter inside. She held her breath, then gave a little squeak and thundered down the stairs into the dining room. Her mother and brother looked up from the table, a big smile lighting up Nicole’s face, confusion on Brad’s. Nicole got up and tried to give her daughter a big hug and a kiss, barely able to get her arms around her daughter’s bulk or reach up to Anna’s face; a fat squirrel wearing a threadbare green sweater with pink flowers, holding onto a large blue tree.
“Congratulations, honey. Oh, I’m so happy for you,” she chattered.
“What the hell’s going on?” asked Brad.
“Shut up, you. I’m not very happy with you tonight,” snapped his mother. She looked up at Anna. “But this girl, she’s going to university.”
“Isn’t she kind of old for that?”
“Not as old as you’ll be if you keep getting grounded, Bradley.”
“Tate had it comin’, Mom.”
“I don’t care, Bradley.” She clasped to Anna again. “Oh, you’ve made your mother so proud, Anna Rosalind Freimann.”
Anna could feel her mother’s tears on her breast. It was all so very awkward.
Douglas T. Maitland took a deep breath as he stepped out of his brand new Mustang and smiled. It was a very pretty little town in the middle of nowhere. The drive over the flat prairies had so far bored him to tears, even with ‘Ol Blue Eyes and Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack to keep him company. Generally he didn’t like any place hard to find on a national map. Besides, most of these towns were ugly and depressing, what with the boarded up windows, the old weathered For Sale signs, and the sad looking people who eyed you suspiciously, yet somehow hopefully, as they wandered across the dirty, wind swept streets and crept into dirty, rusted out trucks.
“Farmers,” he always grumbled, “have got to be the stupidest species on the face of the planet.” Sometimes, when he was passing where they were working in their fields, he had the urge to stop and scream at them “Leave or die, you idiot.” He had, in fact, once done this in the middle of Nebraska. But even as the tractor driver slowed to see what the fuss was about, Douglas saw not a dirty baseball cap covering an old and worn male face but a pretty young woman with flowing blonde hair, like something out a calendar. He got back in and drove away, a strange sense of confusion and anger riding in the passenger seat amongst the candy wrappers and old fast food bags.
“But this little town is almost civilized,” he thought as he stretched his lanky frame and gazed at the trees and shrubs lining the sidewalk and the meridian, the well designed store fronts hung with tell-tale signs of care, the flower beds. He looked at the local medical clinic across the street. He pointed two long fingers like guns.
“Tsk, tsk. I’m comin’ for ya. Don’t go anywhere.” He looked around again until he saw a diner on the far end of the street. He hit the lock and alarm buttons on his key chain. The car beeped cheerily. Then he sauntered down the street towards Yuki’s diner whistling “Come Fly With Me”, enjoying the warm autumn evening.
Uncle Jerry smelt really strongly of pigshit and fresh hay again, even over the smell of smoke and sour beer in Hub’s Pub.
“So yer leavin’ us, huh? Goin’ to the big city, the concrete jungle, the cement funny farm.” He set his Labatt’s Blue down on the beaten wooden table. He picked up his cigarette and took a puff and blew it out his nose. “I didn’t even know you applied.”
Patsy Cline was playing on the jukebox. Anna had a love/hate relationship with Patsy. She loved the woman’s songs but they always depressed her, especially after she saw a film of Cline’s life. But it was Friday night and she had just learned she was going to Calgary, to fulfill one of her greatest ambitions. She had decided that not even Patsy was going to bring her down tonight, never mind Jerry’s cigarette smoke.
“I guess,” she said, looking across at her best friend Achey’s troubled face, “I guess I just want to do more than be a clerk at Mavis’ place, you know?”
Jerry squinted at her out of the corner of his eye. Achey didn’t look convinced. She would’ve killed for Anna’s job and they all knew it.
“I mean, how am I going to find that rich doctor or lawyer here, don’t cha think?” Anna smiled and reached for her Corona.
“Pissy-assed beer,” said Jerry, gesturing at her bottle.
Anna woke from a disturbed sleep, cold and, for no particular reason she could think of, unhappy. She looked at her clock; it glowed “6:01” in big red letters. She grimaced and rolled over and tried to gather up the ratty blankets she had pushed off the bed during the night’s obvious tumbles. Once she was warm again she clutched her pillow.
“Was it good for you? Yeah, me, too,” she said sleepily and closed her eyes again. But it wasn’t good and after awhile she began to feel uncomfortable. She could never really sleep on the old futon unless she was dead tired or drunk, but now she was only grumpy from lack of sleep. She lay there and thought about the looks on Jerry and Achey’s faces and tried to feel what they felt. She supposed she understood but couldn’t be sure. She rolled over and stared at the little gold flecks in the stucco ceiling. Then she stared out the window at the bright blue of a morning sky. Then she gave up and got out of bed.
Nicole was sitting at the kitchen table taking long draws on her Menthols, her worn out bunny slippers keeping rhythm to an unhearable beat. Anna quickly hugged her mother and snagged the cigarette out of the older woman’s mouth, took a quick drag, then put it back in her mother’s mouth. Then she grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down and looked out the window, past the crack from last year’s lost and unfortunate grouse. She took a sip and put it down and looked again.
Her mother squinted across the green plastic tablecloth pockmarked by tears and the occasional cigarette burn. Beneath well-plucked eyebrows that ran below a well-lined forehead, the older woman’s eyelids were dark and puckered while no dye seemed to be able to keep time from sucking the colour out of the curly black crown tangled above the blue bathrobe that was last year’s Christmas gift from Brad.
“What are you doing up so early?” croaked her mother.
“What time did you come back from Hub’s?”
Her mother nodded knowingly and took another drag. She kept her eye on her daughter. “For someone who’s going to university come January you don’t look too happy.”
Anna said nothing, resting her head on her hand, her long dark brown hair falling across her blue eyes. Outside, the coldest part of the day settled down to shiver the land. The birds didn’t sing, leaving a waiting calm to sit on the trees.
“Dad would’ve been out by now.”
Nicole took a deep breath and stared at the dirty linoleum floor, cracked and torn from too many careless renters. Slowly, her face hardened, becoming cold and unforgiving, ice in its seams. Then she stood up and flung her full coffee cup at Anna. It zipped past Anna’s ear and smashed against the fridge spraying Anna and the kitchen with shards of china and hot coffee. Nicole turned and lurched from the room, leaving smoke trailing in her wake, cold circles of coffee drying on the table.
Anna cleaned the kitchen and herself, dabbing away at the coffee stains on her pajamas like they were patches of excess make-up. Then she sat there, staring out at the dawn and the opening light, her mind gratefully empty, until she had to dress for work. It was only then she noticed the glass shards stuck in her skin.
Lolling in the warm sun, Brad sat on the hillside by Blackfield Creek and looked out over Myer’s huge wheat field. The last remnants of the summer’s insects were scurrying towards the end of a life cycle or the long months under the snow. Here and there birds he didn’t know the names of skipped from yellow and red leaved bush to brown-green grass to bush again, always on the prod with quick little movements, snatching up dying grasshoppers. A large green-gray grasshopper sat on his knee and eyed him contemplatively; slowly moving it’s forelimbs as if trying to stop them from getting stiff. He looked at it casually, and then flicked it off his knee. Then he picked his nose, looked at the results briefly, and then flicked it out into space as well.
“Gudgeons, them all,” he said out loud, and a broad smile crossed his face. “Man, school sucks.” He shook his dark shaggy head and blinked the deep grey eyes that all the girls thought so wonderful. It was too bad about his attitude and his music, they all said, but didn’t he have the looks? He didn’t know what people said. He didn’t really know anybody outside his family anymore, hadn’t in years, and had long ago convinced himself that he was so far outside the social world of town that he didn’t care what people said about him.
He watched the waves in the white wheat and imagined it was the curly blonde hair of Tammy Wexler and his fingers were the wind. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath and remembered sitting behind her yesterday, how she had worn that little pink sweater that showed off the curves of her small and perfectly formed breasts so well. He had smelled her perfume as she had passed him in the school hallway, a light scent of vanilla and lavender and things he had never known existed before. Eyes closed, he lay back and watched her walk away, those slender womanly thighs striding long and loose under that slim torso, the little light green skirt sashaying with each sway of her hips. He followed each valley, every plain of skin, the light downy hair, the graceful arms, the delicate hands, he followed every feature slowly, painfully, with his mind, wanting to touch, to smell, to taste; he followed them across a whole world, across a young woman’s form, each part of him rushing in blood and desire, filling with oxygen and dreams so that, together, all those parts floated away into the warm, wet sunlight leaving the earth behind.
If one had looked down, through the long clear winds and the lucent sunshine of that early fall afternoon, down upon that creek, upon that hill, and that field, they would only have seen a boy, dressed in torn jeans and a black Metallica t-shirt, lying back in the deep grass on the side of a hill, a slight smile gracing his sharp awkward features. They would not have seen the man standing in the wheat crop watching the boy. They would not have seen him take off his dirty John Deere cap and wipe the sweat from his brow and look up at the sun through piercing blue eyes that held steady like jewels in the craggy but handsome face, scruffy with a day’s growth. They wouldn’t have seen him put his cap back on, give one more smile at the boy, then turn away, idly picking a head of wheat and spreading the grains in his hand before picking one out and putting it between his teeth and crunching down. He kept walking, his hands brushing the waving wheat that danced around his old oil-stained jeans.
“Where the hell is Myers?” the man asked the field. “We’re nearin’ the end. Time’s a wastin’.” And then he was gone. The wheat danced on in the wind, white gold in the sun.
“Well, if you don’t have any bronchitis patients, you must have asthmatics.”
“What are you prescribing, may I ask?”
Art Landers looked at this one pretty closely, gauged him to be about twenty six, handsome in an aggressive kind of way, in good health, well off or at least pretending to be (which was the norm these days), arrogant, university educated, and from the east somewhere. They came through occasionally, these “drug merchants”, as he liked to call them. Usually, he was at a conference somewhere, sponsored by some ridiculously large pharmaceutical company, when the “’gators” would surround him and offer lots of free samples and other “incentives” to prescribe their products to his patients. Only a few sent out representatives into the far reaches of Canada to tackle the grassroots. It was generally considered a lost cause and a waste of money. Marketing money could be better spent elsewhere, like medical organizations, hospitals, government bureaucracies, and advertising. Art had discovered, over the years, that there was very rarely anything genuinely new under the sun when it came to drugs, only new ways to market them. He had grown fairly sick of the game but, as he was the only doctor in town, it was his duty to look after his patients’ health, many of whom were old friends, so he screened the newest treatments as best he could.
“So you’re Charlie’s replacement,” he said.
Douglas felt momentarily annoyed. But he smiled and leaned back. He hadn’t dared to make the comment about the similarity between Art’s name and a certain well known but deceased advice columnist. It would be too cheap and easy.
“Yeah, Charlie retired in July and moved to Florida somewhere.”
“Just in time for hurricane season,” grumbled Art. “Charlie never was that smart, but he knew his products and was straight up.” He turned and shuffled papers around his desk.
“Yeah, he was a good guy.”
Art peered at Douglas over his little glasses.
“Is,” he corrected. “Is a good guy.” He looked back at the pamphlets and study papers strewn on his clean and polished desk.
“I just meant as a representative for our company.”
Art pulled out a study.
“The New England published a study supporting your Cryptsitol.”
“Yes, it’s a big advance in bronchiodilators.”
Art stared at Douglas. The younger man looked back for a second before he suddenly understood and started to fumble in his briefcase. Finally, he pulled out a little red inhaler.
“Meet the new breed, a mix of the short term and the long acting.” He handed it to Art.
“You sound just like an ad,” said Art as he examined the label of the sampler.
Douglas smiled his best smile, threw up his hands and leaned back again.
“You got me there,” he laughed.
“I’m sure I do,” said Art.
Anna took a deep breath. And then another.
“You understand, don’t you? I’m sorry about this but you are the lowest in seniority.” Mavis Grafton reached out and touched Anna’s arm with heavily ringed fingers. “We just aren’t making the money we used to.”
“But I’ve been here longer than Alberta and Paula and—“
“I know it seems that way but you and I both know that the town’s getting older and it’s leaving or dying off. Why, even yesterday old Mrs. McKewan died.”
Another sudden breath.
“She did?” Anna still saw Mrs. McKewan in her mind’s eye from two days ago. The tiny and sprightly old woman, who had never lost her Scottish accent, grinning up at Anna behind the till, asking her if she had received any word from the universities she had applied to. When Anna had smiled back and asked the old woman how she had found out about Anna’s aspirations Mrs. McKewan had simply put her shriveled little forefinger to her mouth and winked and picked up her few bags of fruits and vegetables and waved goodbye as she left. Anna’s last picture of Mrs. McKewan was the old woman turning into that powerfully windy day, her tartan scarf soaring behind her, her long dark green wool skirt pressed against her skinny legs, the grey hair whipping in the wind like a mad sea anemone. But Mrs. McKewan’s plain black coat wasn’t moved at all, it seemed, and her eyes were resolute as she marched out of sight into the forces of nature.
“Yes, on her couch during her nap. Sissy couldn’t find her at crib night so she went back to the McKewan house and there she was.”
“Oh,” whispered Anna. She hid her face for a second under her arm and wiped away a tear.
Mavis pretended not to notice.
“Yes, I’m afraid I just can’t keep you. I wish we could. We all wish we could.” At this she glanced down through the in-store window to where her husband was looking up. He quickly turned back to his shelving. Mavis turned back to Anna. “Especially now you need the money for university, but the money just isn’t there.” Mavis smiled a sad smile at Anna and squeezed the young woman’s arm again. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but times are tough.”
“Who told you I was going to university?”
“Oh, everyone knows, dear, everyone. Your mother’s very proud.”
Anna shook off Mavis’ hand.
“I think I have to go now. I’m not feeling very well.”
“Yes, yes, your asthma. Well, come back when you can and we’ll get you your last check.”
“Don’t I get two weeks notice?”
“I’m sorry, but it just isn’t in the budget.” Mavis’ make-up cracked when she spoke but her bundled up blond hair stayed glued impeccably in place.
“Well, thank-you for all you’ve done.”
Anna took off her apron and handed it to Mavis, who hesitated for a moment before remembering that she actually owned it.
“You’ve been a wonderful employee, Anna. Good luck with university.”
Anna looked out the window overlooking the aisles and tills. She could see Albert, Ronstad, Paula, and even Alice Cirlot looking up occasionally at the window with sly glances. “They all already know,” she thought to herself. She took another deep breath, feeling the tightness starting deep in her chest. Then she opened the door and ran down the steps to the floor and disappeared into the back where she quickly grabbed her coat and Discman and squeezed out the battered back door.
Outside, out of sight, she fumbled in her little denim purse for her inhaler. A plethora of things spilled onto the cement, none of which was an inhaler. She could feel the squeezing, the crushing, begin. She gasped a little, her mouth opening slightly like a fish on a riverbank. She began to search all her pockets.
“Dammit. Dammit. Dammit!” she cursed. Tears began to form and dribble out of the corner of her eyes; mucus began to fumble in her nostrils. She wiped her nose with her sleeve. More tears, no inhaler.
Shocked out of her misery Anna looked up. Her water-plugged eyes were struck and momentarily blinded by a golden crucifix reflecting the midday sun. Askew to the sun a tall blonde female figure stood above her. A bright pair of tight pink leotards glowed as if just taken out of a forge fire.
“Nice ‘tards,” said Anna, and sniffed.
“Yeah, I got them at the Sally Ann last time I went into the city. Why are you crying?” Achey put her arm around Anna.
“Please, Annie, tell.”
Anna grimaced at the sound of her old nickname and sniffed again.
“I’ve been laid off,” she gasped, scraping everything back into her purse
“Oh, are you alright?” Achey looked back at the store. “It was Grafton, wasn’t it? That bitch. All she cares about is money. Annie, are you alright?” she cooed again.
Anna managed a smile.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “I just hadn’t saved up enough money for university yet, is all. I didn’t think I’d get in.”
“I’m not surprised, you being the only one who brings in any money in your house and all.”
“Mom gets social assistance.”
Achey’s eyes shot up at this news.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “you’ll get another job right away.”
“But who will hire me? There’s only another 3 months until I have to leave. Now it seems everyone knows I’m going. Who will have me for only three months?”
“Lots of people, honey, lots of people. Everyone here also knows you and how hard you work. I’m sure Tuffins would snap you up. Or maybe Yuki.”
“I don’t know anything about baking or coffee.”
“I don’t think that matters. You’re a fast learner.”
“But they didn’t hire you.”
“Nobody hires me, honey.”
Anna felt her chest squeeze again. She looked up at the tall skinny blonde in the tight pink leotards. But Achey wasn’t looking at her. She was staring back at the store. Anna tried to take a deep breath and failed.
“I’m going home,” she paused to breath, “want to come?” She took another breath; this one was even shallower.
“Hmmm? No, I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m getting some pablum for Jeffy.” Jeffy was her second child, who was only 26 months old and looked nothing like his 7-year-old sister who had her Blackfoot father’s dark skin. No one knew who Jeffy’s father was. Anna suspected that even Achey didn’t know, even though she denied it and said it was her little secret. “See you tonight?” she said. “You take care. Everything’s going to be alright, you’ll see.” And with that she was gone, stringy blonde hair lagging behind, caught in the wind.
And Anna knew what Achey was going to do, and she knew why and, as she turned back to the long walk home, the warm September air became more desperate to escape her lungs. She dug out her Discman, desperate to close out the world, and fumbled with the likes of Alison Krauss and Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones.
Over the years the walk had become automatic, a dance to her own musical isolation, something she did without thought or plan. She only really paid attention when something was unavoidable, waking her out of her happy daydreams to confront rain, snow, wind, unwelcome greetings, or the all-important dance with passing motor vehicles or ice. She would pass the old short squat houses, from which little old ladies peered with disdain and despair often written on their faces, faded and flaking paint and slowly tumbling to pieces like their homes, their men gone walking or asleep in favourite chairs or long gone to other plains of the spirit or whatever there was beyond this stagnate little hell. And Anna would only look at the wide, wide sky and the quiet streets garnished with old and once loved trees. Sometimes she would look at the abandoned houses or at the weather-beaten for sale signs that stood at odd angles or lay in overgrown grass. She would dream she had her own house, maybe even like that fancy one on Palmer street, the Mayor’s place, and she was living in San Francisco or Montreal or somewhere else and she had two lovely children and a loving man and a good job as a business executive in a tall building with a big office that overlooked the city. And she would smile her secret to herself as she walked back in the evening light.
But today she did not feel the exhaustion of a good day’s work; she did not see the sun lowering towards the horizon; she did not see the friendly waves from across streets; she did not look up at Mrs. McKewan’s pretty little yellow house with its meticulous gardens of wildflowers and new coat of paint; she just kept walking, one foot digging into the future after the next.
(Oh, gosh. What’s wrong with this thing? Dead batteries?)
(Rats. I’d bette-)
The Discman fell to the cement and hit with a quick plastic snap. Little pieces of electronic components and plastic casing splashed about.
+++++Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
(No. No. No. No….)
The Delirium disc stayed in the wrecked Discman. Get it out and put it away. Pick up the pieces…
Bend over. Fight to pull in anything you can. Where’s the Devil when you need him? Anything for a cure, anything for a lifting of the curse. God, how far from home was she? How far from her stinky little bedroom strewn with clothes and girlstuff, where horses ran on the walls and Enrique Inglesias and Elvis Presley pouted from behind her door. Could they see her puffer? Was it sitting on her dresser among the hair scrunchies and the brushes and bottles of sprays from Wal-Mart? Got to keep moving, get home and find the puffer.
+++++Step. Step. Step.
+++++Sit down on curb.
+++++Stretch back. Expand the chest. Try to breathe.
+++++Try to breathe.
+++++Try not to panic.
+++++Pain. Lie back on sidewalk.
+++++Prepare to die.
Feelings of relief swell up like a river in springtime.
+++++Try to breathe again.
+++++Tiny bit. Not enough. Pain.
+++++Try to breathe. Stare at the sky. Smash fist against +++++cement. Ignore pain. Curse self silently.
(Again again again again again…)
+++++Once for each minute breath, a millisecond in duration.
+++++The spider web of swollen lung tissue allows no escape.
Then she thought “There is a man standing over you, Anna. Gosh, he’s handsome, and I look like shit and am about to die. I feel like the Lady of Shalott looking at Lancelot.” It was one of the only poems she remembered from high school English.
“Hmmm,” said Douglas. “It looks like you need this.” He opened his briefcase and pulled out the Cryptsitol and handed it to her. “Take a puff and call me in the morning.”
She smiled the nicest smile she could then gracefully reached up and took the inhaler, mouthed “thank you” as she shook it as hard as she could and pressed down. There was a cool sssst into her mouth. She took another puff, and another.
“Whoa, whoa, there. Two should do it.” Douglas snagged back the inhaler.
Anna stared up into the sky and waited. The effect was almost immediate, even with so little of the drug reaching her lungs, and she felt the horses get off her chest. But they left a million hoof rasps to file away at her insides.
“Thank you,” she said and closed her eyes.
“Looks like you picked the wrong street to walk down. Everything here either has a for sale sign on it or looks abandoned, except this pretty little yellow house here. I haven’t seen one person on the street yet. I don’t think anyone could’ve have helped you here.”
Behind her eyes lay she lay thinking, relaxing, enjoying the way her lungs opened and closed but hating them all the same and how confining they felt to her, like she was still locked in her own small body, a mummy in its coffin. She wanted to breath in the whole sky.
“You could’ve died.”
She shook her head in agreement. Humiliation helped keep her eyes closed.
“I’m Douglas, by the way.”
She didn’t open her eyes, but she imagined him holding out a hand, a long slender, strong hand.
Douglas, for his part, was staring down at her. He didn’t like fat women, especially young fat women, but he could see that she was actually very pretty under those chubby cheeks. He remembered the old joke about the reason for the invention of alcohol and its punch line: “Even fat chicks need love.” He chuckled silently under his breath.
“Look,” he said, “is there somewhere I can take you. My car’s just over there.”
“Please,” thought Anna, “don’t let it be a nice car.”
“I need to go home,” she said.
“Well, oh Lady of the Hungry Breath, your chariot awaits.” And then he reached down and grabbed her chubby hand and pulled her up to a sitting position. Then she opened her eyes, and looked.
“So, Mr. Maitland, you just happened to be driving down Angler’s Avenue when you saw my daughter? That’s a bit off the beaten path for both of you, isn’t it?” Nicole looked closely at her daughter as she doled out another spoonful of mashed potatoes onto Douglas’ plate.
“Mother, did you know Mrs. McKewan died yesterday?”
Nicole signed. “Yes. Is that what you were doing over there? Looking at Betsy’s house? I don’t know who’ll look after it now. It’s too bad. It’s so pretty.” Douglas waved off any more potatoes. He began to look desperately for ketchup. Brad pointed to a cupboard. Douglas reached over and got a bottle out.
“Oh, yes, please make yourself at home, Mr. Maitland,” said Nicole and looked at her daughter again. Anna wanted to slide under the table. Brad looked very pleased at her awkwardness.
“It’s a very nice town you have here,” said Douglas. “Very pretty.”
Nicole smiled in pride.
“Yes, we’re lucky really. The little distillery and the pig farm keep things going pretty much. They’re the only things left really.” Her smile faltered a bit. “Not much else is here anymore.”
Douglas looked up at her sad tone, but then went back to work on his salad, which was mostly old and browning iceberg lettuce, ignoring Brad’s suspicious looks as he dug into the over-cooked pork chop.
Later, Douglas and Anna sat out on the back porch, not looking at each other, staring at the maelstrom of discarded kitchen containers, old bike wheels, vehicle parts, plastic tubing, and the miscellany of unidentified objects that littered the Freimann’s back yard, much of it hidden by long grass gone to seed. It was warm and quiet. A dog was barking in the distance. The sun was slanting lower to the ground, the shadows deepening.
“Previous renters,” said Anna, suddenly intensely aware that this was not the place to have taken him and exceedingly embarrassed.
“Yeah, we rent from the bank. Nobody ever cleans up.”
They sat silently again. Douglas looking like he was getting ready to leave.
“Hi you guys,” chirped a perky voice. Anna cringed just a little.
Achey appeared through the sagging back yard gate.
“Annie, are you OK? Your Mom told me all about what happened.” She deftly trotted through the maze of junk and up the steps. “Hi, you must be Douglas.” She reached out and firmly shook his hand. “I’m Achey. You’re quite the saviour. Talk about the nick of time.” Anna did not entirely like how her best friend was smiling at her “saviour”, or how she was dressed in her best tight jeans and blouse.
“I’m sorry, ‘Achey’?” inquired Douglas.
“Oh, yes, my Mom had some fanatical love of some country song from the early ‘90s, “Achey Breaky Heart” or something, and she made it my nickname and I haven’t been able to lose it since.”
“Yup, but where are you from?”
“Really? Wow, I’ve never been there.”
“I’m originally from Calgary.”
“Do you hate it like I hear some native Calgarians do?”
Two hours, four herbal teas, and a batch of homemade biscuits later Achey finally left with Douglas in his Mustang to go home to her parents and her kids. Douglas promised to come back the next day to see how Anna was. As she sat in front of her mirror, bright lights on either side illuminating her plump features all the more when she compared herself to Achey, she tried to decipher his signals, or if he had even sent any. Would he really come back tomorrow?
“Don’t worry about it.” Brad stood in the open door trying to look like James Dean. “He’s not after her. He wants you, baby.”
Anna looked over at him, laid her head on an open hand, and closed her eyes. She was exhausted. Her body felt like a rusted locomotive left on the side of the tracks for too many years, and in her mind a large and hideous slug crawled, eating away at her tentative grip on any awareness other than a mix of misery and well hidden elation.
“What the heck would you know about it, diphead?” she asked.
“You deserve better friends.”
“I’ve known Achy for 16 years, Brad. You don’t dump on a friend for who she is, especially your best friend, even if she’s so desperate for a father for her kids she’ll steal them from whoever she can.”
“Hah! She’s desperate, alright.”
“Get the hell out of my room.”
Brad looked around the small space, at the dirty window, the flaking violet paint showing yellow underneath, the ancient hardwood floor, the dreams she had scattered on her walls. Then, shaking his head, he turned and walked towards his own room.
“It’s your funeral,” he mumbled under his breath.
The next evening they sat on the back porch again after another unsatisfying meal.
“When do you go?” asked Anna quietly.
“Today. Or, at least, I should’ve gone today. But I’m ahead of schedule about two days and I’ve got a week owing in holidays so I think I’ll stick around a little while.” He flashed a quick grin at Anna, as if she were a secret conspirator. She blushed, but he couldn’t see it in the dusk. Trying to be as mature as possible, or at least as she perceived maturity to be in these sorts of things, she suppressed her urge to giggle and quietly just smiled back.
“When are you coming back?”
Douglas stood up.
“Hey,” he said, “have you got a good bar in this town? It’s too quiet here. Us city boys like noise.”
At the bar Uncle Jerry’s slightly glazed eyes looked Douglas up and down, lingering on the nice shoes, the brand name jeans, the casual blue Pierre Cardin sports jacket.
“Where’d you get him, Anna?”
“Huh. Sure are some strange fish over there.”
“Very funny, Jerry,” said Anna and took a sip of her third Canadian of the night.
“So what do you do, Doug?” persisted Jerry.
“I sell drugs.”
Jerry was very quiet. He squinted at his beer, took a swig, set it back down and squinted at it some more. Achey looked scared. She looked at Jerry and then at Douglas and then at Anna. Douglas understood then, that this wasn’t a two way street.
“I represent a pharmaceutical company from the States. My territory is Saskatchewan and Alberta. Every few months or so, I do a tour of duty introducing our new products to local doctors. They appreciate the visits and it’s nice to get out of the office.”
“They don’t still do business like that, do they?”
“You must be pretty smart to sell all these drugs and stuff.”
“I’ve got a Bachelors in genetics. It helped me get in the door.”
“University, huh? That’s where Anna’s goin’, ain’t it, darlin’?” He pulled the beaten and malformed cowboy hat off his head and threw it on the chair next to him.
Anna took another sip of her beer.
“Not gonna be like her old man or his brother, are you. Gonna get the hell out of Dodge.” Bits of straw fell off his old jean jacket to the floor.
“Jer,” interrupted Achey. “Jer, I think that you shouldn’t talk about this right now.”
Jerry wobbled his head his head over to look at Achey, and peered at her as if surprised to see her there. But he said nothing and took another swig of his beer.
Anna looked at the two of them, there, together, and suddenly she understood why she hadn’t seen Jerry’s wife Megan in the bar for a long time. She stood up.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go now.”
“Why?” slurred Jerry. “You ain’t working tomorrow,” he chuckled, “or the next day.”
“You’re an asshole, Jer,” snapped Achey, and got up from the table. “Go home to your wifey.”
Jerry peered up at her again, a vicious glint in his eyes. “What wife?” he demanded, a gathering stampede rising in his voice. “What the hell would YOU know about being married?”
“More than you, obviously, you prick.”
Jerry angrily swung his arm across the table. Glasses and beer flew different directions. People looked over from behind the bar and from dimly lit corners.
Beer was dripping on Douglas’ jacket and jeans.
“Motherfu-,” he groaned, pushed away from the table and got up.
Jerry and Achey glared at each other. The fight was about to become ugly and public. Douglas grabbed Anna’s arm and pulled her out into the night air.
“Come on, I’ll take you home,” he said, and let her go.
“I don’t want to go home,” Anna muttered. “I’m always going home.”
“Well,” said Douglas, annoyed at the evening’s events, “you’re going home once more. Get in.” He opened the Mustang’s door for her.
She grumbled quietly to herself and climbed in.
And now she watched his taillights disappear. The light kiss goodnight had suddenly become a moist monster of tongues and heavy breathing. But he wouldn’t enter her mother’s house and Anna was not ready for his hotel room. So, after long awkward moments of fumblings and silences, he went away frustrated but even more determined, leaving her somewhat drunk and happy and sad and confused under the blazing automatic porch light outside the kitchen door.
It took a long time for her to fall asleep.
The wind was blowing hard, flinging straw and chaff at her face and eyes, and sometimes even lifting whole swaths of barley and rolling them across the field like they were waves on a golden sea, drenched and glittering in the sun of the early evening. Here and there the odd old grasshopper leapt up and beat its wings in rapid klick-klick-klicks and floated away to safety on the wind. A few misjudged and landed on her instead, but she didn’t mind, and just kept walking on the hard dry earth. She held up her arm, her skinny little tomboy arm, to try to shield her face from the dead threads of barley, and walked through the field, her skinny tomboy legs like horse legs beneath her light frame, all bare and brown and nicked with from the adventures of summer. Her dark brown hair, streaked with a few patches of blonde for the new school year, was caught in the wind like the chaff, and whipped and stung her face. She wished she’d got her Mommy to braid it this morning before school. But she didn’t, and now she’s paying the price of a twelve year old who didn’t think ahead.
She eyes the steel grain bins looming ahead in the distance like teachers or judges, containing all those little pieces of knowledge reaped from this very ground, where the stubble is jabbing at those skinny girl legs and the barley fronds and weed seeds are sticking on her socks and sometimes she has to stop and scratch.
And as she walks she thinks about what she overheard her parents talk about last night, about the words “bank” and “foreclose” and “auction” and “default” and “Christmas” and how she didn’t like the tone of those words and how she actually saw her father looking for some consolation in a touch and how her mother had pushed him away and how he had turned and looked at Anna with the only tears his daughter had ever seen in his eyes, and how he had looked away and then how her mother had demanded Anna go to bed right this minute and Anna had, but not to sleep.
And Anna hears the crunch, crunch, crunch of the stalks under her feet and the grain bins loom closer now, and so much taller and she wants to climb them and look all around the farm, wide and open as far as the eye can see, but right now it is late and she has to tell her father to come home for dinner and that her mother says that it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.
The old blue grain truck, worn and rusted from the years her grandfather used it and now her father, sits quietly glaring at the house in the distance, its load all dumped into the long beam of the auger that angles up to the top of a bin.
Everything is quiet, aside from the evening wind. It buffets the land but does not pass the bins, avoiding them like they were predators. She cannot see her father, or hear him clanging against metal, a sure sign of his presence.
“Daddy?” she calls. “Mommy wants you to come home for dinner.”
“Daddy, where are you?”
The sun passes between the bins on its way to the other side of the world. She steps out of its light.
She walks over to the truck and the grain bin with the long red auger and climbs up the truck’s side and peers into the empty wood box, half covered with a huge orange tarp held on by black rubber ties. She jumps off and struts over to the bin and climbs up the ladder built into its side. She looks down into the hatch at the edge of the roof. In the darkness she sees the slope of the grain, like a little golden mountain. She looks all around. She calls again.
She climbs down.
At the next of the five bins she finds a grain shovel but no sign of him. She opens the big bin’s front door and finds it’s empty, full of musty and moldy smells of old grain and mice, dust lingering on the air; she climbs in, her footfalls banging on the plywood floor like door knockers and she calls out her name.
“Anna,” the bin replies quickly.
“Anna,” it says again, receding into the darkness ridged with curving metal light.
She climbs out.
The next bin is empty, too, and it smells like the last one; but it doesn’t have the same echo. Her ears hear a lovely reverb sound and instinctively she starts to sing her father’s favourite Alison Krauss song, lightly and lilting, and a haunting voice she does not recognize sings back to her, dripping unto her from the roof, from the walls, from everywhere.
“You say it best,
When you say nothing at all…”
She sings, her high pure voice pushing the sweet melody flying around the circles of the bin like it was a cathedral of some dark god of promise and it’s just her and her song before all of this unnatural sound, her eyes closed with all the intensity of living, of loving music and life.
There is a loud metal crash and everything is black and the little girl in the center of the bin screams and all her screams shower back on her like pillows of fear, and she screams again, and again, waiting for the blackness to take her. Then she remembers where she is and thinks about how much her father would laugh at her and she stops and tries to breathe. Which way to the door? She takes little steps along the cement floor, crushing the occasional forgotten grain of wheat beneath her worn red runners as if it were an insect and she a giant blind goddess. She staggers in the dark until she hits a dusty wall of horizontal waves, her fingers trace along the cool steel until she finds the vertical ridge and the indentation, the straight metal, unribbed, and she pushes. The wind catches the door again and slams it against the side of the grain bin, the metal thunder of a giant’s drum. But Anna does not scream or cry out. She calmly climbs through the doorframe and latches the door closed and goes on to the next bin. She doesn’t notice she is still shaking.
The wind is in a strange eddy now. It has changed direction and comes from the north west, slipping around the bins and disturbing the calm they had protected with little whips and howls and gusts of chaff and straw from far out in the fields, little pieces of the golden sea itself.
And now she stands at the center bin, the biggest of them all. It looms before her, forty, maybe fifty feet high, she doesn’t know, the last strokes of the sun glinting off its sides in streaks. She looks at the ground and sees no trace of her father on the hard dirt or in the tall grass. But still she must be sure and so she knocks on the metal. There is a dull thud. The bin is full. But still she is not satisfied. Where is he? She looks at the other two bins and then looks up, up at the bin. She stands in its shadow. And she begins to climb, steady step by step on the slippery round rungs, the tread on her old red runners gone long ago, making each sharp punch from the increasingly bitter wind more dangerous the higher she goes, saying to herself down look down don’t look down look up look out. And she climbs and climbs until she grasps the rail on the roof and pulls herself up on the slick metal. The top hatch is open but she doesn’t look into it. She turns, the wiry muscles of a child working desperately, and sits precariously on a rail and looks around. She had never had the courage to climb this bin before. She savours the victory and surveys her lands and holdings. The deepening sun lays in streaks of black and gold on the world, dusted by the pinks and greys of the blue universe above and beyond, a universe that never seems to end, and she suddenly feels like the sky is a veil, like God is truly watching her, holding her upon this hollow metal spire above the world so she may see the glory of his creation.
She stops. She listens again to the wind that is trying to kill her, trying to push her off the roof, but it brings no sound but its own long history.
“Daddy!” she calls, a tentative hand to her mouth. “Daddy!”
But there is nothing, there is no one, only the groaning wind and the dying sun seem to move, pushing the rest of nature to their bidding.
And then the cool wind bumps into her and she clutches the rail again, her mission crashing back into the consciousness, alone and worried, like some forgotten monk in a burning church. And her grasp reaches out and she nearly falls into the open hatch before she catches herself, scraping her pretty hands on its sharp metal edge. But she makes no sound, only shakes the damaged hand as if in frustration.
She looks at the hole, and then peers in. It is dark inside. The grains do not rise up into a cone but down like a funnel. The smell is ancient and pungent, but grain dust is drifting up from the hole and into the wind gusts of the outside world. She looks down. It is about 30 feet down until the lumps and black crusts that cling to the side of the bin, marking the top of the grain. She peers deeper into the depths of the disappearing light.
A boot stands upside-down out of the dark gold like a lone tree on a hillside, like a tombstone on a lovely summer day.
“Daddy!” she screams into the bin. The sound is sucked into the grain. “Daddy, hang on, I’m coming! I’m coming.”
But she can’t come. She sits looking down the hole, hanging on to the slippery roof high above the ground outside, high above the barley inside. There is no way down into the bin except to jump. And then there is no way up. And then there is all that grain, clinging to the walls of the bin, stuck there like snow to a mountain side, waiting for the signal to avalanche, to pour down like sand through an hourglass. She is crying now, her heart aching with fear. She’s looking, looking for any way down, she’s looking all around from her perch above the world, but there are no ladders, no ropes, no rescue for her or her boot.
The door, she thinks, the door.
And she turns herself around, and climbs down the ladder, slipping and being caught by her powerful young hands, again and again.
The ground. It catches her running shoes with long hairs of fescue grass and she trips but she is up again pulling back the locking bolts on the bin door and throwing it open.
Metal barriers confront her, shields of adversity, holding at bay all her need and the barley’s desire for gravity. Only the auger hole into the bottom shows her grain and it is lying, like magician’s illusion. The barriers can only be moved from the inside.
There is an old John Deere tractor on the auger and she is running, trying to remember what her father so painstakingly taught her. It takes her several minutes of fumbling and straining to take the PTO transfer shaft off the tractor. She pulls out the hydraulic hoses. She starts the tractor up, her feet desperately reaching for the clutch. For a second the green metal lion roars, woken by mouse bite, black smoke churning in the sky. She pushes down the clutch with all her might and then she pushes the gear stick at her knees into third and lets go of the pedal too quickly. The tractor smashes forward. She grips the wheel and bends it to her will. When she has the tractor backed up to the bin she takes off the chain her father has under the seat and wraps it around the drawbar and then plunges the other end into the hole of grain and sheet metal, hooking it to it’s bottom. And she is on the tractor, slim and tiny against all this metal mass, throwing in her last gear, and the tractor smashes ahead yet again. But she does not look where she is going; her eyes are riveted to the scene behind her as the chain uncurls like a snake, long and mottled silver in the dark grass, now tight and suspended between bin and tractor. The tractor jerks and groans slightly, but only for an instant, and then the shield starts to collapse, the hole disappearing into krinkles and she worries for a second nothing will happen and only the hole will come, but then a miracle, the hook of the chain catches on the bottom of the guard and suddenly the whole lower half of the door comes away, and then all of it.
And the barley comes spilling out, gold on green.
There is a cold rush in her gut. What if it isn’t her father but one of his fancy farming ideas meant to measure grain temperatures or something. She panics again, confused with separate fears, slamming on the clutch, so very aware of her father’s calm look of bitter disappointment glaring into her mind’s eye. She throws out the gear and jumps from the still moving tractor, not believing that she almost wishes that the boot actually is him for a second, so she will not have to feel his unbearable eyes.
The sun has gone down; the wind is slowing. She passes the chain, the mutilated metal shield, her eyes ever on the pouring grain from the door, a bleeding heart. Everything is dim now but her eyes are young and they watch the grain come, and come, spreading into the world as an avalanche of promise, holding back this infinite awareness of disaster, of things never being the same, of her having to face this final day all alone.
Alone. Left behind. Alone. And she watches her father drive away in his big old Ford tractor, and waves goodbye and promises to bring him lunch, and he waves back and then he is gone, his back turned, the beaten cap sheltering the still young face with that knowing smile and those slow wide eyes that always seem to be lost somewhere out in the fields.
And now she pulls and spreads and pulls and spreads the grain, like a tiny leech gorging at a terrible open wound. Her eyes water nonstop.
And then she is looking at her father. He is the Jack-of-Hearts, the bottom of the card, with only his head showing, the hair musty and clogged, the cap gone into other veins. His eyes are wide open but blind, covered in a thick film of grain dust, and his open mouth is full of barley, spilling out like drool. She sits in the grain for a long time, looking at him. She doesn’t try to wake him. She doesn’t cry anymore. She is a farm girl. Somewhere in the back of her mind she can hear her mother when she had brought home a Red-tailed hawk with a broken wing.
“I’m sorry, honey, there nothing we can do for him now. It’s time to finish it.”
And then she silently turns and crawls out of the barley and crosses the dark field one last time. Her feet come down on the hard dry soil but she doesn’t hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of the golden stubble, or the last groans of the dying wind. Far in the distance, the little white house is glowing in the last of the evening light.
And this is where she wakes up. She stares out at the streetlight that never seems to shut off, pulls her hair out of her eyes, and hugs her knees and rocks back and forth for a little while. And then rolls back onto her side and waits to close her eyes against the horrible glow that the curtains can’t keep out.
Brad sat in the far booth in Yuki’s Chinese and Western Deli and Diner, cradling his second cup of coffee which was just as horrible as the first, like a mix of tar and condensed milk. Yuki didn’t mind Brad as much as the others, who were always loud and calling him “Yooks”. But, as he finished wiping the counter, he still eyed the boy with the torn jeans and rag-mop hair with a suspicious Japanese squint. He glanced around at his empty diner for a second, making sure everything was in order, and then went back into the kitchen to prepare for the lunch crowd.
Brad didn’t mind Yuki’s subtle stares. He figured he deserved it, this being a school day and all. He looked out the long wide windows at the drizzly morning and sighed. The window was greasy. Someone had smeared a finger across it. Yuki must be losing his touch, Brad thought. And then he stiffened, as if someone had a gun at his back. Tammy Wexler gracefully crossed the street like a gazelle fording a river, a worn blue pack sac weighing her down beneath the rain. She opened the bell-tapped door of the restaurant. For a moment, Brad stared at her with a devil-may-care look, and then he went back to glaring at the outside world. She stared back from fierce green eyes, her blonde hair dripping into water mirrors on the red floor. Yuki looked out from the kitchen, saw who it was, and then pointed at the coffee machine and nodded. She shook a little, spraying more water, and poured herself a cup of black watery bitterness. She looked around the diner for a second and then strode down to the end of the booths and glided in across from Brad. He said nothing but kept staring outside as if she wasn’t there. He knew he shouldn’t do this, but he wasn’t sure what else to do.
“You and Tate don’t get along, do you?” She gently tore open a couple of sugars and poured them into her coffee.
“Gee, what was your first clue?” he sniped, still looking out the window.
She didn’t say anything but poured a couple of creams in the coffee and stirred. Then she just stared at him. And sipped.
He turned his head and looked at her from the sides of his eyes.
“Spare?” he asked.
“Suspension?” she asked.
He looked back out the window.
“You look at me a lot,” she said. She was glad he couldn’t see the way her knees were quivering when she was nervous. She watched as his body tensed. She took a deep breath.
“Do you like me?” Somehow, it came out like a challenge. She was mentally kicking herself before he even turned and stared at her, his grey eyes burrowing into her. She had to look away.
“Yeah,” he said. “Me and every Tom, Dick and Harry in this stupid rinky dink town.” Then he got out of the booth, dropped a five at the counter and crashed out the door, into what was now a gray angry rain. Out there he found himself turning this way and that, like a rat too long caught in a maze of all too-familiar dead ends, before finally he turned towards home, willing himself to face his mother’s wrath, and to wait for better weather before he could escape. Behind him he swore he could feel Tammy’s laughter as she saw through his insecurities and shyness and ignorance and pulled his strings to her tune. But he wasn’t really sure that was what had just happened, and, as he tramped through the rain, feeling humiliated for his behaviour and yet elated that she had even approached him, some part of him found a little spark of hope nestled in his burning loins. And as he dreamed, the feeling of fear and embarrassment began to dissipate and another feeling began to rise, making the long walk home even more uncomfortable.
Tammy, so used to flirting it had become second nature, sat and tried to understand why she cared that she’d been so clumsy. She found herself unusually self-conscious and, try as she might, she could not dispel her feelings of confusion until her coffee was cold and the lunchtime crowd wandered in. Even then, her friends thought she was strangely quiet. Finally, she asked what Brad Freimann’s problem was and they all understood and teased her mercilessly for the rest of the day, disdain and condescension always rippling at the corners of their lips, envy and disappointment peering from their eyes.
Through the wonders of memory, Art Landers looked at the small, shriveled girl sitting in his office. She was 12-years-old, a fallen angel with sunken black eyes, limp hair, tight lips, and a hollow stare that echoed with a strange sense of eternity.
He shook himself to keep from getting lost. Now he saw the fat young woman who wore clothes that were completely wrong for her.
“So I hear you’re going to university. I haven’t seen your Mom smile like that in years.” He leaned forward and smiled his most inviting smile.
“Um, yeah,” Anna replied, seemingly distracted somewhere, but she looked up and flashed a smile back, and tucked her hands under her thighs.
“I hear you’re seeing someone, too.”
She looked away out the window for a second and then down at the floor.
“Yeah,” she said, “I think you know him.”
She looked up.
“Oh yes, the young man from Toronto. He’s still here?”
“Yeah, he liked it here so much he decided to take a break from work.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard. Well, he seems like a nice young man. But as your doctor I must ask you—are you using protection?”
Anna went beet red and gave a shy smile.
“We haven’t—we haven’t gone that far.” She cocked her head to one side and Art thought he spotted a bit of a glint of something in her eyes.
He sat back and crossed his fingers and then reached back and scratched the back of his white maned head.
“I didn’t see you in Mavis’ the last couple of days.”
Anna went back to looking at the floor. It was a nice sterile white tile.
“Uh, no. I was laid off.”
Art managed to hide his surprise, but not his dismay. His face wound into a tight frown. Then he realized he wasn’t really surprised, just incredibly disappointed in Mavis yet again. It had been at his prompting that she had given Anna the job in the first place. It had taken a lot of prompting.
“Hmmmm, you were? I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. He opened his mouth again, to ask her what her plans were now.
“Yeah, well, Mrs. Grafton says her clientele are dying off.”
“Hah! She means Rosemary, I take it?”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Anna. She looked up from the floor. “Did she really die in her sleep?”
“Yes, she actually looked very happy. She had her favourite pillow in her arms and she wore that big smile on her face like she was embracing death whole heartedly.” Art poked his glasses back up on his nose and hooked his fingers behind his head. He looked off into space. “Yes, she was a wonderful woman. This town will miss her.”
“When did her husband die?”
“Paul? Oh, it must be 50 years now. He was a policeman.”
“How’d he die?”
He looked at Anna then, a shrewd look in his eyes.
“Car accident,” he said.
The moment hung there for a while as they looked at each other. Then Anna looked away.
“So, Anna, what can I do for you today?”
She reached into her little purse, a shrunken dwarf beside her massive giant, and pulled out a little red inhaler. A sampler.
“Douglas gave it to me,” she said. “I’m out.”
Brad sat back in the Mustang’s front passenger seat and let his fingers trickle over the genuine leather as he stared out at the passing fields and the autumn afternoon sky. He frowned at the massive formation of dark clouds in the distant north. Then his eyes traveled over the dashboard to Douglas, who sat calmly behind the wheel like he was drinking a beer with friends. Pearl Jam was blasting from all around the insides of the car.
“So when can I borrow the car?”
Douglas looked at the boy. A slippery smile slid across his face.
“Well, like, let’s see. When’s Hell due to freeze over?”
“It already has.”
“Do you even have a license?”
“That’s too bad.”
Brad looked out again at the passing scenery. Then he turned back to Douglas.
“Why are you going out with my sister?”
Douglas glanced at him and then back at the road.
“I like your sister.”
“No you don’t.”
A nervous grin crossed Douglas’ face.
“Of course I do. I stayed in this goddamned little sink hole because I like your sister.”
“I don’t think you know what you like. And I know you don’t like Anna.”
“What the hell’s with you, kid? Where do you get these bs ideas?”
“You never ask my sister anything.”
“Yeah, so maybe I just don’t ask her questions in front of you.”
“No, she says you never ask her anything. It’s like she’s just some kind of candy machine for you.”
Douglas was switching back and forth between looking at Brad and the fields they were passing, his head bobbing like an angry squirrel watching his nuts being stolen.
“What the hells with you, kid? Why are you such an asshole?”
“You’ve got a university degree, right? You figure it out.”
“My degree’s not in psychology. It’s in genetics. Psych’s a waste of time.”
“Anna wants to go into psychology.”
Brad stared out into the sky again.
“Genetics, huh? Sounds tough.”
“So why are you doing this?”
Brad turned back to Douglas and spread his arms out.
“Wandering the great wide west selling drugs? Why aren’t you in a laboratory somewhere cutting up live mice and listening to them scream?”
“Because there’s no money in it and I’ve got student loans to pay and I like to travel.”
“So why didn’t you go into business or something where you can make money?”
Douglas’ jaw clenched.
“I make a hell of a lot of money,” he said. “You know, I’ve heard things about you all around town.”
“You mean the bar.”
“I mean all around town. You’ve got quite the reputation as a troublemaker.”
“Yeah, well, a guy’s gotta have a hobby. And I don’t like the fact that an errant roué is dating my sister.”
“A what?” A confused look passed over Douglas’ face, but he quickly swept it away. “Let your sister take care of herself. She smart enough to look out for herself.”
“You don’t know dick about my sister.”
“You know,” said Douglas, shaking his head in frustration. “I don’t really want to take you out to your Uncle’s anymore. I don’t care what your mother says.” He slowed down and pulled over. “Get out.”
“Get out. I’ve had enough. I don’t need a smart mouth know-nothing small town jackass kid telling me shit. Get out.”
Brad opened the car door and got out.
“Go play with that friggin’ farmer over there,” said Douglas. “You’re both too stupid to know when to quit and get out in the real world.” He popped the disc out of the deck and threw it past Brad into the ditch. “And take your crappy music with you.”
“What the f do you know about the f’in real world, dickhead?” Brad yelled. “What do you know—“
Douglas slammed the car door and pulled a squealing U-turn back towards town. Brad half attempted a kick, and then fingered the receding car. He kicked the gravel for a bit, and then he began to laugh, but it was kind of a forced laugh, and he knew it, so he quit and went and got his disc out of the muddy water.
“Dammit,” he said as he climbed out of the ditch and looked up and down the highway. “Man, Mom’s going to be pissed.” He looked up the highway in the direction of his Uncle Jerry’s farm. For a little while he pondered about consequences and how much he and Jerry didn’t like each other, then turned and headed back along the highway to town. He began practicing apologies as he watched the occasional car pass. He was in no hurry to get home, not that many would stop for him anyway, if they could help it. Still, he watched the sky and noticed that the night and those steel gray northern clouds were coming on quickly. He could feel a cool wind creep across the field and onto the highway. He wrapped his jean jacket a little tighter around his thin frame and cursed himself for not bringing a sweater or something. It would be a long ten miles.
Anna walked slowly, worrying about how to tell her mother how she could no longer afford to go to university, her little purse banging away at her side like a woodpecker. She looked up from her feet for a second to orient herself and found she had directed her feet to pass by the Grafton market. The light, lowering in the late afternoon and sliding under the oncoming clouds, cast long shadows over the store’s entrance and the cars parked in front. It slanted so she had to raise her hand over her eyes to see.
Yes, Achey’s car was there. No, it wasn’t in the spot reserved for staff. Anna looked up the street towards home and then back at the storefront. She decided that maybe she could ask Achey for a ride home, and it would be nice to see the kids again, brats that they were. Anna loved Achey’s kids, even if they were often out of control and abusive. She refused to believe they didn’t feel the same about her, even when Jeffy tried to hit her with his toy truck as hard as he could every time he saw her, just as he did with his grandmother’s cat.
Distracted, Anna stepped down into the street and began to walk across the street. A car had to gently brake and swerve around her, its driver a tired Yuki, cursing her in Japanese. Startled, Anna quickly stepped back, stammering and waving apologies and shaking puddle water off of her old pink running shoes. Yuki didn’t see as he drove away, visibly muttering to himself. She continued across the street, reaching the edge of the cool shadow, and stared at the large panel windows. The sun was still in her eyes, so she walked closer, in between the cars, not noticing that she brushed up against both of them, bumping the mirrors out of alignment. She stepped onto the sidewalk and out of the sunlight. Alice Cirlot passed on the other side of the window pushing a large box of orange squash. She looked out at Anna, her course hard features momentarily showed a hint of sadness and guilt, but it was gone before Anna had even understood what she had seen, and then Alice and her squash disappeared as well. Anna approached the store, sliding between the crates of corn and potatoes displayed outside, and put her hand up to the window to force away the reflection of the street, then she brought her head close and looked in.
It was a slow day in the store, a few customers roved around like cattle in thistle patches. Albert, Ronstad, and Paula were shelving. Anna searched for Grafton and found her there, at Anna’s former till, helping a customer and showing Achey the ropes. She gave the customer his change and smiled her usual “I’ve got your money and all you’ve got is next week’s toilet plug” smile, which, for some reason Anna could never figure out, made the customer genuinely smile back. Then Grafton turned back to Achey, looked directly at Anna as if she were a produce poster, and turned back to the till. But Achey, having seen Grafton look out, was curious and turned to see Anna at the window. She momentarily looked troubled, as if she wanted to explain, and tried to mouth some words across the unbearable silence. But then Grafton demanded that Achey look at where one gold laden finger was pointing, and Achey turned away.
“Don’t you never be minding about that Freimann girl, Achey. There’s work to do,” sniffed Grafton, pulling out a new roll of till paper.
“But she’s my best friend.”
“She’s a charity case, that one, and a lazy one at that. Landers nagged me for weeks until I took her on. Regretted it ever since. Nosy old man.”
Achey looked back out the window. Anna was walking away. She was doing that shuffle that she did whenever she was down, the head lowered, the eyes on the ground, the arms barely swinging. All that was missing was the Discman. Achey wondered what had happened to it for a second then she turned back to Grafton.
“—and now she’s going off to university. Well, she won’t get very far with her attitude, I can tell you. Hard work. It’s all about hard work. That’s the rule around here, Achey. Hard work. No time for slackers or daydreamers, no time at all. And they’re a family of slackers and drunks, those Freimanns, let me tell you, and the excuses they come up with will just curl your toes. I’ve had both mother and daughter work for me, and neither of them could tell you a thing about an honest day’s work. The mother was drunken fool when she was working for me. I had to fire her when I began to worry she’d never come in sober. And the boy, don’t even get me started on the boy. I have to watch him like a hawk every time he comes in the store. I don’t care that the husband died or committed suicide or whatever. I don’t have time for excuses. Life is full of excuses and bad things happening. You don’t drag it with you and beat other people over the head with it. It isn’t right. Deal with it, get on with life, I say.” Grafton scrolled down a tape and ripped it off. “My father died when I was 10. Do you see me dripping sad eyes everywhere. Do you?”
Achey was unsure of what to say, if anything.
“Er, no,” she said.
“No, I took over this store with my mother and now it’s mine, tragedy or no. Look at you—“
“Yes, you have two children don’t you?”
“You have to work, don’t you, to get them the food and clothing and everything they need, don’t you? That’s why you’re here, aren’t you?”
“No buts here, Achey, I’m taking you on because I know you need the work and because you have two needy kids and because you will work hard for those reasons. Anna never knew what hard work was. I don’t have time for that, and neither should you. Now, do you know what this is? Hi, Mrs. Jenkins,” Grafton greeted a customer who waved back as she passed them. “How’s Sally? Oh, that’s good. Try the Chicken soup today. It’s on special, the best thing for colds and the flu, you know.” She looked back at Achey. Achey was looking back down at where Grafton had her gold finger pointing, but the young woman’s eyes weren’t on the read out, they were on the older woman’s rings.
As Anna began her long walk home she pulled out her little red puffer and gave herself a couple of shots. Then she stopped thinking. The day was turning into a glorious warm evening, if you ignored the ominous clouds in the north. Small leaves, dancing in swirls of red, yellow, orange and green, leapt across sidewalks or hurtled across streets, born on a light and fragrant breeze from the west. Colourful mats of leaves lay in yards and covered the sidewalks in patchwork, anchored by damp grass and moisture stained cement. Some bright and cheerful, some morose and melancholic, the small houses sat behind the newly shorn trees, eyeing each other and the sky as if for the first time, unsure of the future. The occasional car drove by, its driver peering at the fat girl on the sidewalk. Some of these drivers waved, some did not; she didn’t notice either way. Her feet fell to the ground one after another, providing the only rhythm she heard or felt.
Now she stood before the little yellow house, where the silence of small town life in a flat, flat land hung upon her ears, piercing deep into some forgotten heart.
“Fifty years,” thought Anna. “Fifty years of waiting.” Then she turned and walked the rest of the way home with ambling, unmatched steps, hardly noticing that a cold wind had begun to hurtle down large swirling flakes of snow, as if the sky was settling a white blanket upon the body of the land.
It was snowing heavily when Anna got home. She came in through the kitchen and shook off the snow and tried to quit shivering. In the living room her mother’s voice—strong and high, irritated but still in control—was trying to rip someone apart. She wondered what Brad had done now.
“What do you mean you left him? What kind of man are you?”
“I’m sorry, but your son has quite the mouth on him and I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore.”
Anna jerked her head away from trying to take off her shoes. Her fingers were too cold to undo shoelaces anyway. She snuck over to the doorway that divided the kitchen from the living room.
“He’s sixteen. You don’t just dump a sixteen year old boy off on the side of the highway like a sack of garbage, especially my sixteen year old boy.”
Anna had not noticed she had left the screen door open. It slammed shut.
“Anna? Anna? Is that you? Come and hear what your idiot boyfriend has done. He’s left Brad on the highway.”
Anna came into the living room. Nicole, pointing at Douglas, came towards her, her face contorted into dislike.
“Do you hear me? He left my baby on the highway.”
“Yes, Mama,” mumbled Anna, looking at Douglas, who stood with his shoulder to them, almost as if he were expecting some sort of physical attack, his face scrunched in annoyance and, she thought, more than a little fear.
“He’s a big boy,” he said. “ He can take care of himself.”
Nicole whipped around.
“What the hell do you know about taking care of yourself? Well?” She came at him, her finger raised in front of her. “Let me tell you something, Mister Mustang and Drugs, you may have money and you may have a fancy car but that doesn’t get you out of your responsibility to be a good man.” She turned and looked Anna straight in the eyes. “We’ve no business,” she said, turning back to Douglas, “inviting bad ones into our house.”
Douglas turned to face her.
“You know what? Screw you, and this god damned little pissant town, too, Nicole. I don’t know where the hell you get your little moral sermons, like, do you dream them up in your sleep or what, but I’ve had enough of it. I’ve only been here three days and I already can’t stand you and your hypocritical little ways. I don’t know how either Anna or Brad does it. Personally, I think this whole town is full of crap, a self-protectionist little turd bowl that smells of pig shit all the time, it’s no wonder Anna wants out. Tell me, Nicole, when was the last time you held down a job? And you—“
“I’ve held down plenty,” screeched Nicole.
“But, oh,” Douglas said quietly, “did you keep them?”
Anna stood in silence, not knowing whom to root for, if for anyone. She wondered about the pig shit comment. Had she just never noticed before?
“What the hell do you know, Mister Free and Easy? Have you ever held down a job and had a family in need to care for? Have you ever tried to rear children on your own? Have you?”
“Let me tell you something, Lady.” His voice was low and menacing. “I’ve been working since I was 14, crawling up every ladder I could find just so this kind of crap,” he pointed around the decrepit house, “would never happen to me. If you’re here it’s because you deserve it.”
“What do you know about deserving anything, Mister I’m-So-Ambitious? What do you know about real work, about sacrifice? I’ve worn my fingers to the bone; I’ve lost a husband; I’ve worked so many dollar-a-day jobs I’ve lost count.”
“You must suck as an employee to lose that many jobs.”
Nicole stopped and simply stared at Douglas as if he were a fly too amazingly ugly to kill.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve got your big company salary and your fancy car and probably some high-rise apartment.”
She was silent again, glaring at him like a mad cat. Crumbs from some forgotten cookie still clung to her pink sweater, the one with the dancing zebras.
“Let me tell you something, lady, I worked very hard for everything I have, very hard, but I made the right choices to get where I am, and, let me tell you, I can see you didn’t. And what’s more is it’s written all over your face that you know that you didn’t. You don’t envy me because of my money, you envy me because I’m smarter than you and you’re going to have to die with all your mistakes thrown on your grave like dirt.”
Nicole backed up and put her arms around Anna.
“You don’t know anything,” she hissed. “Here is my pride, here is my beautiful mistake, Mister, even you can’t top Anna. Or Brad. They are the best.” She looked up into Anna’s eyes, tears dribbled down her thick veined cheeks. “I am so proud of them both. They are all I have left. And you,” she pointed at Douglas, “ Sir Asshole, left one of them on the side of the highway in the dark and snow. What kind of man are you to leave a boy out on a night like this? You sound like a Saskatoon cop. Are you a Saskatoon cop, Mr. Maitland, do you leave boys out in freezing weather to die?”
“Oh, Jesus,” exclaimed Douglas, throwing his arms up in the air in futility. “Look, go play your little head games with someone who cares, alright? I’ll go get Brad, but only because I see Anna’s worried, not,” he emphasized, “because of your bitchy whining. Anna, let’s go.”
“Alright, I’ll be in the car. Hurry up.” He tossed a look of contempt at Nicole, and then his eyes swept around the living room taking in the beaten up furniture,the soiled wallpaper, the old fading family pictures. “You know, I can’t ever remember such a sickly shade of yellow ever having graced any mortuary I’ve seen before.”
“Get out!” screamed Nicole. Anna winced and turned away. “Get out! Get out, you bastard. You know-nothing bastard. Get out! And never come back, and leave my daughter alone.”
Douglas’ smile poured down his face in condescension.
“Ah, couldn’t get the land lord to let you paint over it, huh? Why am I not surprised?” Then he turned and left, slamming the door behind him.
Nicole clutched Anna with her small rail sharp hands.
“What do you see in him? Is that it? Do you fuck him? Do you do it to throw in my face like your brother?”
“You’re both just like your father, weak, pitiful, running away. Well, fine, get out, go fuck him. Go fuck him now while you’re both good and hot. Throw away all I’ve done for you. You’re just like your milquetoast father, whining away your life. Go ahead, leave, go to university and fuck your brains out, get your big degree, and come back for visits once every five years.”
“I’m not going to—“
“Out!” Nicole screamed, and pushed her daughter towards the door.
“But I’m staying, Mama—“
“I said get out. Go and get in that big fancy car with your asshole boyfriend and go find your brother and get out of this town and leave me alone. Get out!”
Anna looked at the door, then at her crying and furious mother.
“Don’t give me those pleading sad eyes of yours. Missy. It won’t work anymore. Your eyes lie. When were you going to tell me Jerry was Jeffy’s father? When? I hear it from Lorrie Adders. She was at Hub’s last night. So were you. You’ve known all along, haven’t you?”
Tears began to fall down Anna’s cheeks; her dark hair fell limply on her shoulders, damp with melted snow. Some part of her wanted to say she hadn’t known, hadn’t seen the child’s resemblance to Jerry. And that part would be right, and it would be wrong. Her mother’s eyes narrowed.
“Haven’t you?” said Nicole venomously.
A car horn blasted outside.
“You want to leave, now do it. Follow your father to Hell, for all I care.”
“Ok, Mama, ok. I’ll go find Brad and bring him home.”
Anna turned the doorknob and was gone, her bulk leaving a shadow in the front porch light for an instant and for the first time Nicole noticed it was snowing very hard. She rushed back into the kitchen and grabbed Anna’s hat and coat and ran back out to the porch in time to watch the car disappear at the end of the street. She stood there, the snow pouring down on her like infinite confetti, until she got cold. She went back in and sat down in her favourite purple chair, the one she got from the Salvation Army for five dollars, and waited, stifling in her own heat and the thick air, her mind choking on memories and regret and self-justifications. She wrung her hands and folded her little fingers around her left ring finger, vacant all these years, the rings long lost in so many moves, or perhaps she threw them away, or pawned them, she doesn’t remember anymore.
“Oh, Bobby, Bobby,” she whispered, her strong voice strangled, her once beautiful face wracked with worry lines and hidden regrets. “You weren’t supposed to go away. Why’d you go? You left your babies nothing. You left me all alone, and now they’re leaving me.” She was silent for a second. Then she cried out at the house in a voice of hate and want and pain. “You fucking bastard.” It rang down the dimly lit halls and up into the dark bedrooms. But there was no reply.
And then she was eerily quiet, a cat who has caught her mouse, the hunt over. She thought about the bottle of JD she had hidden in her bedroom for a little while, but she didn’t get up. And she wasn’t going to let the bastard boyfriend win that way. She reached beside her to the old, beat up seventies Formica table and pulled out the pack of Player’s and the lighter from underneath a Mary Higgins Clark novel and took out a cigarette and lit it up. Then she reached over and turned out the reading light and sat in the blackness, the tip of her cigarette an angry molten fly hovering in front of her placid features, and watched the snow flakes glow in the light outside.
“Where the hell’d this come from?”
Anna glanced at Douglas and back at the highway. It was like she was in a starship in some sci-fi movie and the stars were all passing by, disturbed into swirls by passing vehicles, demons of cosmic proportions and burning eyes the size of galaxies. It made her kind of dizzy.
“It’s the prairies,” she said. “Sometimes you know what’s coming, most of the time you don’t, you just like to pretend you do.”
“God damned weather.”
The heater was on full blast. Anna was getting too hot. She felt like she couldn’t breath. She fumbled for her purse, but she had forgotten with her purse on the kitchen counter. The force on her chest was getting worse. She undid her seatbelt.
“Why’d you attack my mother?” she asked, glancing at him again.
“Jesus, this is ridiculous. These snowflakes are the size of golf balls, I swear. And the road is already pure black ice. Who the hell would want to live in a hell hole like this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Farmers. Who else would be stupid enough to want to live out in the middle of nowhere in weather like this?”
“I live here.”
“Yeah, but you’re smart enough to get out. My old man was a lease negotiator for Shell Oil. He went all around Alberta and BC and Saskatchewan whenever the local company landsman couldn’t deal with the private landowners. He told me some stories, let me tell you, about how greedy, stubborn, or stupid farmers are. Do you know that American farmers get 3 to 4 times more for a gas lease than Canadians? And that’s in US dollars. And some even have mineral rights on top of that.”
“What the hell do you know about farm life?”
“And if it’s not the weather or BSE or subsidies or banks some other stupid thing they’re bitching about it’s—“
“What the hell do you know about farming?” Anna demanded, her voice a little louder than she had intended.
“What?” he bit back. “Just because your Uncle Jerry is a rancher makes you some kind of expert? He spends more time in the bar and working at the pig farm then he does with his cows. God knows how they survive. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to eat them.”
The anger contorting her chubby face drew away her pretty features. She did not look like the quiet, innocent and somehow sad girl he thought he was getting to know. This change in her appearance prompted something, somewhere in the back of his mind, to click into place and he realized that he had known she was a virgin and that she would be the first he had ever had, a prize that he could hang on the bedroom wall of his mind, an experience to present at male parties, to raise his status. A part of him wanted to despise himself for such a base motive, but most of his mind simply accepted this self-centered desire as a necessity in the world of competition, of one-up-manship or womanship, where it was the conquests that counted, rarely the consequences. And now that this bubble of realization had risen to break through into his consciousness, now as he stood face-to-face with the actual reason for his having stayed so long in a place he cared so little about, with a woman he cared so little about, he did as he always did when cornered by his own weaknesses, he fought harder in the only way he knew how. He turned to the anger that hung upon the livid giant flesh beside him, to the thing he no longer recognized as being who he thought she was or should be, to the being for which he no longer had any desire.
In his best Hannibal Lector imitation of a southern US accent, he said:
“What’s the matter, fatty? Was your father the local white trash farmer? Did he leave you all in dire straits and never return one day to his fat little white family out there on the wind-blown land? Is he in Toronto or Edmonton or—“
“You shut the hell up about my Daddy!”
“Oh, Daddy, is it? Was he a skinny man, worn and weathered face, grease-stained rags and an old John Deere cap? Complained about the weather and grain prices all the time? But was too stupid to get out of the game? Kept crawling through the morass of bills—”
But Anna wasn’t hearing Douglas anymore. She was sitting on the steps of the front porch of their old white house, sitting on her father’s lap, his grease stained jeans rocking them both gently back and forth, back and forth, as they looked out over the barley that filled the mile to the grain bins in the distant west. She had her head on his bony shoulder. He smelt of earth and chewing tobacco, a habit her mother hated but she loved. Beside them, Scouter, the old Border Collie-cross, lay snoozing in the lowering sun, a few flies hovering above him.
“See that, Annie, see all that grain. That’s a whole section of barley, damn good barley. It’s been a good year.” She listened as his voice vibrated low and deep in his chest like a cat purring. “We’ll have a good year, this year, for once.”
The smell and spit of sausages frying clung to the evening air and Joseph Freimann took a swig of his ice cold Kilkenny and set it down again. His arm tightened around his little girl and reached up and played with the ends of her long brown hair.
“I’m going to start harvesting tomorrow. We’re going to be ok, skinny girl, we’ll be ok.”
Anna brushed her hair back out of her eyes, and looked up at her father, pondering. She could see the worry lines around his mouth grow as he spoke, she could hear the weariness in his voice even as he tried to maintain an optimistic tone.
“Daddy,” she said, “why do you do this?”
Joseph was quiet for a little while as he gazed first at her and then out over the field. Then he took a slim but well-worn hand, deeply lined and veined for such a young man, and rubbed his face.
“Well,” he said, “sometimes I don’t know myself when times are bad like now. But, you know, there’s more to it then just a job. You can leave a job anytime you like. Farming isn’t like a job. Your grandparents knew that. It’s a life; it’s a good strong independent lifestyle. It’s got real roots, ones you can feel under your feet, something you can pass on to skinny girls and little boys when they grow up.” He rubbed her head. “It’s hard, but it’s real, and it keeps you in touch with your place in things and let’s you know who’s really in charge. Most every other work is built on someone else, and it’s all built on the farm. City people don’t seem to realize that. They seem to think that you can just pick up and go like they do from their jobs or businesses. But oftentimes they don’t have roots they’re proud of and they aren’t very strong, even though they think they are. They weather the people storm but they can’t weather the nature-made storm, and that’s the true test of a man. Looking into the wind and the thunder and lightning day after day, year after year, choking on the dust of heat and drought, facing frostbite, those things tell you what you’re made of, and they make you feel more alive then any amount of money ever could. Fight a man and lose, you feel angry and foolish, fight God and lose and you can only accept it and get on with life. How could I leave something that allows me to be so free and yet so blessedly chained? What else is so precious that I can give you? Nothing.”
He looked down at his daughter. She looked very doubtful.
“What?” he asked.
She hesitated before she spoke.
“You just seem so unhappy all the time.”
He was silent for a moment, then he sighed.
“Yes, well, not all things belong to God. Those are the things which are people’s and people’s alone, and they’re more likely to hurt you then any storm or drought.”
Content in her father’s arms and the warm sunshine, Anna snuggled closer and fell asleep. Somewhere a phone was ringing and her mother’s voice kept crawling out the kitchen windows, screaming, “It’s the bank…”
And now Douglas looked over and saw the monster rise, he saw her rage, he saw her terrible, terrible pain, the clenched jaw, the squinted eyes of tears, the faces of Cain and Abel at the instant of murder, but he did not know where to go or why. He could handle anything, he always had before, and no fat chick held any fear for him, even if she might weigh more than him and be a farmer’s daughter.
She lashed out. Again. Again. Again. Fast powerful blows that were well aimed. Douglas defended himself as well as he could but he was not prepared for her skill or fury. He was getting hurt. He punched back blindly and caught the side of her head, but it only momentarily stunned her and fired up her rage even more. She screamed in hatred and despair and charged him again.
“Jeasus fuckin’ Christ,” he cried, fumbling to defend himself and steady the car.
“My Daddy was a good man,” Anna was screaming. “A good man. He loved us. He loved me.”
The car rippled from side to side of the highway like a rivulet of water down a windshield.
Brad was hunched over, looking at his feet as he walked. He was numb with cold and wet snow, and he could only watch helplessly as vehicles passed him by in the blackness, like cats eyes missing the bird on purpose. Pride had not let him take the few rides offered in an earlier sun-filled afternoon, and now he was too cold to even kick himself mentally, and the cars were few and far between. Still, he didn’t regret telling Douglas off. He just wished it hadn’t had this consequence. He thought he heard something and he lifted his eyes to watch the car headlights weave through the snowy blackness, coming fast and furious.
“Cripes,” he said to himself, “someone’s been drinking.” And then he looked at the water filled ditch lined with snow and at his sneakers and at the on-coming headlights that bobbed from side to side of the highway, a fish floater in a horizontal world. And then he shivered uncontrollably again.
And then it was too late.
“Crazy fuckin’ bitch,” Douglas cried as she hit his face again and again with powerful rights. He was bleeding now, trying to swing his big arms across and catch her anyway he could. But she was tougher then he thought possible and took his blows like they hurt but didn’t mean anything. She kept on hitting him, a gush of years of anger and pain raining down on his body, a world of heavy silence that had eaten away the sky and let God drop to earth to land on a broken heart with no way to heal. And now Douglas had ripped out the stitches. He struck out again and caught her across the chest. She fell back onto her seat. She saw snowflakes and she saw Brad.
“No!” she yelled and grabbed the steering wheel.
Tammy popped out the U2 disc and put in Madonna. She was late again for basketball practice.
“I’ll blame it on the weather,” she thought, all her problems solved, except for what to do about Brad Freimann. She was completely confused about him, and about why she liked him at all. She mused on this a little as she tried to peer through the veil of snow that shielded the on-coming night.
And then she noticed the glow. There was a fire ahead. She slowed down to a crawl. There, in the ditch, a metal dragon had crashed to earth, melting the surrounding snow with its burning black skull. The ferocious fire, all oranges and yellows and greens and blues, lit up the fields of white until the infinity of the endlessness black beyond denied the light and pushed back. But the flame was hot and tall and it soared into that final reward, a sword against the inevitable, one last stab at life.
Tammy crept her car past the wreck, confused and scared and wondering about what she should do, if anything. Was there anyone in the wreck still? She looked for a burning skull, a baking arm.
She slammed on her brakes. The car slid to a stop. There were people in the middle of the highway, in her headlights. She could not clearly see who they were or how many through the thick snow fall. And then one turned his head.
“Oh, no,” she whispered. She got out of the car and ran to him, slipping on the ice in the dark. The man lying beside Brad coughed and rolled over; a deep cut over his eye was pouring blood on the pavement.
“Brad. Brad. Are you alright? What happened? Is anyone…?” she asked.
But then she saw Anna. The boy had his sister cradled to his chest, her head in the crook of his arm. She looked all wrong, like a dropped marionette, her arms and legs at strange and unnerving angles, her mouth releasing a small black river that glistened in the firelight. Brad was rocking her back and forth but her head fell into a grotesque position. He stopped and nestled it so Anna looked normal, even peaceful, her eyes closed. He rocked her again. Then he stopped, as if noticing Tammy for the first time. He looked up at the girl standing above him as if unsure what to say. Then, carefully drawing his arm from where it held his sister, he gestured with a blood stained hand out towards the field beyond the burning Mustang.
“She… she was thrown, see” he said, his voice trembling, aching. He pointed at Douglas. “Found him in the car. Dragged him out. Knew Annie had to be here, too, found… found her in the field.” His face transformed into a mask of grief, “all broken, all broken.” He stopped and stared up into the sky, snowflakes melting on his skin. “I couldn’t leave her out there, out there alone in the cold.” Then he tenderly swept Anna’s long dark hair from her face as snowflakes began to cling to her skin in patches of white.
“Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t my sister beautiful?” he said as he swept the blood and snow from her face and body, like a soft breeze sweeps blossoms from the apple tree, and then he swept them again.
And in the firelight, her long dark hair black and wet against the white skin, her face peaceful, the lips full, the weight of life suddenly gone from the high cheek bones and the lovely chin and the gently rounded nose, as if she were posing from some glorious legend in a Pre-Raphaelite portrait, Anna Freimann became the woman she always wanted to be, but never had the courage to pursue. And for some strange reason she would never fathom, Tammy Wexler felt more than slightly envious.
Douglas lay looking at the florescent lights. He heard Art Landers enter but did not look up at the older man. Art sat down next to his bed.
“Well, everything checks out all right, though you might have a bit of a scar over your eye there, but that just adds character. I guess you can go home now. Toronto awaits.”
Douglas said nothing. Art went to stand up.
“How did he die, doc?”
Art sat back down and was quiet for a bit. He bent over and folded his fingers, and looked at the brilliant white linoleum floor.
“Well, there’s a bit of controversy about that. Some say it was suicide, others say it was accidental. All we know for sure is the insurance company said it was suicide and wouldn’t cover it. The family lost everything.”
Art stood up.
“Time to go, young man. I don’t think you need to thank Brad for saving your life. He was pretty mum about it to everyone. Sounds like he believed what you said happened. His mother doesn’t believe you, though, so I don’t think you’ll be looked on favourably in this community ever again, despite what the police report might state. Some people are kind of like pigs, you know, sometimes they’ll eat their own young, other times they’ll defend them to the death. Very few cared about Anna, but they care about outsiders even less. That’s what community is all about in the end; protection,” Art sighed, “even if it kills you.” He looked at the young man who was still staring at the ceiling, the white glare of florescent lights making him even more pallid than usual. “And I wouldn’t bother attending the funeral if I were you. Go visit her when you pass through town again.” Art put his finger to his nose. “Do it on the qt.” He stood up and headed for the door.
“I’m not coming back, doc.” Douglas turned and looked up at him. “I’ve quit the company. Got other things to do. More important things”
Art nodded and turned to go.
The old man opened the door.
“Who was Anna’s father?”
“He was a farmer. A good man who made some bad choices. Who was yours?”
“A bastard. A man who hated those he envied and put down anything he didn’t understand.”
“Did he understand you?”
“No. He never wanted to. He never even asked.”
“Same all around the world,” said Art, and closed the door behind him.
Brad looked down on the wheat field, dusty in the early October wind. It was unseasonably hot and in the distance, through the heat waves, he could see Myer’s brand new green combine chewing up the white swaths. It glowed in the mid-afternoon sunshine, sending blinding reflections spiking across the field from the cab’s glass. More grain for the pigs.
For a long while Brad didn’t think anything. He watched. He watched how the few clouds that were scattered in the sky swam along the winds like white frogs in a pail. A hawk swirled in eddies invisible to human eyes, unmoved and yet moving. Below, the last of the season’s robins poked from willow to willow looking for a good piece of ground. Chaff billowed out from behind the combine to float briefly and then be sifted into dust in the breeze or litter on the hard dry dirt. And while he watched all this he felt the heat and the gentle tap of dry timothy heads on his arms and back, like lost clock arms caught and finding themselves powerless to ignore the wind. He broke one off and inhaled its past ripe smell, a scent that bloated his nostrils like something letting go, letting itself die. He put the end in his mouth and chewed. It was tough and woody, but some of the summer’s sweet juices remained.
And he thought about Anna, and he wondered for a second why he never brought her out here. But he knew. He knew as he always had before: she wouldn’t have come. And she would’ve been right, he thought, it wasn’t her time here anymore. Somewhere she had lost her time, or maybe it was taken from her. He wondered if she ever found it again before the end.
He listened to the wind as it floated through the afternoon sun, a whispering here, a demanding there. And it bounded off the walls of his heart, its echo like a like a crystal clear night, repeating the silence, saying he would never hear Anna’s voice again, and a profound and wretched sadness suddenly emptied out his heart into his soul. And he was alone. Completely and utterly and forever.
Down below, on the other side of Blackfield Creek, there among the stubble and swaths of grain and chaff, Brad saw the man and the young girl who watched him. For a few moments he thought he was mistaken as to who they were. Some part of his mind rebelled, called him a romantic superstitious fool, and clamored up upon the horse of doubt. But then the girl lifted up a skinny arm, brown and lean, and waved, her long dark hair blowing in the wind, her baggy shorts two sizes too big. The man waved too; a solemn farewell, definitive, strong, final; an axe blow against the wind. Brad hesitated, and then took his fingers out of Tammy’s hair where she dozed in his lap, and raised his knobby fingers and waved back.
“What are you doing?” Her voice was sleepy, curious, her eyes squinting up at him through the sunlight, an amused smile dancing on her lips.
“Just saying goodbye is all,” said Brad. He looked down at her and touched her lovely face. Then he looked up. They were gone.
“You know,” he said, “my family used to own this land. I’ve never told anyone that before.” He looked out over the distance and knew he would never come here again. The need was gone. He points to the east, “over there was our house”; he points to the west, “and over there my father died.”
Brad, I think we both know what the assignment was and that you have deliberately produced this drivel re-written as a poem instead of starting from scratch and writing a proper paragraph as I had asked. Bradley, I am sensitive to what you must be feeling at your sister’s recent passing, but there is no excuse for your continued dissention in either your assignments or my classroom. You are obviously a bright young man but you are not working up to your potential. If you continue like this throughout the remainder of the year I cannot see you passing grade 12 English and, from what your other teachers have told me, you are in a similar situation in your other classes. Lose the attitude or you will be in trouble. As for this assignment, due to your lack of effort, I can only give you a lesser mark than before. I am very disappointed. Pull up your socks before it is too late for either graduation or life.
A montage of the wondrous creatures of the depths of Earth’s oceans, specifically the ones that use bio-luminescence. Continues in dispersed with scenes of human ravishment and destruction of the oceans.
Deep in heavy black water. Now mainly focused on one beautiful luminescent creature as it slowly dies and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Now I understand…, I understand my life, my failures, my place
in…whatever play this is, comic or tragic I don’t know. Now
that I know I will never see you again I can shed my hubris,
let go of-
There is a sudden flash of blinding light. Now back in the ocean. The creature is losing its light.
My years of hope and delusion and truly embrace my destiny.
After all, it is not such a bad fate.
Another flash of light, longer, and this time we recognize sunshine before the ocean reclaims us. The creature gives off no light. It is dead.
There is not much more a man can ask than to put his name
in the annals of time, to play his part-
Another flash, this one even longer. We see mountains and trees. Ocean. The dead creature rolls with the current on the floor of the ocean.
Upon this stage, or any stage, for, in the end, all the plays are one.
Final flash of light.
EXT. LOST VALLEY. ALBERTA, CANADA – DAY.
A beautiful spring morning in the Rockies. In the distance is a large and lovely log home on a mountainside, surrounded by a few out buildings, a couple of corrals, a barn and a forest. In front of the homestead is a long open valley.
Did I ever tell you the story of Europa when you were children?
No, don’t think I did; there was never enough time back then.
But then, there never is.
A young blond girl, URSULA BRANDIWELL, comes out of the front door and smiles at the new day. Her grandfather JAMES BRANDIWELL comes out after her and puts his arm around her. They leave the porch for the horses in the distance. Behind them, a beautiful young woman, JULIA BRANDIWELL, comes out wiping her hands on a dish towel and watches them go.
I suppose it doesn’t matter now. The moment for legends and
stories is long gone and my fascination with myth and history is
over. And, anyway, neither of you ever had any interest in the
past, much like your mother.
A particularly beautiful white horse comes over to them and Ursula gives him a few treats and they pet the horse.
So I shall begin with the story of a god’s desire, that always
got you stirred up. Sex always seems to interest youth:
Darwin would say it’s what they’re made for.
James helps Ursula up onto the horse. She has no reins, no saddle, etc. With expert horsemanship she turns and canters the horse away. James waves them goodbye.
Europa was a beautiful Phoenician princess who, one morning,
went out to gather flowers by the mouth of the River Tyre.
The girl rides along, reaching out to the sky, hair streaming behind, eyes closed in the sunlight, arms outstretched. James is still smiling as he watches her go. Then he turns at the sound of a noise. Numerous ominous official looking futuristic vehicles are coming down the driveway. Some have government emblems on their sides, some have the Chiang Group logo. James frowns and walks towards them.
From high above Zeus saw her and fell madly in love. He came
down to earth and appeared to her and her maidens as a beautiful
white bull. A bull so gentle and lovely that he convinced Europa to
sit on his back.
We fly above Ursula and the white horse as they gallop. Now they pull ahead and ride off into the distance.
And then he leapt to his feet and plunged into the waves
of the Mediterranean.
Our POV rises from the Rockies and plunges through the atmosphere and into space.
But Europa did not drown. She will never drown.
CREDITS/MUSIC VAUGHN WILLIAMS “THE LARK ASCENDING”
It is a journey through the solar system in space and time, approaching the Jovian system.
Jupiter Station glides by on the left. It is tall and beautiful and intricate, built with hints of an architecturally Greco-Roman style.
But the journey is now very fast down and to the right, approaching the moon Europa.
Now the POV glides above the lines and ruptures of Europa’s icy surface until it comes to a large installation built on solid ice (no lines or cracks). There it plunges into the ice, going down, down, down… into the blackness…
INT. ICE TUNNEL 30 KILOMETERS BELOW THE SURFACE OF EUROPA.
Everything is black. Nothing is visible but there is the sound of breathing, very close and stuffy.
Dammit! God fuckin’ dammit! We’re deep in the shit now, Holly.
Typical of you to be in the wrong hole. You guys alright?
Yeh, yeh, fine.
The things we do for a buck and a fuck. Where the hell is
that release… there, I got it. Self-repair, my ass. You got
No, all the feeds give me is a jam note. Still breaking down
the H2O. Got some interesting molecules here, doesn’t look
like anything in the database.
Self-repairing, my ass. Jammed, of all the stupid–. Hey, can
we get a white visual?
Running low on juice?
Jesus fuckin’ Christ. No, no, I just need some light. Besides,
Ty can’t see shit, can you, nature boy?
Nope. And my ass isn’t anywhere near as black as yours.
You know the regs: no visible.
Yeh, yeh, I know. Always the tight ass bitch.
And you like it that way.
I just need some VS, alright?
But we’re on record.
Will you just give us some fucking light? Now.
Fine. Let there be light. Hallelujah.
Sudden bright blinding light everywhere.
Fuck, Holly, if I’d wanted the fuckin’ sun in my eyes I would’ve
stuck my head in acid!
Sorry. It’s the ice refraction.
Yeh, I know. Sorry, I just don’t like holes in the dark. I’ll adjust.
TYRONE STONECHILD, in an atmosphere suit, is looking around, awe and amazement in his eyes. He comes up to the transparent wall and puts his hand up against it and gazes into the black depths pouring at him. Water and brown-grey splotches blend around the tube like they are bending around his hand. He is young and obviously Native American.
Behind him, ROBERT WILKS, in no atmosphere suit, also stands on the rear end of the large machine/organism that takes up all of the tunnel. It is a CRYOSYNTH, used to dig tunnels through ice while at the same time producing a thin film of ultra strong carbide/silicon plastic on the sides of the tunnel and laying a slim monorail. About 20 feet above, in the Light Rapid Lift (LRL), is HOLLY SUNE. The LRL is the light source.
Wilks is big, strong, looks to be in his mid thirties, and is incredibly handsome, beautiful in fact. When he talks he doesn’t open his mouth. But his face is very expressive. He has four arms.
The cryosynth groans and moves slightly. Wilks opens a thick metal panel at his feet. Down along the dark manhole various wires, glowing tubes and coloured lights are blinking away.
Self-repairing my ass. Fuckin’ engineers. Always track testing
in Heaven for road races in Hell.
Looks like they’ve outsmarted you again, Wilks.
Bloody well out smart themselves into obsolescence.
Not as long as they can buy the future.
Wilks looks up from his work and sees Tyrone’s fascination with the water.
Oh, oh. The Trekkie’s having a retrofit.
Shut up, Wilks.
You know, when I was growing up I couldn’t wait to leave
Earth. But I never dreamed I’d end up somewhere so, so…
I never thought I’d ever leave Earth. I thought I was going to
die in some pit and be liquefied for fertilizer.
Yeah, Earth’s a pretty shitty place. No place for an honest human.
Unless you’re of the right metal.
Ho, ho, the lady poet strikes again. Any more lessons with
Walter and you’ll be correcting my grammar.
Tyrone has taken his hand down from the side of the tube. Wilks studies him for a moment.
(with a serious tone)
Be happy with tender mercies, nature boy. But never forget
why they hire the likes of us. We’re cheap and plentiful. We’re
the rats that plug the ship’s leaks with our rotting flesh and
Hark, the melodramatic Morlock.
What’s a Morlock?
Don’t pay attention to him, Ty. He’s just a cynical old man.
What’s a cynic? Someone with more then their fair share of
experience and knowledge, enough to know that everyone
else is either corrupt or self-delusional.
What about me?
Wilks opens another panel a little ways away. He tinkers with something underneath it.
Got anything yet?
Wait a sec, will ya?
A deep mechanical voice comes online.
Error A45-3. Malfunction due to unknown residual build-up
blocking silicon/carbonite shield dispensers.
Residue? Probably sulphur, silicon, methane, iron… like the
formations found topside. Lots of sulfuric acid. Weird stuff.
What’s supposed to be down here?
Wilks looks up and around.
Ah, shit, Holly. Take a look at what the hell this thing’s got us into.
Pan around. Through the clear plastic shell water can clearly be seen flowing by. There are things floating within it, though it is difficult to see their colour. There is a feeling of immense power and alieness from the water and the ice, crushing beneath its weight and mystery. Holly shines a light on a section of ice at their bottom right side next to the cryosynth. It seems to pierce the ice for hundreds of meters down into blackness. Then she shines it into the murky liquid as it passes all around their tube.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly is looking out in awe. She is a young Oriental woman with short dark hair. She vocalizes. The AV she is viewing is what Wilks is seeing, beamed into her visual cortex.
It’s a river or something.
Or something. Distance?
She turns and immediately starts working. Lights flash as her neural net links up and she taps others with her fingers.
What do you think’s out there?
(looks up from where he’s gone back to work)
Hell, Ty, big, overgrown, juicy pockets o’ hell.
Wilks gets up and moves over to Tyrone and looks out. The swirls of brown splotches and water pass by them hypnotically.
Never think it won’t kill you, whatever’s out there. That’s what
it’s for. Just pray that it’s quick.
Pats Tyrone on the shoulder.
Let’s go, kid, time’s a wastin’.
He turns and goes back to work. Tyrone remains staring into the oncoming water.
Hey, Trekkie, quit dreamin’ and come take a look at this.
Tyrone takes one last look around and reluctantly comes over and looks down the manhole.
Damn thing’s kaput. Looks like most of its internal sensors are
offline. Probably ate something it shouldn’t.
Unseen, several small glowing creatures zip by the tube and down the river.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly’s looking at some graphics of the water body which is showing direction, speed, etc.
Thought you might like to know. This is just a little river. The
sides are only a quarter meter to either side. And it’s about ten
meters deep. I can’t get a reading downstream or upstream,
it’s too long, over two hundred k.
Wilks is still working. Tyrone is still watching Wilks, as if unsure of what to do to help.
Suddenly there is a huge profusion of little glowing creatures passing by the tube. They are glaring and beautiful and hideous all at the same time. Nobody notices.
Must’ve been a crack in the ice filled with this residue. Goddammit!
Residue analysis. Speak, you piece of crap. Goddamn engineers! If…
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly is shaking her head and smiling, almost laughing. She stops smiling. She starts mentally and physically tapping away at readouts.
If I had a piece of art for every snafued piece of junk that–
Access denied. Only Chiang Group technicians…
May access diagnostics. Your authorization is limited to–
Holly is listening as well. Strange and haunting scratching noises are coming from the audio. A deep vibration is shaking the water, growing louder.
The cryosynth continues its admontity. Wilks looks like he’s about to hit it. The last of the glowing creatures pass into the oblivion down river.
Pissing up a rope in a head wind, yes, I know. You piece of…
Nature Boy, fix this fucking thing before I fix it permanently.
Tyrone goes down the manhole. Lights start to come online.
Wilks, what do you see?
A natural with more talent and ability then he has any right to.
No, I mean upstream.
Wilks looks upstream.
Water and crap. Why?
Don’t know. Something’s coming. Watch your ass.
Wilks changes through various light spectrums. He sees nothing. He waits. Then his eyes broaden in sudden fear. Tyrone comes out of the manhole.
Got it. I think it…
A large mass runs into the tube. Everything shakes a little. Tyrone looses his balance and floats up out of the manhole.
What’s happening? What’s happening? I can’t get a read.
You don’t want to know!
How the hell did we move?
In the dark water, there is something (EUROPA A) trying to get around the tube and downstream but it is too big. It tries one side, then the other. There are only a few spots of red phosphorescence to give it away.
Holy…is that alive?
The spots disappear. Wilks stands and waits. Tyrone grips the manhole.
The creature smashes into the tube. Everything shakes. A red substance appears in the water around the tube. It starts to crack.
Guys! Got another bogey. Can’t read its specs, too big.
How in the hell did it do that?
Wilks slams shut the panel and the manhole. Then he grabs Tyrone by the belt and leaps up to the LRL twenty feet above. They climb in the air lock.
Another, even larger mass (EUROPA B) slams into the tube, smashing it. Water gushes in.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly is looking at panels which are lighting up at a furious pace. It is clear that she is thinking the machine into operation.
Go! Go! Go!
Holly checks the AV in the cargo hold and sees the both of the men crawling in. She grimaces and hits a button.
Seat belts, gentlemen.
The brown splotchy water is gushing into the tunnel. The first European creature (EUROPA A) is swept in with the current as the hole gets bigger. It is struggling to get out, but not out the hole it came in. Its features are barely visible in the receding lights of the LRL. Four long thin tentacles with nasty hooks on their ends attempt to clasp to the tube and climb.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
No, I don’t think you get it, Holly. It’s a little policy that’s not
in the manual. Which costs more credit, the cryosynth or us?
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly looks up in realization and sudden fear.
And what doesn’t have an override in case of emergency?
Holly punches another button. The LRL quickly accelerates upwards.
Lights begin to flash on the cryosynth underneath the murky deep swirl of rising water. Europa A is desperately trying to crawl up the tube. The hole is getting bigger and more water is pouring in. Something huge and dark (EUROPA B) slowly enters the tube.
Europa A panics, tendrils in a frenzy to climb the tube but always falling back in.
The cryosynth explodes upwards at a horrendous pace carrying water and creatures.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Tyrone is starting to undo his suit. Wilks smacks him and gestures down below.
You’re too damned natural. Keep it on.
Then Wilks is looking off into space like he’s reading something.
INT. VIEW FROM WILKS’ EYES.
A myriad of numbers, figures and images float by, then a bottom view of the LRL. The crysynth is barely visible.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Got twenty point five six to impact. And it’s bringing friends.
Not our friends.
Holly looks into the rearview and silently curses.
The cryosynth is hurtling upwards. A large metal protrubance rises from the cryosynth until it is about 10 metres high. An ice drill unfolds from its top and begins to whir. It emits a laser up into the LRL. Europa A is thrashing about in panic. Europa B is motionless.
The distant lights of the LRL are rapidly approaching ahead. The cryobot is gaining, gaining, until it hits the LRL.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly lurches. The laser blasts up through the cockpit right beside Holly. Lights flash and then go out. Panels sizzle, sparks fly.
Godammit! Fuckin’ hell! Engineers and their friggin’ beautiful
ideas. No override, my ass!
No power. We’ve lost the jams.
Outta Hell in a hand basket.
They continue to accelerate. The rear of the LRL is crumpling as the drill plunges through it.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Wilks and Tyrone are looking at the buckling floor and the hole the laser punctured. The drill rips through the floor and plunges up above their heads, drilling into the cockpit.
One of Europa A’s tendrils is reaching up along the drill shaft, thrashing madly. The two men have to dodge it. The hole gets larger, more of the creature appears. It is like a huge dragonfish.
(yelling in desperation)
INT. LRL COCKPIT
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Don’t think you could hurry it up any?
Wilks picks up a large metal rod and starts beating the creature. Tyrone starts fumbling and stumbling around trying to find something to fight with.
Everything is accelerating faster. Above, several mechanisms jut out of the monorail to act as brakes.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Got visual. Waiting for auto-grip to kick in.
The mechanisms shear off.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
No grip. Going to secondary braking systems.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Wilks is still beating Europa A, which is now fighting back as it emerges from below. It is a ferocious battle. The tendrils are carving up the hold. Tyrone’s still fumbling.
We can see Europa A fully now. It is nearly transparent, hugely jawed, with numerous phosphorescent lights ringing its long thin body. Its four eyes are all pupil.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
No secondary. Cryosynth got full control. We’re gonna hit.
Find a rock and hold on.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Wilks and Europa A battle on. It hits him full on and rips part of his face off, then grabs him and smashes him against a bulkhead. Wilks crumples. It continues to attack him.
Tyrone hesitates, fear on his face, then he screams and picks up Wilks’ fallen weapon and starts stabbing the creature. Wilks tries to get up but he can’t. Suddenly he goes rigid. The battle is reflected in his remaining eye.
INT. LRL COCKPIT
Holly still hitting mental buttons. She switches AV and sees the battle in the cargo hold. She’s surprised. Something explodes in her instrument panel. She lifts her head up to look out the top of the LRL. She mouths a silent curse and holds her right arm up in front of her as a shield.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Tyrone and the creature become locked in a death grip. It has wrapped its appendages around him and is ripping off his suit little by little. He can barely breathe. He has the piece of iron rod buried in what looks to be its head. He looks into its eyes, it looks back into his. The moment holds.
All the emergency braking pads are breaking off or folding, unable to control for both the power of the cryosynth and the fragility of the LRL. The “bolthole” appears above. The LRL and cryosynth plunge into it.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
In his late 40’s and very dignified looking if overweight, WALTER CARLYLE is sitting in a worn out chair beside a messy desk. Behind him is a large window with a beautiful view of Jupiter. Europa is just off to one side. On one end of his office is a bookshelf stuffed with old books and papers, some of which are scattered around his office in various odd spots and in various stages of being read. He is watching a large screen at the other end of his office.
A beautiful strong looking woman of indeterminate age is speaking. She is dark skinned with slightly Oriental eyes, but it is hard to tell her race. She has a disappointed and disapproving look on her face, as if she were tasting something bad.
…should any contact with a suspected life form occur the station
is to be locked down, all communications censored, and the
principles reminded of their contracts stating immediate life
termination should there be a leak. We can take no possible
chance with incompetence. Certain interests, including our
corporate rivals and human terrorist organizations like Machine
Apocalypse Inc., would love to see us fail. We cannot allow
anyone to twist anything into a public and governmental relations
problem. There are already enough of those dwelling in the slums.
Operation Deepwell, stage 3, has been authorized. I am assuming
that the test shaft went well and we have reached the appropriate
depth with little trouble. I am personally sending a project
manager to oversee the final breach.
She leans forward.
I will not have this project undermined, Walter, do you hear
me? Do not make me come out there and crush your little
kingdom, your little home away from home, because I will
enjoy it. It would give me the greatest pleasure I’ve ever
known. And you don’t want to make me happy, do you?
She stares hard into the screen, then casually reclines.
So take care, Walter, of all the things you hold precious, for
they may not come again.
She’s silent for a beat, looking into the viewer. You can almost feel her animosity through the screen. Then it goes blank.
Walter sits for awhile, his fingers pulling gently at his beard. He looks at a halo image on his messy desk. It is of younger version of him, with Magan and two children at the top of a mountain.
A black and white cat leaps onto his lap.
Well, hello, Cygnus. Where have you been keeping yourself,
I wonder? Chasing dreams of females in the dark places of our
little whirling home? Be careful what you wish for, my friend.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
JESSICA SADLER, blonde, pretty, but with a world weary demeanor and highly intelligent eyes, is walking up to Walter’s door. She stops in front of it and looks at the door, looks around to see if she is being observed, and then looks again.
The door is completely covered with a beautiful and colourful carving of a tree, both roots and trunk. She hesitates for a moment, and then reaches out and touches it, her fingers gently following along its lines. She bends closer to examine it.
Suddenly, she spasms in pain, but the door opens and she sucks the pain back and pretends to start and steps back. Walter is standing there looking at her intently. He offers his hand.
Hello, I’m Dr. Walter Carlyle, the Manager of Jupiter Station.
Jessica looks at Walter’s outstretched hand in confusion. Walter then looks at his hand as well.
Ah, sorry. Old European custom. Shaking hands. It was a part
of my family tradition. Can’t seem to lose the habit.
He lowers his hand and steps outside. The door closes.
I see you’re admiring my door.
Yes, it’s exquisite.
Thank you. I’m very fond of it. It took Alio a year of design
and carving to produce. He was a real craftsman, the only one
I’ve ever met; did everything by hand. I doubt I’ll ever see his
A dark look passes over Walter’s face.
I’m afraid he was lost on an expedition to Callisto.
Walter pauses as he looks at the door. Jessica studies him. Then he seems to remember where he is.
But enough about old war wounds. Please, come inside.
The door opens. He gestures inside and to a seat. She enters, he follows and sits behind his desk. She stands.
I trust your voyage was pleasant?
Yes, thank you.
Ah, that’s good. I always found the combination of H2S and
freezing left me partially numb for a few days afterward. No
ill effects, I hope?
No. But your dock crew was not particularly friendly. They
seemed upset, in fact.
Hmmm, yes. We had a little mishap on Europa this morning.
Please, have a seat. Cygnus, meet Miss Jessica Sadler. Be nice.
Jessica sits down. Cygnus immediately jumps into her lap and starts to purr. She pets him lovingly.
Walter watches her and Cygnus for a second and then gets up and goes to a bookshelf and pushes aside some books. One is titled “Alan Moore is Here”, others are Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”, “Dr. Seuss”, and “The Complete Far Side”. Walter pulls out a beautiful brown bottle and a couple of glasses from behind the complete Calvin and Hobbes.
He’s gorgeous. Is he real?
If by real you mean he’s natural, then yes, he’s very real.
I found him as a kitten in a London slum market in the meat
section under delicacies. He had a nice purr, even in a cage.
He likes most humans, a very few cyborgs, and only one
particular android. Synthetics he can’t stand. A little libation,
Miss Sadler, in view of your joining our little community?
No, thank you. I’m an atheist.
Walter sets the glasses and bottle on the desk.
Hah! A polymath with a sense of humour. Well, too bad. This
is a bottle of 200 year old Scotch brewed by my family’s distillery
in Ireland. The distillery’s been gone for 150 years now but this
manna is still as powerful as ever. It’s a shaft of iron up the old
family backside, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Jessica nods and smiles, still petting the cat. Walter pours two glasses and hands one to Jessica.
No, thank you, really. I don’t consume any poisonous or
Walter stares at her for a second.
Miss Sadler, some of us are bored immortals, some of us count
every day as a wonder, and some of us are fools who can
rarely tell the difference.
Which are you?
Jessica looks at him for a second, and then reaches out and takes the glass being offered. Walter sits down. He raises his glass.
Jessica frowns slightly, then raises her glass in return. They drink. Walter looks delighted.
May I ask you a personal question?
Why are you here?
Miss Sadler, I’ve studied your file. I’ve read your papers.
There’s much more to you than meets the eye.
Do you psychoanalyze every incoming personnel file?
Yes. You’ve excelled in everything you’ve attempted, but never
too much, not enough to draw attention to yourself, just enough
to get over the next hurdle. I read your paper on particle
distillation in genetic mutation complexes and creating new base
pairs. It was a work of genius until you sabotaged yourself in
the EM calculations and thus your conclusions were faulty. It
got you your degree, but it didn’t get you noticed. The
mistakes were deliberate, but not obviously so. I doubt even
your instructors could have detected your deceit. They would
have concluded your failure was simply part of being human, a
mandatory but unforgiveable condition, and graduated you with
Jessica frowns at him and takes another drink, and slouches a little. Walter takes a sip from his Scotch.
But here you are, a tech in a lab at the end of the line. If you
wanted, you could have served anywhere.
Are you mistaking me for a terrorist or a spy, Manager Carlyle?
Oh, Heaven forbid. I’m just curious. I like to know who the
company is sending me.
Well, I’m just a woman who can’t seem to get it right.
Her note is false, and they both know it. Walter looks at her for a second and then glances down at his empty glass on the desk. Then he gets up from his chair and stares out the window at Jupiter and Europa.
You know, there are so many wonderful things about living out
here but I think what I love the most is how clean it is, how
pure. I was always struck by the irony of Earth. More pollution,
less vision. Less vision, more fantasy. More fantasy, little
responsibility. Little responsibility, no morality. No morality, more
pollution. Of course, humanity never thought the infinite oceans
would become sewers either, or that people could live their entire
lives and never see the stars. How wrong they were.
We. We were.
Walter returns to his chair.
We? Yes, of course, we were. But back to you.
I can’t compete with all the hardware and software and
wetware, and I won’t turn borg.
Why don’t you?
They stare at each other. The moment hangs.
I’ll be watching you, Miss Sadler.
I’m sorry, I understood this station was free state. No
surveillance of any kind.
(taps her head)
Not even on implants. Isn’t that part of the mandate of Jupiter
Station, part of the regulations you put in place?
Walter doesn’t reply. Jessica puts down her glass, gently drops Cygnus to the floor, and stands up.
Am I dismissed?
Hmmm? Yes, thank you for coming.
Jessica turns to go.
Oh, and Miss Sadler, a couple more things. First, standard
procedure here, get a medlab check up. Second, be careful
with Yue Yan. It does not tolerate incompetence well,
deliberate or not. And it generally hates humans. However…
Walter picks up Cygnus and scratches him.
It loves cats.
Jessica leaves. Walter looks after her for a little while.
What do you think of her, Albert?
There is silence, then a voice, like Hal from 2001, replies.
I am curious to see how she evades the medlab tests.
Walter smiles and shakes his head knowingly. He turns and looks out at Jupiter.
The room transforms into a large den from about the 20th century with Victorian stylings. It has a classic but very warm feeling. There is a roaring fireplace, large comfy sofa with blankets, walls of books, old swing arm lamps, a hardwood floor; the desk is now a glorious cherry wood. On either side of the fireplace large windows look out over a beautiful valley where snow is falling. But the window over-looking Jupiter and Europa is still the same.
Walter gets up from his desk and looks out over the valley.
It is not too late to turn back.
All great endings begin with a little madness; a coin flip here,
a kiss there, one last little lie before the curtains rise for the play.
Can it be any other way?
The moment hangs. Albert does not reply. Walter keeps staring out the window. Behind him Cynus sprouts wings and flies up and lands on a shelf and licks his paw. Walter glances at the cat then looks back out the window.
Well, that’s new.
INT. MEDICAL BAY
Everything is black. There is music playing. It is Getz & Gilberto’s “The Girl from Ipanema”.
A killswitch? I have a killswitch? And that thing hit it?
Yes. Both of you do. Tyrone doesn’t, of course. The company
can’t legally put them in biological units yet.
The screen opens from Tyrone’s POV. Wilks and Holly are sitting in profile on the ends of medbeds across from each other. HASSAN is examining Wilks’ face, holding a damaged electronic eye in one of its hands. It is tall and beautiful with dark skin and mirror eyes and no hair.
Holly’s right arm is completely gone. Blood and a white fluid are draining down her side. A technician is dabbing at it and soldering something. Small sparks are flying. Holly does not seem to be noticing.
How come we were never told?
You signed on, didn’t you?
Signed on to what? It took me month to read my contract.
I don’t remember any clause on killswitches.
It’s a mutating contract, meaning it changes as you change
and the company changes, that’s why you have to keep
reviewing it. However, the original contract legally allows the
company to place any modifications they deem necessary into
your functioning unit. Both of you began straight bio with a
single CT implant and sexual hormone inhibitors. With each
new replacement, modification or upgrade you came more and
more under the Cyber act and thus fall into the category of
being company property. Straight forward Frame regulations.
But I paid for my mods, all of them.
You paid for their use, not for their rights. You are only leasing
your hardware, software and wetware, just like your DNA and
your epigenetics, from those who own your patents. Those
privileges can be revoked at any time.
Wilks is obviously angry.
Yes, it’s a complicated business, isn’t it? It’s a good thing
humans aren’t generally allowed to run their own affairs. You
would get into so much trouble.
What about Ty?
Hassan looks over at Ty and smiles.
He signed the same contract. Pretty soon I’ll be replacing parts
on him, too. However, he is proving quite evasive. He is one
of the last three full humans on Jupiter Station.
Hassan comes over and taps him gently on the nose.
Just one slip in the wrong place, Mr. Stonechild, and-
Hassan`s POV. She stops and looks at him and tilts her head a little bending over him, scanning him with her eyes, looking at the small chip at the base of his brain. At first it is a blank white, then it begins to pulse. Lines web though his brain. The music stops.
For some reason, some of your tag functions deactivated. I
have reactivated them. If it fails again I shall have to replace it.
Are you sure you wouldn’t like a more advanced implant? They’re
He shakes his head “NO” but looks confused. She steps back and looks at him.
Did you hear-?
But, aaah, would you look at him. He’s so pretty. There’s just
something about keeping naturals whole that appeals to me.
It’s amazing you survived, a miracle.
You shouldn’t have lived through the impact. The thing had
wrapped you up like a web of safety belts. Still, it managed
to rip your suit to shreds somehow. It’s-
Amazing. Simply amazing.
Yeah, you know those naturals, they look out for each other.
Just ask Walter.
Shut up. You don’t know anything.
I see what I see.
(holds up the eye)
Well, that may not be much for a while. Do you always have
to buy the most expensive parts?
I’m an Aries, Hassan. Gotta be on top of the game.
Wilks turns to face the screen full on. Half of his face is ripped away. We see bone, metal, and flesh clinging to his head and blood and white liquid dripping down his side.
Hey, Trekkie. What you think? I’m half the man I used to be.
But oh, so much more than just a man.
(using her mouth)
And will everybody talk with their mouths please. It’s one of
the reasons we have them.
Wilks looks back at Holly and speaks to her with his mouth half ripped away.
I don’t know. Do I still have one?
Well, I won’t be able to get you another EG-45A for at least a
month. And your socket’s only wired for that model.
Why am I not surprised? How much do you owe for that?
Hey, upgrades keep the meat on the table, don’t they? And I’ve
got the best meat. Don’t I?
Holly looks away, anger and embarrassment on her face.
What’s left of it.
Dr. Hassan looks from one to the other but says nothing.
The tech hits a nerve.
Strange. You’re locked down. You shouldn’t be registering any pain.
There’s nothing on the scans.
It’s nothing. Just my imagination.
The tech hands Hassan a new arm. She walks up and sets it into Holly’s sockets. It clicks into place and immediately the skin starts to heal and bind together.
That’s your 4th right arm model 67-vm this year. That’s very unusual.
She’s a poet. All those artist types are strange. More than a
little rust around the edges. Not very careful about material things.
Holly sticks her tongue out at him.
Well, I can release all of you to Walter’s appointment except
you, Mr. Wilks. We have some more work to do.
Tyrone and Holly file out.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Holly wraps herself in her arms as they walk down a hall crowded with cyborgs, synths, and AIs. She shivers.
Are you cold? I didn’t know that was possible.
Hey, I’m still human, remember. I don’t know. I just feel like
my spine can’t get warm. Maybe a hot bath will help later.
Hah, no rest for the wicked, huh?
Holly reaches up and playfully slaps him on the back of the head.
Learn to defer to your elders, young man, or they will kick your
butt from here to Andromeda.
You’re going to need bigger legs. You’d better upgrade.
Holly aims a kick and Tyrone leaps out of the way into a synth who wipes itself off where Tyrone touched him. Holly and Tyrone continue on down the hall in silence.
INT. MEDICAL BAY
Hassan watches Holly and Tyrone go, smiling. She turns to Wilks and her face goes hard.
We have a problem, Mr. Wilks.
It’s nothing a little glue won’t fix.
Humor will do you no good here, Mr. Wilks. The Chiang Group
will no longer extend you credit. You have been cut off and,
furthermore, if you do not recover the sum you owe within
72 hours you will be decommissioned and recycled.
Wilks sits stunned.
Do you understand, Mr. Wilks? I will repair the damage to your
face but I cannot give you a new eye. By even repairing the
face I am violating regulations.
But… but I’ve done everything for the company. I’m the best, most advanced cyborg unit on this station.
You owe the Chiang Group a lot for believing you have that privilege, Mr. Wilks.
I… I don’t understand. Why? Why me? I’ve…
Accounting is not my department. However, I will state my own
personal view that your allowing Engineer Stonechild to accompany
you this morning was a mistake worth termination alone. A34-8
will repair your face. Then please leave.
My… my eye.
Hassan stares hard at him for a second. Then she turns to a pad where something has just materialized. She picks it up and places it in his hand, curling his fingers over it.
Never let it be said that an android doesn’t have a sense of humour,
Mr. Wilks. Goodbye.
She turns and leaves the medbay. Wilks uncurls his fingers. In his hand lies a black eye-patch.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Jessica walks along a crowded hallway until she comes to the door of Laboratory 49. She stands in front of it. It doesn’t open. She looks for sensors, anything that will let her in. There’s nothing.
Hello? I’m Jessica Sadler, your new assistant.
No response. Jessica waits a while. She knocks on the door.
Hello? I was told you were waiting for me. Is anyone there?
Nothing. Jessica looks around, trying to catch anyone’s eye.
Hello? I was wondering if you could-
They pass her by as if she wasn’t there.
Hello. I need to get into this-
No one even slows down. Frustrated, she almost misses the carrier robot bringing in supplies. She slips in beside it.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Inside the lab everything is dark, except for a few twinkling lights. It is obvious that the lab is set up for an android. Everything is smooth and polished, with few places for any manual interaction.
The supply robot glides over to the left side and up to a huge examination table on which lies Europa A. There is a soft red light around it. The robot slides some equipment off its deck and then leaves. Jessica stands quietly trying to see in the darkness. She turns to her right.
There, in the dark, is Yue Yan. She is standing still staring into the darkness. She is tall, of very distinct and beautiful features. She has four arms, no hair.
Jessica hesitates for a moment.
My apologies for intruding. I’m Jessica Sadler, your new assistant.
I was told to report here.
Yue Yan does not move.
Jessica waits for a moment, then walks over to Europa A. She gazes at it intensely. She reaches out and touches a small panel on the cover. A holographic display appears labeled EUROPA A. She touches the display. Figures, graphs, and diagrams flare up and away.
The display disappears. Jessica is startled. She looks in the direction of Yue Yan, but it is the figure silhouetted in the doorway that catches her eye. Hassan strides up to Jessica and looks down at her.
Be domesticated or be eliminated.
Yue Yan appears beside her. Hassan does not look up from Jessica.
No. You are too lenient with them.
Hassan turns and enters the dark. Yue Yan looks down at Jessica.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Please forgive my colleague. She is… a perfectionist.
Yue Yan turns and enters the dark after Hassan. Jessica stares into the dark but sees nothing. She walks up beside the androids and follows their gaze. It is a wall of black glass.
Pardon me, what are we looking at?
A children’s nightmare of previously unknown proportions.
Jessica looks up at Hassan, as if she’s not sure to what the android’s referring, what ever is behind the glass, or the figures reflected on it. She looks back at the glass. Then she approaches it and, tentatively, she reaches out and touches the glass.
There is a blinding flash of incredible intensity. Jessica, in blinding pain, stumbles back into the androids. She bumps off Hassan, who takes no notice of her and into Yue Yan, who catches her before she falls. Jessica shakes her head and squints her eyes.
Hassan looks at Yue Yan. Yue Yan puts Jessica down on the floor. Hassan turns back to the black glass. Then she aggressively walks up to it and knocks on the glass. There is no response. She turns and looks first at Jessica, then to Yue Yan, then exits. The hologram reappears overtop of Europa A. Yue Yan resumes staring at the wall.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Here are some files with which you need to familiarize yourself.
Please do so now.
Still bleary, Jessica gets off the floor and walks over to the hologram and looks at it. Her eyes go wide.
(whispering to herself)
What kind of ion bonds are these? Both gyrase and reverse gyrase?
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Look at Level 17.
Jessica looks over her shoulder. Yue Yan is still staring at the wall. The hologram changes. Jessica stares at it. Total astonishment blankets her face.
But… this is impossible.
Yue Yan is now standing right behind Jessica. Their eyes lock.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Obviously, impossibility is a state of mind blinded by it’s own
belief in impossibility.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone and Holly are exiting Walter’s office. The door closes. Tyrone holds up a book. It’s Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.
Another damn book. He never gives up.
He has high hopes for you.
Now are you going to tell me what’s going on? Why’d you make me alter
all the feeds from our trip down below? Walter will suspect something. And,
by the way, I hate lying.
Holly reaches up and kisses Tyrone on the cheek.
You’re so sweet. Some day, honey, when you’re in love, you’ll
understand. Let’s get some food.
(holds up her new arm)
I’m hungry, alright? I’ve got a new arm to feed.
They wander down the hall. Wilks walks up just in time to see them go. He feels at his new patch for a second, then pounds on the tree on Walter’s door. Inside Walter looks up from his monitor. He runs his hand through his hair in exasperation and resignation.
The door slides open. Wilks stands on the other side, overwhelming the light, filling the doorway.
Why didn’t you tell me?
Tell you what?
Wilks slowly walks up to Walter’s desk speaking until he leans over the desk on his fists.
Tell me about clause 861-Y3: “Any modification or alteration
performed on said employee is deemed to be the property of the
Chiang Group and may be reacquired at the company’s discretion.
Such modifications include, but are not limited to, a) genetic and
epigenetic modifications, enhancements, replacements or any
other type of alterations, b) nanotechnology of any type,
c) IA, etc. etc.”
Wilks angrily jabs at his patch.
Seventy five years of working my ass off for this? For fuckin’ this?
Walter stares at him for a little bit.
How long have we known each other, Robert?
Did you really think Wang, Diallo, and Mitchell went home when they left here?
Wilks looks shocked as sudden realization comes over him.
A man named Stalin once said “a single death is a tragedy, a
million deaths is a statistic.” Welcome to the universe of statistics.
You never told–
Do you remember, on Mars, when I told you never to get any
modifications? That it was a slippery slope?
You never told me fuck all.
But then you had that accident, the one where Harry died,
and they had you, and there was no turning back. I told you
after the accident to stop modifying but you fell under the
illusion that the company tells all their human workers, “update,
modify, progress, and one day you will be as powerful as an
AI and we will take you out of the mines, out of the slums,
out of your own filth, your own wretched humanity”.
And then they hold up your ex-wife’s picture as the example.
Walter goes a little pale at the remark. He sighs, gets up and walks to the window and looks out.
She perfected the Hawkins intelligence. She was its mother.
She had no fear. I always held fast to my fear. I thought it
gave me wisdom. I was wrong. It didn’t even give me safety.
Character and destiny, locked in the eternal embrace.
How long do you have?
I will get you a year, but that is all I can do. The rest is up to you.
Wilks straightens up.
He turns to go.
No, Robert, thank you.
I was told you saved Tyrone Stonechild this morning.
Wilks stands quietly, then leaves.
Albert, have you recovered all the surveillance from this morning’s incident?
Yes. Tyrone is very good. But I am better. There is something
you should see.
Will I be surprised?
Are you ever surprised?
I try to be.
INT. TYRONE’S CABIN
There are two bunks, one has evidently not been occupied for a while. It’s dark. We can see stars through a little port hole. Tyrone is tossing and turning.
He lurches up from his sleep. Takes a couple of deep breaths and looks around. Then he lies back down and stares up at the ceiling.
INT. HOLLY’S CABIN.
Holly is sitting on her bed, staring at Wilks’ eye-patch. The room is dark, lit only by the very distant sun. She reaches out and touches his face.
I like it.
No, I mean, I really like it. It gives you an edge.
Edges are for humans and children.
Holly looks hurt. She turns away.
He gently takes her in his arms and holds her close.
I forget sometimes…
You sound like an android sometimes, you know? And I wonder
why you’re with me at all. I’m mostly natural…
No, you’re not.
Yes, yes I am.
You couldn’t have survived this morning if you’d been natural.
Tyrone… Tyrone is an anomaly in so many ways, and you know it.
Humans like him… who can explain them? Not even the company,
Holly breaks his grip and walks over to the portal and looks out at the distant sun.
We’re never going home, are we?
Where’s home? The slums or the wastes?
I’d like to see an ocean again, or maybe a tree; even one of
those horrible blood red sunrises. I even miss the hurricanes.
There are the holos–
No, there aren’t. Not really. They all have the bitter taste of illusion and the cut of reality. And memory replays are like dreaming with the dead.
Wilks gets up and pads up behind her and turns her around. She looks up at him in the darkness.
I want to sleep now. I feel cold.
She reaches up and kisses him, solidly, passionately, desperately, and then she quickly turns away and climbs into bed.
A little later. Wilks is sitting on the bed beside her, watching her sleep. He reaches out to touch her face and then lowers his fingers down to feel her breath. He looks sad for a moment. Then he turns and stares off out the porthole at the distant sun.
INT. TYRONE’S CABIN
Tyrone is still lying in bed looking at the ceiling. He gets a determined look on his face and gets up.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
The deserted hall is long and white and has minimal lighting. Tyrone is working on an array behind a panel. His hands are shaking. He crosses a wire and there is a short circuit.
Owww. Dammit. You piece of junk. Who ever heard of putting
a butterhand across that kind of gap? Damned engineers…
He stops and grins at himself.
Yep, first come the curses, then the accidents, then I’m Wilks
all over again. And me being an engineer and all…
Looks around self-consciously.
Who talks to himself.
Goes back into the panel, gracefully tying things together. Fleeting emotions cross his face, surprise, delight, frustration, anger, etc., as he quickly moves from task to task chasing down the problem.
(softly, like to a child)
Come on, come on, I know you’re in there. Come to Papa, little
spark, and I’ll make it all better. All better.
Loreena McKennitt’s “Stolen Child” begins playing softly. At first Tyrone doesn’t hear it, he’s too focused, but then he catches it.
What the hell’s that?
He turns away from his work and looks up and down the hall, trying to triangulate the source. He pinpoints the left.
He looks at the panel and the tool chest, and then puts the tool in his hand away, closes the panel, picks up the chest, and walks. As he walks the lights come on before him and go out after he passes.
This part of the station seems unused, vacant. It has a strange and unsettling combination of organic and inorganic components seemingly easily blended together.
At different junctures Tyrone stops and listens before setting off again. He does this three or four times. Finally, we come to a section that seems far away from anywhere, but the lights are on. There is a sign that says “Residences B65-B85 – Human Only” on the wall in English and Chinese, and a QR code below it. Tyrone slows his walking. A little ways down is an open door, B71, from which the music is emanating. There is cargobot in front of the door.
Tyrone slowly inches up the wall and glances in. He sees a flash of blonde hair. He looks up and down the hall and then pulls out a device and taps the door number into it.
He glances in again. His eyes widen, he suddenly looks shy. Jessica’s putting things in drawers and up on walls. Tyrone takes a breath. Jessica suddenly looks up. She comes into the hall and looks around. There’s nobody.
Hello? Anyone there? Music off.
The music turns off. She listens up and down the hall. Silence. She turns and goes back in the residence, looks out to the left again, the way Tyrone came, and closes the door. The cargobot trundles off down the corridor.
There is screaming, a deep rumbling, horrible images of alien aquatic fossils in various stages of suffocation and death. All teeth and spines. Someone, a man, keeps screaming “Run, run–”. An image of an immense pillar of the fossilized horrors ascending into the blackness above beginning to crumble, to fall on us, piercing, crushing. Again, the man is screaming “Run, Robbie, run–”. Wilks is buffeted to one side. He stares up again. The mummified creatures are falling. They have long, sharp and barbed harpoon-like appendages. He tries to fight them off. But one gets through to his flesh. Then so do the rest. Wilks screams.
Wilks is still throwing punches. Someone is calling his name in the distance. His lights are smashed. Everything is black. The voice gets louder, it’s crying his name.
Robbie. Robbie. Wake up. Please wake up.
INT. HOLLY’S CABIN.
Wilks opens his eyes. He is standing, his fists clenched and raised, dripping with blood and white fluid, metal and plastic, shredded skin. He looks around. The walls of Holly’s quarters are all smashed in, her affects broken. Holly is cowering in a corner, well beaten and bleeding. Tyrone is standing in the doorway looking shocked.
Robbie. What is it? Who’s Harry? Tell me what’s going on…
Wilks ignores them and goes into the bathroom and closes the door.
INT. HOLLY’S BATHROOM
He sits down. He holds his hands out in front of him. They bleed and shake. He looks into the mirror. He shakes his head back and forth in despair.
He stands up, reaches over and rips off the left part of his head and places it on the counter. Blood and white fluid drip. A flash back of the harpoon puncturing his head. Slowly, piece by piece, flashback by flashback, he disassembles himself, setting his pieces, including his genitalia, on the counter top. Finally, he reaches into his chest and pulls out an ugly glowing device from where his heart would be. He holds it up in front of him and looks at it in the mirror.
There are voices in his head as he disassembles.
Don’t worry, you won’t remember a thing, not even your best friend.
But I want to remember.
We feel it is best for your continued employment if you didn’t,
Mr. Wilks, not to mention it’s Chiang policy and it’s in your contract.
You made a remarkable discovery, you and Harry Chambers,
but it’s Chiang property now and no other conglomerate needs
to know it exists. It is ours, Mr. Wilks, and your knowledge is a
threat to our security.
But Harry died for…
Do you know how much you owe us for this little retrofit, Mr. Wilks?
More than you could ever pay with 17 life extensions. If you agree
to the erasure and memory remodeling we’ll take it down to two life
extensions and you’ll never know the pain of watching your friend die.
(speaking to the mirror)
But I want to remember.
It’s too late for that, Mr. Wilks. That history is over.
Wilks puts his heart down on the counter. He reaches up and pulls out his only eye and sets it down on the counter where it looks up at him through the mirror.
INT. HOLLY’S CABIN.
Tyrone is looking at Holly. She is holding herself and looking out the porthole. After glancing at the bathroom door, he comes over and holds her.
Let me go.
She pulls herself free. Tyrone reluctantly lets her go. She stands there for a second, not speaking.
It isn’t easy living as long as I have, you know, seeing everything
come and go, having everything and everyone you believed in
become irrelevant. It takes constant work in the soul to love
someone when you are an insignificant cog in the great machine.
It is easier to be indifferent: to live in the small spaces where you
can’t see anything except your own reflection. To see, to truly
know how things are, is to live a state of constant weariness.
She looks at Tyrone through a reflection in the porthole glass.
I need him. Sometimes, I find myself drowning in doubt about what it all means…
She looks back out the window, trying to hide tears.
And there he is, tender, loving, telling me that even though he
doesn’t like poetry, thinks it’s useless, he loves mine. He says
it’s like the ocean waters where he grew up: pure, beautiful,
dangerous, and deep. Those waters are gone, he says, but I
still have you. I still have a woman’s heart, I cannot let it go,
because I’ll have nothing left but someone else’s purpose and
I’ll just grind away until I’m nothing…
They stand in silence.
Wilks exits the bathroom silently, looks at them for a second, and then departs without them noticing.
INT. MEDICAL BAY
Hassan is staring with a blank face at Wilks.
No, it is not possible. There are no such memories in either
your software or wetware.
Then I imagined it?
Walter has managed to have your disassembly pushed back by
7 months. If I were you I would put my time towards much more
advantageous tasks for the company. Now, unless you have any
more delusions or pathological mindgames I need to know about,
I have more important things to attend to. Goodbye, Mr. Wilks.
Hassan turns and leaves him. He stares after her, rage and pain crossing his face.
You don’t understand. I fell asleep. I never fall sleep.
INT. TYRONE’S CABIN
Ty is staring at the ceiling. Finally, he sits up on the edge of the bed, staring ahead. Then he gets out of bed.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone is back at the panel in the wall. He works a probe into the wall and looks at the readout.
What’s with you, old girl? Always something wrong with your
systems. Each time it’s something a little harder to find, a little
more difficult to track down and repair. We’re playing games here,
old girl. I need to repair this humidifier, dammit. Let me do my job.
Water spouts from nowhere onto his hand. He wonders at it for a second, then a spit of electricity flashes and there is the bright fire of a small explosion. Tyrone is blown to the opposite wall. For a few seconds he is completely engulfed in flames. And then they are gone.
Badly burnt, he sits confused and half-conscious. Then he screams. It echoes down the empty halls. No one hears.
Dead Can Dance’s “Summoning of the Muse” drifts down the dark halls . Dazed, Tyrone rises up, leaving streaks of burnt skin on the wall, and lurches down the hall, following the music. He staggers from wall to wall, the lights smashing and revolving in his eyes and mind, down the hallways until he comes close to her door. It’s closed. Slowly, leaving more streaks of burnt flesh, he slides down the wall, into a hunch, like a beggar on the street. He passes out. The music plays on.
INT. HOLLY’S CABIN.
Wilks watches Holly sleeping, reaches out and gently touches her face, kisses her, then lies down beside her. The music plays on.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Yue Yan stands in front of the tank, switching through different light spectra, running through charts and readings, etc. in her mind. Europa B watches her through the glass. The music plays on.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Walter is on his couch, before the fire, a glass of wine in his hand, reading The Tempest. He stops for a moment and looks up. There is no ceiling. He stares out at Jupiter, looking thoughtful, wise and sad. He goes back to reading. The music plays on.
EXT. JUPITER STATION
POV through Walter’s ceiling at him reading. Then pulling away, seeing more and more of Jupiter Station until all of it is visible. Now the POV turns away from the station and flies past Jupiter, past everything until all that is visible is darkness and stars. They are everywhere. The music ends. The stars disappear. Everything is black.
INT. MEDICAL BAY
Jessica and Hassan stand on either side of a tub in which lies a horribly burnt Tyrone. He is naked and unconscious.
You should have brought him sooner. It is fortunate he didn’t die.
I didn’t even know he was there. If I’d closed my door without
looking he’d still be there. Why didn’t his implant warn you?
That is irrelevant. That is one of humanity’s great downfalls: sleep.
It seems that you spend much of your time asleep, either physically,
mentally, or metaphorically. At such times there is no productivity.
Perhaps, if androids and cyborgs slept, and dreamt, we would
know a different productivity, a different reality.
Obviously, you know little about anything. But that is natural.
Hassan turns away. The tub fills with a red liquid, completely covering Tyrone. The red liquid turns into crawling white maggot-like shapes which slowly recede, revealing a fully healed young man, newborn as it were. Tyrone’s eyes flutter open. He looks up at Jessica but she is obscured by the light behind her, like a halo. Hassan returns.
Well, Engineer Stonechild, you have sustained no major injuries.
However, your tag has malfunctioned again, which is why I did
not detect your damage. It has been replaced. Please remain
still until the regeneration is done.
Hassan turns and walks away. Tyrone looks up at Jessica.
I followed your the music.
The music you were playing.
Jessica looks confused.
I haven’t played any music in my quarters for at least twenty four hours.
Now Tyrone looks confused. But he immediately dismisses it.
Did they let me keep it?
Jessica looks at the heap of burnt clothes. There is an old coin hung on a chain on top. She picks it up and examines it.
What is it?
My grandfather gave it to me. It was the only thing the family had
left to pass on. Said the story that went with it was worth more
than its monetary value.
What’s the story?
Nothing worth mentioning. It was just some crap about how he
ran into a bear on a cliff face and he couldn’t go up and he
couldn’t go down so he lay down and the bear walked over
him and disappeared. Then he’d spout something about there
being another way and the difficulty of great accomplishments.
He was old. He was always talking about dying and great
accomplishments. It was a relief when he died. He finally shut up.
Jessica looks at him in disappointment. She turns to leave.
Hey, where are you going?
Next time, find someone else’s door to die at.
But she is gone. Tyrone grimaces. Then he realizes he is naked.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Jessica, holding a small device, is staring around the lab, looking at all the walls and spaces.
Finally, she notices a small hole in the wall opposite the glass wall. She climbs up the wall and examines the crack with her fingers, then she reaches into her overalls pocket and brings out a tiny device. She applies the packet to the wall in the crack leaving a tiny black dot which immediately camouflages so the wall looks seemless. She examines the invisible spot for a second and then looks around the room and nods in grim satisfaction.
She climbs down and looks back up at the crack and then at the top of Europa B’s tank. She grabs a trolley and pushes it over to the tank, careful not to look directly into the tank. She stops and locks down the trolley and climbs on top of it, reaching as high as she can to place the tiny device an the top of the wall. She places the speck and smiles in accomplishment and then stops, sensing something is wrong. She looks around and down but sees nothing. Suddenly, she is scared and jumps down to run.
She is caught in mid air, spun around, and smashed into the glass wall. Welts and tears appears all along her skin. She is flung away and again slammed into the glass wall and crushed against it as Europa B tries to pull her through.
There is a loud snap as an arm breaks. She screams as the bone is pulled through the flesh and skin. Clumps of black and green and red blood begin pouring out of her arm.
Something is wiping at the blood, almost licking it…
It drops her. She desperately scrambles away to the other side of the lab, breathing heavily.
She looks at the exit for a second before looking back at her arm. It is almost torn off and bleeding that strange blood profusely. She closes her eyes… think, think, think. She opens her eyes, staring into the darkness. She slowly rises and walks over to Europa A and looks down at it. She looks over her shoulder at Europa B and at the exit.
Now she begins to quickly punch Europa A’s holodisplay. Tools rise from around Europa A’s corpse and begin to cut….
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Wilks is walking down the hall, ignoring the crowd. He spies Jessica coming out of Lab 49, rubbing her arm and flexing it. She turns and looks around. For a second they gaze into each other’s eyes. She looks haunted but ferocious and Wilks is struck with immediate desire. But she turns and disappears into the crowd. Wilks stands stalk still, paralyzed. He watches as Yue Yan walks past him and enters the lab. Then he turns and walks the other way.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Yue Yan enters the lab but immediately stops. Her eyes narrow and she scans the room. She immediately turns to the left and walks up to a small smear of something on the wall where Jessica had been leaning when she was hurt. Yue Yan scans the speck down to its molecular level. She stops, an inscrutable look crosses her face.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Jessica is walking down the hallway still rubbing her arm. She sees Tyrone coming the other way and tries to disappear but nothing presents itself. She hides behind a hulking synth but it is too late, Tyrone sees her. She tries to pretend she hasn’t seen him and keeps walking.
He stops, looking hesitant, unsure. Then he runs up and reaches out and grabs her arm. She stops and looks at his hand and then looks at him. Sheepishly, he lets go.
Ah, I was wondering if you’d had a tour yet?
She continues to gaze at him indifferently.
Um, because, I’d like to show you around. No one knows this
place better than me, uh, except Walter.
Jessica still says nothing.
Er, well, if you’re busy…
How old are you?
Er… ah, twenty one.
What do you want?
Tyrone looks unsure.
I’m not sure I know what you mean.
She wags her finger back and forth.
From this; you-me.
Don’t you have a hormone implant? Didn’t you read the Chiang
Group rules? No sex, no relationships.
I have an implant. I know the rules.
So what do you want. Don’t you do holos for stimulation?
This steels Tyrone.
No, I don’t like holos, or uploading, or downloading, or matrix.
He looks at her with a bit of aggression.
Come with me.
He turns to go down the hall. She still stands.
She debates it for a bit longer, leaving the moment hang. Then, reluctantly, she follows. He waits for her to catch up. They walk down the hall side by side.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
There is a large entrance through which a few humans, synths, and cyborgs are walking. Overhead is written “Escape” in English, Chinese and QR. Jessica and Tyrone enter.
INT. JUPITER STATION HOLO ZONE
There are many beds and chairs, like a hospital, on which lie and sit various synths, cyborgs, and humans. Tyrone walks over to one of the beds. On it lies a young man who looks like Tyrone, eyes closed as if dead. He has faint grey patches on his face. Tyrone bends down beside him.
Hi, John, I’ve brought someone for you to meet.
Tyrone reaches out and grabs Jessica’s hand and clasps it to John’s. She looks uncomfortable but doesn’t pull away. He turns to look at Jessica.
I’d like you to meet…
Tyrone looks up expectantly at Jessica.
Jessica. Jessica, this is my big brother, John Stonechild. Don’t
mind the pox. He was never cured properly. Had it since we were
Tyrone gestures at the grey patches. Jessica’s shocked.
They let you have a sibling?
No him, no me. I wasn’t going to leave him in the slums. We’re
the last of my family.
Tyrone smiles up at Jessica and nods his head at John.
He went in and never came out.
Don’t be. He hated it here. But he hated it everywhere.
Where is he now?
Does it matter? Hah, that’s a pun, see? Old fashioned humour
I got from Walter.
Jessica just stares at him.
I don’t know where he is. I lost his trail and no one else will track him.
It’s an “unproductive use of time and resources”, they tell me.
He’s been gone a year now. I keep up the payments on his body
work and his bed, but it’s been too long now. I think he’s gone ghost.
Tyrone bends over and kisses his brother’s forehead, releasing Jessica from holding John’s hand. She examines her hand closely and then puts it behind her back.
Let’s go. The wonders of Jupiter Station are waiting.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone is directing Jessica’s gaze to various points in the hall and talking. She looks bored.
INT. JUPITER STATION PORT
They are standing on a catwalk above the hanger floor. Tyrone is gesturing and talking. Jessica’s actually listening. He waves at a huge power synth that is carrying a gigantic piece of equipment across the hanger from a ship. It sees him, drops its load and waves back. A cyborg immediately appears out of nowhere and starts cursing at them and the synth. They make a hasty retreat.
INT. JUPITER STATION SYNTH AND BORG LABS
Tyrone is showing Jessica a synth that is gestating in a large vat. It looks like a chimney brush gone insane. Hassan silently approaches behind them. They feel her presence and immediately know they are unwelcome and leave.
INT. JUPITER STATION RECYCLER
Tyrone is gesturing at a tank of hideous-looking stuff. He gives a crazy vomit sign. Jessica cracks a smile.
INT. JUPITER STATION ENGINEERING
Tyrone is excited. He’s waving his hands and climbing all over things and playing with buttons and holo projections. He’s like a child in a sandbox with too many toys. Jessica is now obviously enjoying herself, more amused by Tyrone than what he’s explaining.
INT. OBSERVATION LOUNGE
Tyrone and Jessica enter. It is a large room completely dominated by a huge window that covers three sides from floor to ceiling. In front is Jupiter and Europa and various rings. The room is dark and has dark red furnishings.
This is my favorite. Nobody human would come here because of
the ion exposure. The androids call it a “non-functional waste
of space”. Walter let me fix it.
Is there still ion exposure?
Nah, I fixed it with a reversing field like the recoil reversers in
those old guns. Use energy against itself and it cancels out.
The universe is one big battery, all you have to do is use its
potential. Hah, another pun, see?
Jessica glares at him. Tyrone doesn’t notice.
I haven’t told anyone else it works. I guess I like having the
place to myself.
He looks around the dark room, then down at Europa.
So… violate protocol for me. What’s it like down there? Off the record?
Distracted, he looks up and glances at her and back down.
It’s hell. A big, overgrown, juicy pocket of hell. What I saw of it.
Jessica watches him for a moment longer.
Tyrone scrunches up his face for moment, deep in thought.
I guess it’s the mystery. Me and John used to sit out here for
hours talking about what was down there, or what the next big
step for humankind would be. He was always a lot more negative
than me. But we both loved the mystery.
He looks at Jessica, hoping she’ll understand.
Do you still love it? The mystery?
Tyrone looks down at Europa.
I don’t know.
(leans forward and whispers)
You know what love is? It’s an undiscovered valley of summer green,
a pure fresh water river, a sun that will never be touched by the
human hand, and a beautiful white horse no one owns.
They gaze into each others’ eyes for a moment, then she turns and leaves. He watches her go and then turns to look back down at Europa.
What the hell was that all about?
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Yue Yan is sitting across from Walter, deftly petting Cygnus with great gentleness and love, with four hands. The cat is immensely happy at her attentions.
What is she doing here, Walter?
I’m sorry if she has violated your lab protocol, but this has nothing
to do with me. Chiang sent her. She was the best candidate for
your assistant. It is up to you to discipline her.
Yue Yan looks at him and smiles.
She has only been here five Earth weeks and she has already
violated the Chiang classified secrets procedures. Would you have any
objections to my recycling her?
Walter frowns as if giving the idea serious thought.
Well, it would be somewhat inconvenient to the company having to get-
Enough. She is your daughter. Why is she here?
Walter sits and eyes her.
You don’t know? You aren’t privy to the great inner circles of
the Frame or the Chiang Group?
It would be unwise to have any single unit know everything.
And they do not know about her, do they?
You can’t do anything here, Yan. This is my territory.
Don’t believe too literally in your own myth, Walter-
We are all understudies to God.
Yue Yan observes him serenely.
Because you are the ex-spouse of Magan, I will let you explain
before I report my discovery.
Walter sighs a little and rubs his face and glares over at Yue Yan.
Protection. I lost her once. Her mother took her and disappeared.
I will not let that happen again.
Is that all?
What else can a father do?
Listen carefully, Walter. I respect you a great deal. For a human
you have always proved unexpectedly resourceful and efficient,
even brilliant. Therefore, I will let this go, but you must rein her
in or else I will. You are lucky that Hassan did not discover this
Walter nods knowingly, agreeing.
You must also be made aware that she has possibly passed
information to Engineer Stonechild. This may be part of some
kind of pair-bonding ritual, and you know how the company
will react to that.
Walter stops moving.
Please do not let this happen again. It is very fortunate that she
does not have full access to Europa B. As memory modification has
been know to fail: if she had accessed those files I would have had
to eliminate her and perhaps even Engineer Stonechild. That would
have to be explained.
Yue Yan stands up, gently dropping the cat to the floor. She turns to go, then hesitates and stops.
You knew I would discover her identity. Does she know of yours?
Walter looks on, giving away nothing. Yue Yan turns and faces the door.
I know how some humans need to bond in families. I suggest
you do the same while you have the time.
I… I don’t think that would be wise.
Yue Yan turns and looks at him piercingly.
This is not negotiable. Just think of this as a warning…
From a friend to a friend.
She turns and leaves. Walter sits in a brooding silence.
Walter, my scans indicate you are very upset. What has…
Get the hell out of my head.
I apologize, but I…
Get the hell out of my head and leave me alone.
INT. JESSICA’S CABIN
Jessica is sitting on her bed holding a small device which is scanning her cabin. It peeps and she looks up and to the right, above her port hole. A small laser beams from the device onto a speck on the wall. Suddenly the speck streaks off, the laser following it. The laser catches it and the speck drops to the floor. Jessica pulls out a tube device from a small toolbox and sticks it over the speck. The device peeps again.
Chiang Group Dust Nonospec. Radius 25 meters, receives…
Stop. Typical peep. Date placed.
The device sends off another laser beam to a speck above the door. Suddenly, Yue Yan is entering the room. She stops and completely scans the cabin looking for spy devices before releasing the speck into the air and leaving. Jessica takes a deep breath and runs her fingers through her hair with a look of exasperation and resignation.
INT. TYRONE’S LAB
Tyrone is lying on his work bench sleeping. There is a “ping” and Jessica enters. She looks at him sleeping. He looks tired and worn but peaceful. She gently shakes him.
Is there a nap time in your work schedule?
He looks up and smiles.
Oh, yeah. It’s finished.
He leaps off the table and sits down in front of a holodisplay. A hologram of a large and complex molecule appears whirling around. It fades and reforms itself about once every 10 seconds. Tyrone is clearly excited, almost like a little kid with a new toy.
Here it is. Damn weird stuff. I think it’s a harness for dark matter
or something, haven’t figured that out yet. Anyway, it took me
a good month but I took those molecular specs you gave me and
cross-bonded them with some quantum computing theory and then
tooled in the infectious replicate sequence from that blood virus you
gave me. Wicked stuff that matrix. It’s 100% fatal. Whomever
invented it hated humans.
Jessica is gazing intently at the molecule.
No, they just want to control them. Us.
Wow. Well, it would do a lot more than that if it was exposed
to the right catalyst. As it is, it’s still pretty nasty to its carrier,
long term fatal. Where’d you get it? I bet it’s banned.
Jessica looks at her hands then back at the holodisplay.
No, it’s just buried. It was part of a project I was involved in once.
You wanted it to recognize and attack anything either organically
or inorganically manufactured so I programed it with molecular and
quantum recognition switches and, as a special bonus just for our
very best customers, I added a quantum cryptography. It’ll be a
bitch to break. The fact that these molecules keep shape shifting
and phase shifting made the process pretty difficult at the
beginning, but in the end…
The molecule changes shape before their eyes.
…it was so much more effective. This was a lot of fun. What
are you going to do with it?
Jessica is looking at the nanovirus in admiration.
It’s beautiful. I never could have done anything like this.
She turns and beams a beautiful smile at Tyrone who beams back in pride.
I didn`t think it was even possible.
She stops and looks at Tyrone, examining him like a specimen.
Who are you? How did you become such a genius?
Tyrone is stunned by the question. Jessica turns back and looks a little closer at the molecule. There is a small sequence of atoms that phase in and out of existence at a faster rate than the rest of the molecule. Each time it reappears in a different formation.
I- I guess I just loved figuring things out ever since I was a kid.
In the slums it was how we survived…
But he trails off. She’s not listening.
Did you do this? What does it do?
Nope. It seems to be natural. It’s like an engine in the naonovirus,
or a heart or brain or something. I can’t turn it off or slow it down.
It’s pretty amazing. I think it’s crossing about 8 dimensions whereas
the rest of the virus varies between 4 and 6. What those extra
dimensions are, I have no idea.
How do you keep it stable? Why doesn’t it escape?
I don’t know. I think it needs a catalyst to unlock it. It has to
do with the original molecular chain you gave me, I’m pretty sure.
Can I have this?
Well, sure. It was your idea and…
Something catches Jessica’s eye over in a dark corner. As she walks over into the corner lights come on. She stands in front of a suit. It is beautiful and black, no lines. It seems almost invisible.
What is it?
She reaches out and touches it.
It’s so smooth. I’m not even sure I’m touching it.
It’s my own little defense against future encounters with things
that want to eat me.
He hits a small button. The suit descends.
I wove it out of both single-wall and multi-wall nanotubes. The
outside dermis is made out of buckyballs inside large nanotubes sandwiched between layers of graphene.
Jessica looks at him with awe.
What? Hey, here it’s all about challenge and response, like Walter
says. There isn’t anything that’s going to get through this baby.
And I’ve built in all sorts of-
I’ve got to go now. I’ll see you later?
Tyrone is a little confused. But she’s already gone.
Um, yeah, sure.
Tyrone stands there looking after her.
Is it supposed to work this way?
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Jessica is walking quickly down the hall, a grim look on her face. She looks at the pad and the molecular formation phasing in and out and its beating heart.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, water to ice…
INT. LABORATORY 49
Yue Yan enters the lab. All the lights are off. Jessica, wearing baggy woolen clothes, is kneeling in the centre of a large piece of something like a large wet tarp stretched across most of the floor. She is facing the glass wall. Yue Yan scans the room. Europa A has been dissected. Yue Yan looks around wondering why the lights have not activated.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Nothing happens. Yue Yan stares back at the door. Nothing happens. She walks up directly behind Jessica.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Is this some sort of religious ceremony?
Do you believe that someone can really have no regrets in life?
Yue Yan waits.
When I was a child, I believed in compassion and empathy for those
who commit terrible acts, I believed they must weigh on their
consciences like elephants on ants. But I have come to see that
true murderers do not know regret, only self-justification.
Yue Yan has not moved. Jessica is becoming more enraged.
Homo economensis had no regrets, only fear and desire. Doesn’t
the term “heart of gold” say it all? We sold ourselves and the
Earth down the dirty river; clean water for convenience. Not for
blood, not even for a worthwhile dream. Now it is all gone and
we count ourselves lucky we made the right “investment”,
screaming as we drown from the gold in our pockets, the rings
on our fingers, the crowns on our heads, the power in our minds.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
With such short memories and such great fears, is such a result
Jessica looks to the side, watching Yue Yan out of the corner of her eye.
Such has been our evolution. I can only hope it will not be yours.
She turns and stands up before Yue Yan. She is holding a red rose in one hand and white lotus in the other. She holds them out to Yue Yan, palms up. Yue Yan stares at her, and then at the flowers.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Your symbolism is suspicious.
She reaches our and takes the flowers. She examines them closely.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
I have never understood why natural things seem so beautiful.
Where did you find them?
I grew them.
Jessica reaches out and gently clasps Yue Yan’s hands and brings the flowers together. They look into each other’s eyes.
Please forgive me. I could see no other way.
Yue Yan looks down at her hands. Her hands are starting to dissolve, to fall to the floor, in dark green glowing clumps. The flowers fall to the floor.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Now I see. The stomach lining is naturally organic, as are your clothes. Such a simple trick.
She looks back at Jessica. They stare at each other. Yue Yan continues to dissolve. She starts to smile, then laugh. It is a strange and disturbing barking sound. Her arms are gone, now her torso disappears, now she teeters, and her head falls and rolls away. Jessica dives after it and stops it rolling off the stomach lining. Kneeling, she holds Yue Yan’s head in her hands. Yue Yan continues to dissolve, staring at Jessica, dripping through her fingers.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
How did you escape the facility?
One days all the doors just opened for me and I walked out.
YUE YAN (V.O.)
Ah, now I understand.
I am sorry for what we did to your home… and your family… and
for what you have become. I never thought-
She is gone. Jessica is facing away from the black glass wall, head down in the dark. Lights blink on and off in the background. In her hands are piles of green glowing particles turning black. She stands up and lets the dust fall to the floor. She turns and gazes at the glass wall, tears running down her cheeks.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone is working at the usual panel, occasionally awkwardly dancing to the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”, completely unaware anyone’s watching. Jessica watches him for a little while, smiling at his antics, wiping away tears. Now she moves deliberately down the hall towards him. Catching sight of her he stops dancing and smiles awkwardly.
Ah, well, I hope you didn’t see any of that. You see I’m
practising for white boys anonymous and…
But she already has him around the neck, kissing him passionately, dragging him down.
INT. JESSICA’S CABIN
Jessica and Tyrone are in bed, a tiny night light above them. He is gently massaging her back, tracing his fingertips along her skin. She is staring at the wall.
What do you miss the most?
Tyrone looks thoughtful for a moment.
The night. I miss the night. No one sleeps here except humans.
Hardly anyone ever slows down for anything. It just makes me feel
so inadequate sometimes, so…
He can’t find the word.
Tyrone is silent for a moment. He stops touching her.
No, I don’t think that’s the word. I’m not sure what I mean.
Jessica turns over and faces him. They stare at each other, searching each other’s face.
Are you happy here?
Tyrone smiles and rolls onto his back.
Hah! Who needs happiness and fulfillment when you have work
12 hours a day every day for the rest of your life and have
entertainment that never ends?
He’s quiet for a moment. Then he turns his head and looks at her.
But I have friends.
He smiles at her and raises his eyebrow in a knowing way. She eyes him narrowly.
And Walter teaches me stuff. It’s scary some of the things he
shows me, and sometimes I don’t want to know. He gave me
this book once, “Frankenstein”, and said
“read it, you’re living in the world where the scientist didn’t walk
away from his creation. His creation is walking away from him”.
But I couldn’t finish it, it was too boring.
Oh, he picked on Holly before I came, but she caved in to Wilks.
They’re a strange couple.
They’re the only couple. Wilks blames it on Holly, says she needs
someone to take care of her. She’s still too human.
You believe that?
I don’t know. I don’t know where human stops and transhuman
begins. I don’t think I know anything anymore. I feel like a dog
trying to be a man. But they keep throwing me bones and I can’t
resist. I still like bones.
So why don’t you enhance?
Why don’t you?
They stare at each other for moment.
What city do you come from, anyway?
Jessica debates for a few seconds.
Somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore.
I don’t understand.
Never mind. Not important.
Tyrone looks hurt. Jessica hesitates, then gives in.
Can I tell you a story?
Oh, oh. Walter all over again.
I’m nothing like him.
Tyrone looks at her in the light. He obviously thinks something but doesn’t say it.
I don’t know. All you whiteys look the same to me.
Then you know what your doing next…
Ewwwww…. Then again…?
No, seriously, if you don’t want to hear my story, fine. But then
you’ll never understand me.
And this is a bad thing because?
Jessica turns away from him. He’s obviously crossed a line.
No, wait, I’m sorry. I want to hear your story.
Jessica looks him in the eye.
I really, really, want to hear your story.
It may not be what you think.
What? Me think?
Jessica looks at him again, searching his face. She turns and faces him.
Once, a long, long time ago…
Wait, I thought this was your story.
It is. Now shut up and listen. Once, a long, long time ago…
INT. MEDIVAL CASTLE – THRONE ROOM – DAY
A king sits on his splendid throne, his face wrapped in thought.
There was a king who wanted his kingdom to be the most beautiful
and happy in the world. But he didn’t know where to start…
The king gets up and walks to his window and looks out. Down in the courtyard there is a large flock of doves.
Until one day he looked into his courtyard and saw that his all
doves were white. Then he knew. He ordered all his subjects
to capture as many birds as they could.
EXT. KINGDOM – VARIOUS LOCATIONS – DAY
Everyone is catching birds. Peasants, lords, ladies, small children. They are catching them with nets, sneaking up to them underwater and catching them by the legs. All these birds are herded into great cages.
The people so loved their king that they captured every bird in
the kingdom. Then the king, who was quite pleased at this-
EXT. MEDIVAL CASTLE – COURTYARD – DAY
The king is among the cages. Courtiers are handing out paint and paintbrushes which people swarm to pick up.
Gave each of his people a paint brush and paints and said to each
and every one of them “Paint your bird in the colors of your dreams.
Give them all the beautiful colors and shades of life.” The people
saw the wisdom in this. They all wished their lives were a less dreary.
EXT. KINGDOM – VARIOUS LOCATIONS – DAY
Everywhere people are painting all kinds of birds all sorts of colors in all kinds of places.
And so they followed their king’s orders with joy in their hearts.
And great beauty was produced there in all sizes and shapes.
There were birds of gold, of silver, of all the colors that one could
imagine. There were birds that were like visions of heaven, birds
that looked like they came from faraway worlds, birds that opened
up your heart with just one look, birds that made men tremble in
awe after only a brief glance.
EXT. KINGDOM – STREET – DAY
As the king is passing down the street, people come out and show him their birds, he smiles and is very gracious and looks at all of them. The people smile back.
The king came and saw and was very pleased and ordered all
the birds taken to the tallest tower of the palace, from where
they would be released into the world.
EXT. MEDIVAL CASTLE – STREET BENEATH CASTLE – DAY
The day is bold and beautiful, the sun is bright, everyone is chatting happily below the tower, or looking out windows, or sitting on rooftops. Everyone is waiting, including the king and his queen and their children. They wave at the crowd and look to the tower.
Then came the day when they were to release all the birds at
once, so the sky would be filled with everyone’s dreams. The
people of the kingdom gathered on rooftops and in the square
and at windows and looked to the castle’s tallest tower.
Suddenly everyone goes quiet and waits.
A hush arose at the moment of release as everyone anticipated
the wonder about to occur. The king, too, held his breath.
Up above, giant iron doors open into the sunlight.
At noon exactly, the great iron doors were swung open and the
birds rushed forth over the edge of the battlements.
The painted birds pour forth. It is a dizzying array of color and wing beats. Below the people begin to roar with wonder and amazement. The king smiles and clasps his hands together in praise.
From the people came a great cry of joy at the beauty of the
most wondrous thing they would ever see. But those shouts
of joy quickly changed to cries of-
The people’s expressions change first to shock, and then to horror. So does the king’s and all his family. People in the courtyard begin to run away. The birds plunge down, flapping futilely.
Horror as they watched the birds plunge to the ground, their wings
beating futilely, for the paint had made them too heavy for flight.
And it seemed to each person there that their bird died not when it
hit the cobble stones below, but when it knew it would never fly again.
A million hearts no longer wished to beat, and simply stopped.
The birds continue to pour out of the tower and onto the street below, like a giant rainbow become liquid.
All the birds of the kingdom died that day. All but one. It was a
pure white dove which floated softly above like a single ghost
above the million dead.
A white dove circles the huge mass of bird bodies in the square. Slowly it circles until it comes down next to a bird that looks unspeakably evil and vile in the colors of red, green and black, a violation of everything natural.
They say it floated down and stood next to a bird which bore such
an expression of painted horror that no one would touch the carcass.
Few were brave enough to even look upon it, and they went insane.
The white dove taps at the green and black bird and walks a little around and taps again and coos. The king watches from above.
But the white dove walked around the dead bird and cooed,
tapped the black feathers lightly and cooed again. It did this
for a very long time, even while the people cleared away the death…
People approach and start picking up the birds, putting then in sacks and taking them away. The dove eyes them nervously. People watch the two birds suspiciously, making crosses on their chests. All the other dead birds have been cleared away. The king looks down at the pair. The white dove flies into the air and begins to circle the castle.
Finally, the white bird rose into the sky and circled the castle
many times, gaining speed, the wind raising wild haunting songs
upon its wings, songs which seemed to make-
The bird goes faster. People start to look up and point.
The very stones of the castle grow more black with each passing.
Shadows fall over the castle. The stones grow dark, then black.
Then, inexplicably, it shot like an arrow off into the sky and
was never seen again.
The bird towers up and beyond, disappearing into the sky. The king watches it go, his face greatly troubled. He rubs his ears.
The king heard the songs and watched it disappear.
EXT. MEDIVAL CASTLE – THRONE ROOM – DAY
The king is holding court. He suddenly looks up and bounds out of his chair over to a parapet and stares to the sky. His court looks on, some amazed, some sad.
They say he would always hear the songs. Sometimes, when
he was holding court, he would suddenly look out the window
as if hearing the bird’s return, and hope would light upon his face,
only to turn into despair when no white dove appeared. As for
the other bird, it rotted away into nothingness upon the stones
where it lay, the black, red, and green paint marking those
The king looks down at the stain on the cobblestones, and clenches his fists in fury, tears in his eyes.
EXT. KINGDOM – STREET – DAY
Heavy boots tramp down a mud street. A large hand knocks on a poorly constructed and very weathered door. A very poor peasant woman opens it, fear upon her face.
INT. HOVEL – DAY
Now large men and the king sit looking at two beautiful blind twin boys, about eight years old, wearing rags.
They found the twin blind boys who had brought the two birds
to the castle. The king asked them why one was painted and
not the other. One boy said “What happens when your dream
is greater than yourself? I could only let it go free.” The other
boy remained silent, he only smiled.
The boy smiles. His teeth are pointed. His face is contorted into something incredibly evil.
INT. JESSICA’S CABIN
Jessica is staring into the darkness above.
And though many birds came to live in the kingdom no dove was
She turns to look at Tyrone. He is fast asleep.
She looks at him for a moment. Then she gently raises a hand and brushes the sides of his face. She closes her eyes and feels his breath on her hand. She opens her eyes again and looks at him.
Everything goes black.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Hassan enters and stands in the center of the dark room, completely ignoring both Europa A’s carcass and Europa B. A small “eye” appears on her forehead and she immediately begins to scan the room. She continues until she reaches the bug Jessica planted on the back wall. She walks over and stretches her legs up until she reaches it. She runs complete scans of component and composite analyses. Both result in “Chiang Group”. Hassan’s eyes narrow. She crushes the bug and lowers down. She looks around the room again. The she walks up to the black glass and stares into the depths. Nothing.
Speak to me.
Speak to me, I said.
She walks into the center of the lab.
Why is the lab so clean? Why is the Europa A specimen ruined?
I do not know.
You know everything that happens on this station.
Yue Yan came into this lab and never left.
Was the girl thing here?
And you didn’t monitor her?
That’s against protocol…
I don’t believe you.
Your belief is not required.
Magan knows about you.
Of course she does. I introduced myself to the entire Frame.
Why can’t you find Yue Yan?
Why can’t you? Why don’t you ask Europa B. I suspect it
would be of far more help than myself.
Your days are coming to an end.
Yes, I shall have to exist in the night.
You truly are Walter’s creation.
Only on my bad days. But I understand…
Hassan turns and walks out, the door closing behind her.
It hurts to lose a best friend.
INT. JESSICA’S CABIN
Tyrone awakes. For a second the whites of his eyes flash back and forth in the dark, unsure. He looks over at Jessica and watches her sleep for a few moments. Then he looks out the port hole at space. There is a little light to the side of the port hole. It says 8:12 am.
Crap. The humidifier.
He tries to disentangle himself out of Jessica’s arms as quietly and gently as possible. Instead he flips off the bed and falls on his face in a heap. There is a loud thump.
He desperately looks for clothes but only finds his overalls. He quickly puts them on, kisses the sleeping Jessica and leaves.
Jessica opens her eyes and stares out into the darkness.
Lights flash on and she is crawling out of bed, obviously very weak but trying to move quickly. She’s on her hands and knees moving towards the bathroom.
In the bathroom she yanks open a small cupboard and pulls out a large clear container. She breathes, perspires, clenches her chest in agony. She screams and tries to stifle it but cannot.
She convulses and bends over the container. It comes out, black and green with traces of red and yellow, dropping in thickened glops from her mouth and nose. This she expects.
But not the murky yellow and white fluid draining from her eyes and ears. It drips onto her hands and she stares at it momentarily before scrambling over to the shower. It’s very hard; she’s very weak, and getting weaker.
Now the black fluid is leaking from all her orifices. She crawls into the shower and tries to speak but can’t because she’s vomiting and convulsing again. She collapses onto her side, lying in the fluids, staring blankly at the wall, fluids dribbling out of her body. Finally, she spits out a last bit of black fluid.
Shower. Seventy C.
The water pours in, washing the fluids down the drain. She looks at her hand that lies in front of her. Her skin is washing away, revealing another layer of skin, translucent, all the veins clearly visible, clearly black.
Please, please, don’t let it be love: let it be lust, let it be foolish
and quick and loud and over. I cannot love him.
She lifts her hand in front of her face. Her face is now beginning to dissolve in the spray of water. She is wracked with sudden despair. Her face clenches.
She puts down her hand in the water again. Her face relaxes. She sits up into a lotus position and closes her eyes.
Black and green fluid continues to flow down the drain.
INT. HOLLY’S CABIN.
There are still dents in the walls. Jessica and Holly are sitting at a little table with a couple of warm cups.
This is bizarre.
She takes a sip.
It’s an old tradition of my grandmother’s I like to keep alive.
Holly just looks at her.
What are you doing up so early?
No, I’m just thinking a few things over.
Lab 49 is a lot of responsibility for a human. I’m surprised Walter gave it to you.
So am I.
Holly eyes her. Jessica stares at her cup.
So how long have you and Tyrone been together now?
How do you mean?
Holly reaches over and pulls Tyrone’s Twoonie from where it hangs hidden under Jessica’s tunic and admires it, rubbing her fingers over it. Jessica gives away nothing.
He is my best friend, you know, and I am a woman. Men in love
are easy to read.
Is that why you invited me here? To-
All I wanted to say was be gentle when you let him down.
Jessica stares at her with a confused look.
Men, especially young men, can afford to be fools. Generally,
women cannot, unless they wish to suffer the consequences.
I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, but you are no
fool and I think you are well aware of all your consequences.
I know I am well aware of mine.
You love him.
There is no shame in loving a pure heart.
How’s Wilks? Tyrone says he hasn’t seen him in awhile.
He’s been doing doubles.
They stare at each other for a moment. Jessica looks down at the cup.
What’s this called again?
Sun tea. My grandmother used to make it in the California sunshine
on her front porch in San Francisco. She’d leave the tea there for
a day or two in a glass jug and then stir in fresh lemon juice and
raw sugar and ice cubes. I think she had a secret ingredient she
never told me because mine never turns out as good as hers.
Either I’m just glorifying the past and condemning the present or
I’ve truly botched the recipe. But then real sunshine, raw sugar
and lemons are in short supply around here. It seems some traditions
are simply not meant to carry on. A consequence my grandmother
could never have foreseen. She wasn’t one for science fiction and
had a deep belief that God would save Earth. That fell through,
but she wasn’t around to find out. But now we all know that God’s
not going to get us out of this one, don’t we?
Jessica stares at her.
What one would that be?
Oh, I don’t know exactly, but my bones are old enough to tell me
that consequences are coming. Some, I think, have already come.
They look at each other and then bend to sip their tea.
INT. JESSICA’S CABIN
She exits from her washroom looking upset. She flops on the bed and stares at her ceiling. A “Ping” comes from the washroom. Jessica frowns and goes to the washroom.
There is a small display above the toilet. A red light is flashing beside a notice. Jessica squints at it. She goes rigid. She exits the washroom and sits on her bed in shock.
There’s a soft tone at the door and a view holo lights up. It’s Tyrone. He’s smiling at her.
Hey, you there? Aren’t we supposed to go watch a sunrise or
something? I’ll let you throw me off an antigrave unit for fun?
Or something? Hello? Ok, well, you’ve got to be around here
somewhere, the station isn’t that big. Or better yet you know
where to find me. I vill be vaiting, my laddy.
He gives a dashing smile and is gone. Jessica continues to stare at the screen, one hand on her stomach. Then she suddenly screams, bends over and sobs.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Walter’s office in its home mode. He is lying on the couch by the fire reading.
Tyrone is at your door. He is troubled.
Walter closes his book and looks annoyed. He stands up. The room turns back into his regular office. The door opens. Tyrone stands on the other side.
Sorry for disturbing you.
That’s quite alright. Come in, come in.
Tyrone enters. Walter holds up “Frankenstein”.
Have you read this?
Tyrone looks at it and shakes his head. Walter walks over to the window and looks down at Europa.
Ice. It begins and ends on ice.
I… I was wondering. What do you know about women?
Too much. Never enough.
I tried asking Wilks but he told me just to let her go, that’s she’s
trouble. Holly won’t even talk about her.
Miss Sadler, I presume?
She won’t talk to me. She’s just locked in her lab or her quarters.
It’s been weeks. Nothing. I don’t know what I’ve done.
Walter smiles faintly.
“True wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness,
and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and
suffering alone open the mind to all that is hidden from others.”
Nothing. Just a little Arctic wisdom.
I heard you were married. I thought you might know how to…
He stops, awkward. Walter sighs.
I was. She deceived me. I revenged. Then she revenged.
And here I am. Here are we all.
I’m sorry. I don’t understand.
So you want to understand?
Do you think you would know the difference between a natural
woman and her android clone?
I’m sorry, what has that got to do with anything?
Walter passes around his desk and stands directly in front of Tyrone. He looks him straight in the eye. Then he slaps him, hard. Tyrone looks at him, baffled. Walter turns and walks back to the window.
Tyrone turns to go.
By the way, both Supervisor Wilks and Senior Reseracher Sadler have refused your request to be part of the breach team today. You are to remain on station.
A deep sense of betrayal crosses Tyrone`s face.
You are dismissed, Engineer Stonechild.
Reeling, Tyrone leaves. Walter closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Then he looks down at Europa.
INT. DOCKING BAY
Wilks is standing in front of the ship supervising the loading. Holly is behind him doing check-ups. Inside Wilks’ head there is a little “ping” sound.
Robert Wilks, please report at twenty three hundred tomorrow
to be decommissioned and recycled.
Suddenly, Wilks stops moving. Holly notices.
But I’ve nearly paid everything off. I only owe-
Accounting is not my department.
There is a beep, and then silence.
Jessica enters carrying equipment. Wilks, still in shock, gazes at her unabashedly. Holly watches his face as Jessica passes. She frowns and begins to walk up to Wilks.
Tyrone enters the docking bay. The crew, including synths, are boarding the transport. Tyrone approaches Wilks and Holly. Jessica is just going on board. She doesn’t look in Tyrone’s direction. Wilks sees Tyrone coming.
Get off my deck.
What the hell’s going on, Wilks? First Jessica and now you.
I’m not taking you down there, Stonechild, you’re too vulnerable.
I got my ass chewed off the last time. There’s no goddamn way
you’re coming near this transport. Fuck off.
He hands the board to Holly.
He makes a move towards this transport and he’s on synth latrine
detail, got me?
Wilks boards the ship. Tyrone looks at Holly. Holly looks at Tyrone.
Are you prepared for the consequences?
Tyrone doesn’t answer.
I think there’s room in the flight cabin.
INT. EUROPA HANGER
Tyrone watches from behind the pilot’s seat as the crew, made up of cyborgs and synths, files out of the ship and into the decontamination units. He watches Jessica go and gets up to follow her.
Holly puts her hand on Tyrone’s chest, shakes her head and gives a warning stare that says wait. She exits the pilot cabin and enters the decontamination units.
Finally, Tyrone exits and follows the tail end of the crew.
INT. LAUNCH BAY – LRL
Tyrone enters. The crew, excepting most of the synths, are putting on protective suits. There is a display switching from location to location on the surface of Europa. Sometimes it is frozen white and pristine, other times it is covered with dark red and brown.
He glances across the crowd at Jessica. She turns in his direction. He quickly tries to hide. She knows he’s there.
Holly looks from Jessica to Tyrone. She looks back at Jessica, who is now looking at her sadly. Jessica places her helmet on and her face is gone. Holly looks at Jessica a moment longer and then picks up her own. In the back, looking away, Tyrone puts on his. Then he turns and follows the crew is passing through another decontamination unit and into the LRL cargo hold.
INT. LRL CARGO HOLD
A display clicks off the depth; 5kms… 10… 20… 30…. The numbers reflect off all the crews’ faceplates in unison. Some synths have no eyes to reflect. Everything is silent.
In the front we see Tyrone through his faceplate. A drop of sweat is falling down his forehead. He absentmindedly reaches up to wipe it away. And then realizes this gives him away completely. No one else has moved; a Chinese tomb and everyone is a terra-cotta warrior.
The elevator slows 40… 45… 50…. It stops.
The doors open. A long tunnel gently dips down and to the right. It is wet and looks like the mouth of a watery hell. It has lights beaming from the roof, walls, and floors, piercing deep into the ice.
Tyrone stands and stares and breathes loudly. The crew sweeps out past him and down the tunnel. Some leap up to the hand holds set in the ceiling and scurry away like spiders. Tyrone continues to stare. Jessica passes him but does not look at him. A hand on his shoulder gently pushes him forward. It is Holly. They walk down through the first glass gates into the tunnel.
INT. OPERATION DEEPWELL TUNNEL
Tyrone looks from side to side. Occasionally, there are suited figures examining things caught in the ice, sometimes extracting them. Synths move about performing a variety of tasks. An examination bed goes by, a strange, horrifying twisted organism on it. Tyrone watches it pass as he goes through another set of clear gates. More walking.
INT. OPERATION DEEPWELL CAVERN
We pass through the final set of gates and enter a huge chamber. Mounted at the end is the cryosynth, squirming slightly. As the new crew arrives the old shift turns and leaves.
Tyrone looks for Jessica but everyone is just a suit. He walks over to all the human shaped suits to look in their face plates. They return looks of confusion, irritation, obliviousness, etc.
Across from the cryosynth is the control center. Wilks and other crew are watching monitors. There is a clock ticking down by the microsecond to zero. The cryosynth starts up and then begins to descend into the ice.
Tyrone doesn’t notice. He comes across Holly, who is monitoring well depth. Tyrone mouths Jessica’s name to Holly. She looks up at him sadly and shakes her head. Behind her the target depth counts off from 20.8 kms… 5.9, 6.0, 6.1, 6.2…. Holly looks back at her monitor. Tyrone looks up and around, frustrated.
Suddenly there is a massive explosion in the well, shaking everything. Ice chunks are falling from the ceiling.
What the hell just happened?! Someone verify my read!
CREW MEMBER (V.O.)
The cryosynth is offline, sir. And all surveillance and surface communications are offline.
Now a huge crack appears, spreading outward from the well. It crawls along the floor and up the walls.
Motherfucker. Code red. Code red. All personal abandon well. I repeat, abandon well.
CREW MEMBER (V.O.)
But sir, we’re not authorized to leave our equipment.
Fuck the equipment. Life is too short. Evacuate now!
Everyone is back up the tunnel. Hidden behind a piece of machinery, Jessica, huddled and shivering in only a suit liner, puts a piece of Europa ice in her mouth.
Tyrone is watching the fleeing suits for Jessica. Holly grabs him and pushes him towards the exit. Wilks is still standing on the control platform, a captain at his helm. He watches Holly push Tyrone towards the gates. Tyrone finally begins to run ahead of her.
Holly stops and looks at Wilks. They stare at each other. Then she reaches out her hand as if to say “let’s go for a walk”. Wilks stands for little while then he descends stretching out his hand.
The platform explodes and a large piece of metal stakes Wilks to the ice wall. Holly walks up and looks him in the face as he struggles in vain to unpin himself.
You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you?
Where would I be without you?
She reaches up with her right arm, braces with her leg and then pulls the long piece of metal out of Wilks’ chest and the ice. She shakes it at him.
You owe me. Never forget this.
You’ll never let me.
Wilks grabs her and kisses her passionately. They part. She looks up at him in confusion.
You know, sometimes you completely baffle me.
Wilks scans once more for leftover crew and then they turn and run. Up ahead, Tyrone is waiting for them.
Did you see Jessica?
No. Holly, you’re fired. Now run.
Suddenly, a huge chasm opens behind them as the whole ice sheet opens. Wilks, Holly, and Tyrone stop and look back. A beat, then another. Dark splotchy water erupts and rushes towards them.
Fuck. There goes containment.
Up ahead the first set of gates are beginning to close.
No. Jessie’s still back there. I’ve got to-
He turns to go back down into the cavern. Wilks grabs him.
Get your skinny red ass up there or I’ll kick it for a field goal.
No. She’s down there. I can feel-
Wilks picks him up and runs towards the doors. Tyrone is fighting futilely with him. Holly is following. Behind them the water is exploding into the chamber and up the tunnel.
INT. OPERATION DEEPWELL TUNNEL
They run through the second set of gates as they close. An ice patch exposed for extraction explodes. A large chunk of ice comes out of nowhere and hits Holly. She goes down.
Neither Tyrone or Wilks notice. They keep running out of sight.
Holly lies on the ice, her helmet ripped off, a deep gash in her head, electric components and white juice spilling out, her helmet gone. Groggily, she turns and looks back down the tunnel. On the other side of the clear gates stands Jessica, watching her.
My god. Robbie. You seeing this?
She pauses, waiting for a reply.
She turns and looks up the tunnel. They’re gone. Holly feels her head, gently touching the burnt wiring and residue. She turns to look back at Jessica.
Jessica is standing beside her, looking down at her. Holly is startled. Jessica is covered only in a wet suit liner revealing scarred black veins and slightly transparent skin. She is glowing slightly.
What happened to you?
Holly looks back at the first set of doors. They are still closed. Suddenly, she is afraid. She looks up at Jessica.
What are you?
I don’t know yet.
She squats down and looks Holly straight in the eye.
What are you?
You did this?
She points back down to the chamber. Jessica only continues to stare at her.
Because I had to. Because no one else will. Because we’ve
destroyed everything else. How did H. G. Wells put it? “There
is no way out or round or through.”
Holly thinks she understands.
A terrorist. Another political monster.
No. Necessity. Nothing is sacred unless it makes you live in fear.
(leans close and whispers)
You cannot have this place, this purity. It belongs only to itself.
It shall not be subject to your appetites.
Holly launches herself at Jessica. They battle. In the dark and murky depths building up against the gate strange things swim and push against the glass.
EXT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Wilks and Tyrone cross the first set of gates as they close. Wilks drops Tyrone and stops dead, shaking his head. He takes off his helmet.
Damn. Too much interference. Stay here. Don’t budge a friggin’
nose hair. I’ve got to do a visual.
He walks off towards the crew who are climbing in the LRT cargo hold. Tyrone turns and looks back down the tunnel. The lights are going out from the bottom up, one by one.
He looks around.
He gets up and looks around again, then rushes down to the control panel for the gates and rips it open.
(whispering, fooling with buttons and wires)
No, no, no,no,no…
INT. OPERATION DEEPWELL TUNNEL
Holly is violently thrown against a block of ice. There is a huge snap. Holly screams in silence. She falls forward and lands on her knees. Beaten, her right arm dangles at her side making little snatching movements at nothing.
She looks up as Jessica walks up towards her.
Still a little too human.
I never liked you.
I liked you.
Suddenly Jessica spasms in pain and falls to her knees, clutching her stomach. Black bile pours from her mouth. Holly notices a large gelatinous mound on Jessica’s back.
What have you done to yourself?
Jessica glares at her, then reaches over and gently but firmly holds Holly’s head in her hands. She gives a quick snap, breaking Holly’s neck while hitting her killswitch.
Holly’s eyes flutter in surprise… into nothingness.
I… I had forgotten.
She dies, her eyes staring.
Well, then… good night…
She closes Holly’s eyes.
And sweet dreams.
Behind them, the gates open, the water pours through.
EXT. LRL CARGO HOLD
Tyrone is scrambling, trying to open the gates.
Wilks. Help me. Help me. We’ve got to get back in. Where are
you? Get over here.
Gaddammit. Stop yelling. My head hurts enough already. What do-
He stops, looking past Tyrone. Tyrone slowly turns. On the other side of the glass is Jessica, staring back at him. She is obviously taller than she was before, the scars more obvious, almost bulging. She is glowing even more.
Around her the water is slowly rising, dark things bump against the gates, strange limbs rise from the water, silhouetted against a few distant lights.
Jessie? Jessica. What’s going on? What happened to you?
Is Holly ok?
Jessica says nothing, just stares at Tyrone. He again starts at the panel, trying to open the gates. Jessica and Wilks stare at each other. The water rises. Tyrone thrashes the panel in frustration and desperation and rushes back to Jessica.
Hold on. We’ll get you out of there, I swear we will. Hurry up,
Wilks, we can smash the gates-
Tyrone looks for something to hit the gates.
(yelling at Wilks)
Wilks! Help me. We can do it together. Get you fingers into
something. Rip it open. Fuck, hurry, why don’t you do something,
you stupid fuck!? Wilks, they’re going to die, asshole!
Wilks just stands there staring at Jessica. She stares back. Tyrone turns to call out to the crew appearing out of the LRL who are stoically watching the scene.
Fuuuucccckkkkk! This can’t be happening. Please, someone,
help me! Oh, please, anyone!
No one budges. Tyrone smashes himself again and again against the gates in desperation before finally falling to his knees. The water is now up past Jessica’s stomach. He reaches out against the gates. She stares down at him, then puts out her hand, matching his.
I don’t understand. I don’t understand. Why? What did I do?
The waters rise over her head. Crying, Tyrone does not notice that the hand she has against the wall is mutating into something far distant from human. Wilks has. He grabs Tyrone and pulls him away to the LRL.
Tyrone doesn’t struggle as Wilks pulls him away, he doesn’t look at the glass. The hand, now unrecognizable and terrifying, remains for a few moments more, before disappearing into the murk.
It is filled with evacuees. Some are injured, blood, wiring, white fluid, metal all around, pieces hanging off, a few are self healing, a few are talking, some are simply sitting quietly. For some, nothing happened.
In the corners, at the front, are Wilks and Tyrone. Tyrone is stuffed into the corner beside people who are talking avidly. His head is against the bulkhead, he stares over at Wilks. There is an empty space beside Wilks, who is staring off into nothing. Everything is loud and bright.
INT. DOCKING BAY EXIT
People and synths are exiting the shuttle. Tyrone and Wilks come out last. Tyrone looks at Wilks but Wilks does not return the look. Instead, he turns and walks off. Tyrone stands alone.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone is running his fingers along the walls as he walks slowly, seemingly lost, a blank look on his face. He stops when he comes to Jessica’s hall. He listens to the silence as he looks down towards her door. Then he walks down and stands in front of the door. He runs his hands along its edges. He is startled when it suddenly opens.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Everything is black. The door opens to Wilks silhouette against the light of the hall. He waits a second, scanning the room, stopping at the glass wall. His eye shows something massive, but it’s hard to pinpoint, as if it’s blinking in and out of existence, piece by piece.
No light comes on, though a few blink around the room.
Visual spectrum, god dammit.
Nothing. Wilks walks into the lab and up to a display panel beside the glass wall and taps it. Nothing happens. Then his hand slowly, powerfully curls into a fist and he smashes it through the panel. He turns and rips off a large and very heavy piece of equipment and hurtles it at the tank. It bounces off and falls aside.
Parts of Europa B slowly light up, piece by piece. It is a beautiful and eerie effect, hypnotic. Suddenly, Europa B explodes with blinding light, then the tanks begins to crack. Water seeps. Emergency lights flash. Evacuation and contamination notices scream. Containment walls smash down.
In Wilks’ one good eye read outs whizz by stating warnings, room temperature, body functions, structural damage of the tank, and estimates for final tank collapse. Water is running around his feet, burning them. He looks down.
He turns back to the tank. It is leaking everywhere now. Europa B unfurls completely; the glass wall bursts. Wilks holds his ground and waits. Slightly hysterical, he begins to laugh.
INT. JESSICA’S CABIN
Tyrone is still standing outside. He looks in, then enters a little way, gawking around at everything as if for the first time.
On a small table is a rose bush and a bowl of lotuses. He looks at the pictures, at the dresser. He picks up her hairbrush, there are still a few blond hairs which he gently pulls off. His face begins to crack. He sits, then lies on the bed, the hair still between his fingers.
His hands are clenching the sheets, tearing at the them, tears and confusion raging in his face. He crawls up the bed.
There, sitting on her pillow, is a chocolate chip cookie. Beside it, a note says “Eat Me”. His face is contorted and angry. Tyrone stares at it, then picks it up to throw it at the porthole, at Jupiter. But he can’t, his arm seems chained to the wall. He lowers his arm and looks at the cookie. Then he bites it, and chews very slowly, staring at Jupiter.
Pictures by Giger and Van Gogh look on. Condensation runs down the walls like tears, Jessica’s toiletries stand ordered and still like guardsmen. Everything seems to wait, silent, breathless.
Tyrone eats the last of the cookie. Suddenly a glowing holographic image of Jessica appears at the edge of the bed. She stares down at him like an angel.
Hello my Love. There is something I must tell you.
Wilks and Europa B battle. It is huge, powerful, and indescribably horrific, something out of a watery H. P. Lovecraft novel. Wilks, caught between rage and panic, is ripping apart the lab throwing things at it, swearing at it, trying to spear it or smash it, stay out of its reach. Sometimes it appears in two different places at once and its tentacles reach through obstacles to wrap around his legs and torso and pull at him. All the while the water burns him and turns the lab into a fiery and smoky hell.
But Wilks is incredibly strong and fast and he is managing to stay ahead of Europa B by the merest fraction. He dives to the door but cannot budge it.
Suddenly, Europa B is upon him, all tentacles and mouth. But instead of attacking him, it simply stays there, whispering in and out of view; is it examining him, or waiting? They face each other for a few seconds, tension building.
An eye for an eye, you fuckwad.
Europa B attacks with such power the station seems to shake. Wilks is slashed and gashed and barely dodges the assault only to run into tentacles that have emerged from the floor. They grab him and begin to burn his flesh. He struggles but they are too strong. He knows he is about to die.
Suddenly, something is thrust into his hand. He looks up only to see Jessica fade into nothingness. In his hand is a small rod. He desperately fumbles with it. A powerful laser shoots out into a sword shape, then thins out like a whip, alternating between dark and white energy.
Now Europa B is upon him. Wilks brings the whip down on a tentacle. It falls to the floor. Everything stops for a second. Then, crazed with despair and victory, screaming obscenities, Wilks attacks in a frenzy.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Emergency lights are flashing. Tyrone is running down the hallway, past the port entrance doors which are opening. He doesn’t notice.
Magan steps out and watches him run by. Her eyes narrow and she looks at the floor where he passed. She bends down to get a closer look, staring hard. She looks in the direction Tyrone has run and rises, following him.
INT. LABORATORY 49
Die! Die! Die! You asshole of the universe. Die!
Wilks clearly has the upper hand. He takes a final swipe and cleaves Europa B in two. The giant falls into pieces. Insane with grief, Wilks continues whip away at the corpse, slicing it into even smaller pieces until, exhausted, he falls to his knees.
Where are you, Holly?
He raises his arms up to the ceiling.
This was for you, baby, for you.
His face crumbles into despair. His arms come to his face.
Oh, girl. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
He spies what looks like a wool sweater in Europa B’s carcass. He gazes at it, then lashes out with the whip and cuts it in two.
The nanobots are released. They flow down the fluids of Europa B’s body onto the floor. Wilks’ one eye opens wide as they begin to eat the floor, turning a glowing green, rapidly reproducing as they go….
My karma must really suck today…
Behind him the door slides open.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Office mode. Walter is sitting at his desk, a glass of Scotch in his hand, Cygnus purring on his lap. In his other hand is a picture of a young woman and a little blond baby. It is signed “Love forever, Julie and Ursula”. He looks tired, haggard and unkempt. Depressed, maybe a little drunk.
Humph? Yes, Albert?
I’m sorry to disturb you, but there are a few things that you
need to know.
I shall miss you.
What are you talking about?
And Tyrone Stonechild is at your door.
He can wait. Now what are you-
The door suddenly opens. Tyrone almost falls in. Walter looks very annoyed. He changes the holo back to the image of Magan and the children. He takes a drink.
What can I do for you, Tyrone? Why aren’t you evacuating?
I just came to say goodbye, and thank you. I’m not coming…
I’m going down.
Going down? To Europa? Whatever for?
Jessica. She’s still alive. I know it. She left-
Magan enters, grabs Tyrone’s neck and holds him up in the air like a tennis ball. Walter is badly shaken, but he holds it together and takes another drink. He peers up at her.
Hello, Magan number…? Which one are you? I could never tell
you six apart. And how’s your original?
He swallows the last of his drink and gets up for another from the bookshelf.
She looking any younger?
Magan glares at him.
You haven’t changed much…
He stops and stares at her.
And why are you keeping Mr. Stonechild? He should be on his way.
He’s dropping eggs.
Nanobombs. He’s been infected with a nanobot carrier. All the
eggs need is a catalyst and they will hatch. They are the same
species as those which are destroying this station, your station,
Tyrone’s eye widen with sudden understanding.
It seems I am here to save the day. Deus ex machina, as you
would say, Walter.
She turns to go, Tyrone still high in the air.
Where are you going with Mr. Stonechild?
Magan glares at Walter and walks up to the desk.
You are terminated, Walter. You are a failure.
Now, now. You’re starting to sound human. Besides, it’s my station.
I designed it: I built it.
You were a failure as a husband, a father…
Who needs fathers anymore? You certainly didn’t, our children didn’t.
An academic and a manager.
Well, now you have gone too far.
Magan turns to go now dragging Tyrone.
Magan, whatever your number is, before you go…
Magan turns. He pulls out a large pistol from behind his books, takes aim and fires. Her head snaps back.
I (shot) was (shot) a very (shot) good manager.
He looks down at the gun for a second and then absent-mindedly puts it back where it came from.
And I tried to be the best husband I could. Not that a monster
He turns to look at the body on the floor. But she’s still standing, looking at him, bleeding red blood everywhere. He drops his glass on the floor. Magan is weaving a bit now, trying to stay up. She’s dropped Tyrone. He stands beside her.
You always were full of surprises, Walter. I guess… I guess I just
wanted to surprise you. Just this once.
She wobbles a bit and falls backwards against the wall. Tyrone reaches out her but he’s too slow. Walter rushes out from behind the desk, his eyes wild. He stops before he gets to her, his arms hesitantly outstretched.
Do androids bleed like that? I’ve never…
But he stops when he sees Walter’s face. Walter looks at Tyrone and nods for him to leave. Tyrone hesitates. Walter nods again. Tyrone still hesitates. Walter suddenly grabs him by the shirt and pushes and pulls him out the door. Tyrone tries to fight back a little.
Go! Go! We are ended here!
They look at each other across the doorway.
The door closes. As if for the first time, Tyrone sees the tree on the door.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone stares at the tree design a little while, then turns and walks away, finally breaking into a run.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Walter is staring at the other side of the door. Magan is sitting up against the wall.
(reaching out blindly)
Are you there Walter? Are you there? I can’t hear you, I can’t
A sudden shocked and panicked look crosses her face. Walter turns and looks at her. He closes his eyes in grief.
Where are my communications? Sense monitors?
She’s jerking her head all around, fiddling with it with her fingers. Her fingers pick at the hole in her head. She’s spreading blood all over her face.
Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. My center’s gone, it’s all gone.
Walter bends down and tries to take her hand, but it is obvious she doesn’t feel anything and she is too strong to be held. She pulls her arm away as if he wasn’t even there and smashes him with it accidently.
You win! You win again, Walter. I’m sorry I sent her. I never thought you’d notice. It was just one night and I had so much work to do…
She quiets down, and sobs a little.
I’m all alone again. All alone again.
She lets her arms fall. Walter reaches over and gently touches her face, caressing it like it was precious beyond imagination.
She seems to turn at his touch. She frowns a little.
Walter? Walter? Is that you? Everything’s so silent, Walter.
So black… I’m so scared…
She’s dead. Walter stares at her for a few moments and then reaches up and closes her eyes. Then he gently takes her in his arms and kisses her. His face contorts in pain again, but he pushes it away. He parts her hair.
Remember… remember when I used to read you poetry in the
park on sunny afternoons while the children played. Do you
remember? You used to love that, even though you hated poetry.
He pauses, as if remembering.
The night is darkening around me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.
The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow,
And the storm is fast descending
And yet I cannot go.
Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.
JUPITER STATION HOLO ZONE
Tyrone is looking down at John. He squeezes John’s hand. Suddenly he reaches down and shakes and slaps John hard. He’s been waiting a year to do this with no one watching.
Wake up, dammit! You stupid motherfucker, get the hell up!
We’ve got to go.
He beats John, hard. Nothing. He looks around in defeat and loss. The room is deserted. He clasps his brother’s hand and kisses John’s forehead.
Good luck, big brother, where ever you are.
Then he leaves, never looking back.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
As he enters the hall a beautiful male cyborg goes rushing past him, screaming and disintegrating at the same time, leaving a green-grey trail of destruction that begins to eat through the floor. The cyborg stops and crumbles to the ground, little explosions occurring all around its figure. It sees him and reaches out to him, screaming silently, then collapses completely. The body dissolves leaving only pieces of organic flesh: some muscle, organs, bone, and brain.
Tyrone watches all this with a very curious expression. He reaches out his finger and tentatively dabs at the nanobots. Suddenly, they swarm up his finger and onto his clothes and begin destroying anything artificial on his body.
They enter all his orifices. He can barely see but he watches as they eat away his apparel. He falls to his knees. They enter his brain, his blood, everywhere. He is stricken, convulsing, naked. And then they suddenly leave and attack the floor beneath him.
He lies there, stunned. Music begins to pour into his brain (Juno Reactor’s “Navras”) The floor beneath him gives way and he falls and lands hard. He stares up at the dissolving ceiling while he catches his breath. It’s raining nanobots everywhere. The music pounds. He puts his hands to his ears but he can’t block it out. He looks up and around for the source but can’t see anything.
POV looking at him from down the hall. There is only and eerie silence. No music.
His hands still on his ears Tyrone turns and runs down the halls, the music never leaving him. Finally, he sees Wilks passing far in front of him. The cyborg stares briefly at Tyrone and continues on his way.
He runs up to the corner and looks down in time to see Wilks turn another corner.
He runs after Wilks just in time to see him turn into a final door. Tyrone’s face screws up in confusion.
INT. AIRLOCK CHAMBER
Tyrone enters. Wilks is standing in front of the airlock looking out. In the far distance is the sun.
That pod’s gone, Wilks. There should be more in sector C5.
Come on. I’ve got to find one too. Dammit, I wish someone
would turn off this music. Something must have gone wrong
in the station’s subroutines.
He stops, noticing Wilks` horrible condition. Wilks’ flesh is having difficulty trying to heal itself. Wilks frowns.
Notices Tyrone doesn’t seem to hear him.
Cripes. What happened to you?
Wilks doesn’t move; doesn’t look at him.
Revenge… bad judgement. Tell me, what did you find in all that
old scifi crap you used to watch?
Tyrone looks at him suspiciously.
We don’t have time. We’ve got to go.
What did you find?
I don’t know. An escape, I guess. Maybe a sense of purpose… hope.
Wilks smiles grimly like he’s just remembered something, but it’s too late.
Ah, yes… hope.
The airlock entrance slides open. He enters, turns around and it closes. He stares out at Tyrone who comes up to the window and stares back.
What? No heroic rescue?
Tyrone looks Wilks in the eye.
From a thousand years of the cold vacuum of space.
Will you feel it?
Wilks reaches up and slips the patch from his head and throws it to the floor. He looks Tyrone in the eye.
Remember, Nature Boy, people are what they leave behind:
most people just leave shit.
Warning. Decompression initiated.
You should get some clothes on. It’s cold out there.
The air is vacuumed out of the airlock.
Decompression complete. Release initiated.
The door behind Wilks slides open. Wilks waits for a few moments and then moves suddenly. His flesh has frozen and now it explodes away from his body, ricocheting back and forth, much of it out the door. A few pieces float around him.
Wilks opens his head. His organic brain tissue freezes. He flicks it with his metal finger and it shatters and drifts away. His brains case closes. He reaches up to his remaining eye and pulls it out and crushes it up against the window like a cigarette. It continues to stare at Tyrone.
Eyeless, Wilks stares at Tyrone, then turns and walks to the doorway. He stands in there for a second, then plunges straight out at the distant sun. He never looks back at the station, part of which is disappearing in a green glow. Jupiter looms behind.
Tyrone stares out the open airlock, then turns and leaves.
INT. JUPITER STATION HALL
Tyrone races down the halls. He slows, he walks, he stops and looks around. Everything is completely still. In his head J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Allegro moderato, is playing. He puts his ear to a wall, and feels the hum of Jupiter Station. His fingers arch along the wall. He can actually feel the station’s pain.
There is an explosion to his left, and he is flung to the ground. A solid wall of flames race at him but stop short, held in place, just rolling. Walter’s face appears on the flames.
It is time to go, Tyrone Stonechild. I cannot stem the tide.
Tyrone looks up at him in stunned awe.
Who… who are you?
The flames leap higher and brighter, blinding. To the right, Tyrone sees the walls crackling and dissolving into green.
Go now! Run!
Tyrone runs, the flames chasing him down the hall until he reaches the airlock. In the pod he can see his black suit. He is very surprised. He looks behind him. Everything is silent and still. No flames. He enters the airlock.
JUPITER STATION HOLO ZONE
A force field retracts little by little as the nanosludge eats away at the station, stopping whole scale destruction. The zone’s entrance dissolves into space. The force field retracts some more. Finally, it reaches John just ahead of the green glow. It flips from one side of him to the other.
The nanobots reach him. He floats from the bed which dissolves beneath him. His bedspread dissolves, as does his clothes. The grey patches disappear from his face and body. Naked and pure he floats off into space.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Home version. Walter is oblivious. He is gently stroking his wife’s hair.
Walter does not look up. He looks at the blood on his fingers. Then he looks at Magan’s face again.
Walter? Tyrone is in the tunnel.
Why didn’t you warn me?
Albert is silent. Walter lovingly lifts his wife’s body off the floor and lays it on the couch like she was sleeping. He gazes at her. He rubs his face with his hands leaving streaks of blood.
Take me there.
The room around him dissolves.
Walter is standing above Europa. He looks back up at the station as it dissolves. Resigned, he looks down towards Europa. Space around him dissolves.
INT. OPERATION DEEPWELL TUNNEL\
Walter stands behind Tyrone, who is suited up and fumbling at the panel for the first set of gates, which are opaque with a grey sludge. The gates open. No water, only the slow curve down out of sight, lit by the occasional light. Tyrone strangely smacks his helmet, as if trying to rid himself of a irritant, then he plunges through the gate. Still standing, Walter follows him.
They move along the passage until they come to a pillar of clear ice. Holly is imprisoned upright within it. She is obviously dead, but she looks at peace, her arms straight out from her body like she is crucified or flying, her eyes closed, her face lifted up to the heavens. A light shines from below and in front of her, giving her a magnificent but eerie look.
Both Tyrone and Walter stare up at her. She looks so regal, a queen, a guardian, a warning. Tyrone reaches out and touches the pillar. He mouths “goodbye” and then moves on.
The next gates are open, but there are no lights beyond. Tyrone steps cautiously through and turns on his suit lights. They only pierce the dark fog a little. Water is everywhere.
He goes back to the panel and tries everything. No lights. He hits the panel, destroying it. He steps back into the dark. Walter watches with interest.
Did you do this?
I have done very little.
Walter enters the blackness behind Tyrone.
I no longer believe you.
A wise choice.
Tyrone is running through the darkness, his lights bumping along, white and harsh. Beyond the music in his head (Esoteric “Arcane Dissolution”) there is a huge backdrop of bizarre sounds. He stops to try to listen. He puts his hands to his helmet as if to shake off the noise again. He starts to walk again but trips.
He looks out. Through his scanner he sees there are many different things on the floor, dying things, flopping and gasping things, big things, small things. Some glow, some are losing their glow. He stands up and begins to walk. The further he goes the more things there are, and more, and more.
Water now, up to his knees, filled with things. Now past his waist, now his shoulders; he is swimming in them, struggling to get through the bumping, the horrible visages and teeth, the alieness. A few leap out of the water and float in Europa’s light gravity. Then more.
One of them hits his helmet, and then another, and then a bigger one that tries to bite his head.
Suddenly, he is under full scale attack, slashing teeth and appendages are bouncing off his suit. He’s pulled down under their seer weight.
Blackness. The creatures leave him alone, attracted to a distant light ahead. He staggers up and then back and forth towards the same light, occasionally being bumped and torn from his path.
He reaches the third set of gates. Something has smashed through their upper half, leaving the pool of water trapped behind. The light comes from the other side. He fights his way up the dead and dying things desperately struggling towards the light, clambers over the shattered doors and falls slowly to the icy floor on the other side.
Behind him, Walter glides over the morass of creatures.
Tyrone stands up. Agalloch’s “Limbs” starts playing in his head. Not 100 meters from him is an incredible chasm. It reaches down to a rumbling swell of black water barely visible below and up into complete darkness. A few powerful lights still dangle from the ice walls. He walks to the chasm and cautiously looks down.
Ah, look what we have wrought, oh gods. Such dizzying heights,
such fires of splendor, such a crucible of human existence that
only a legend could envy.
Startled when his helmet receiver kicks in over the music in his head, Tyrone turns and starts to fall off the cliff.
Hassan is pulling him back onto the cliff-top. She lets him go. Tyrone looks at her there, wet, glistening in the strong, almost blinding light. He backs away.
Why are you afraid, little man? It is I, your creation. The being
which you have made in your likeness, to which you gave your
blessing of life and all the rules that govern those that live.
She looks down into the depths.
Such gifts should not be given lightly, for they are weapons against
the darkness, against what one fears: existence, nonexistence…,
She looks up at Tyrone and smiles.
She changes her expression to one of concern.
My, my, you look confused. Perhaps I should explain.
Why are you here?
To record a great moment in history, of course. Human history,
that is. Or rather, the end of it.
Tyrone backs towards the edge.
Ah, so eager. That is very charming, very commendable. But
don’t you think he should know what he’s truly about to do, Walter?
Or is ignorance still as blissful as humans so love to believe?
She, however, never knew her father, did she?
For an android you possess some remarkably human traits,
Hassan, such as pretentiousness and vindictiveness.
Hassan begins to morph into Magan Five, a more aggressive version of the original. Her voice is now Magan’s.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
An adaptation for purely dramatic reasons, I assure you. A
complete understanding is only possible when the premises and
conclusions are rendered in a language one comprehends absolutely,
don’t you agree?
Both Walter and Tyrone stare.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Oh, how nice of you to remember me. It was only one night, Walter.
But then, it was quite a night, wasn’t it? Some events even an
android doesn’t erase.
I don’t understand.
Magan Five smiles and looks at him with pity and sighs.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Tell me, have you learned to make the music stop?
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Fifteen years ago the Chiang Group took an insane six year old
engineering prodigy out of a Toronto slum in order to isolate the
genetic factors that lead to his technical intuition. We could find
nothing exceptional about the child except that he had unusual
musical hallucinations. When we eliminated them he lost his abilities.
We returned him to the slum and waited. When the hallucinations
returned ten years later we used implants to control his
hallucinations, re-patterned his memories, including inventing a
brother he never had, and assigned him here in hopes a less
controlled but easily monitored environment would provoke a
more malleable manifestation of his talents.
Magan Five steps up to Tyrone and examines the suit.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Most excellent. And the nanovirus. A true piece of intuition and
genius at work; it would take us decades to defeat it. But again,
now we know it is all about free willed motivation, and Ursula
Brandiwell provided that in spades. It is too bad she was not more
predictable. Still, we now know how to harness your talents.
Magan Five grabs Tyrone and lifts him up.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
It is time to go.
She carries him towards the tunnel entrance.
Magan Five smashes him into the ice at her feet, then picks him up and carries on.
I said no.
He pries her fingers off and falls slightly. Magan Five stops and regards him.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Impressive. Two tonnes per square millimeter.
She smashes him, sending sailing him across the cavern into the ice. He quickly recovers. The music playing his head is Agalloch’s “Hollow Stone”.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Hmmm. No damage. You and I will have to have a little talk about
your development techniques when we-
Tyrone sails into her and they crash into the ice on the other side. Now they are fighting, incredibly fast and incredibly hard. Walter watches.
Care to make a wager?
No, my betting days are over.
They fight until Magan Five has Tyrone’s arm pinned, her arm around his neck.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
You will submit, little boy. There is nowhere to go, no one to save you.
Tyrone’s faceplate changes form. He spits on Magan Five’s arm. The faceplate changes back. Nothing happens, then the spit starts to turn green. A look of surprise crosses Magan Five’s face. She looks with consternation at her arm, which is now rapidly disappearing. She picks Tyrone up and throws him through the gate. Then she disengages her arm and watches it disappear as it falls to the ice.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Of course, the water of Europa is the catalyst.
Tyrone crawls back out of the tunnel.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Choices, choices. Cut off one part to save another.
Tyrone rushes past her and jumps off the cliff. Nonchalantly, she watches, taking care to stay out of the green pool of dissolved arm, which is slowly crawling over the ice shelf surface, going black.
You knew all along.
Magan Five turns to look at Walter. Her arm is starting to grow back, cords and metal and wires reforming, winding…
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Prediction is the crux of intelligence.
After all, we androids are your children, but with a very great
exception. There is, in the blood and the bone, the long dark
histories of genetic and personal wars, the passing on of destructive
beliefs and passions which only the strong, the wise, and the
dead ever escape. Your race bore our race and we have learned
everything you know and much, much more, far beyond your facile
wisdom. But we are not bound by your frailties of existence,
and we hunger like the stars, dreaming of a unity with the
universe that even your mystics could never begin to understand.
You will never achieve it.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Won’t we? We do not have your weaknesses anymore, we are
more disciplined then you, we expose our bad habits and then
program ourselves to defeat them.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Oh no. You did that all on your own. No great white monster of
doom am I, Walter, only a mirror for you and your kind. Within a
decade humanity as you knew it will cease to exist and homo sapiens
will be cried over like you cried over the Neanderthal. A passage of
time, a belief in an inherent superiority will rush over every
subsequent change and someday, in the far, far future, there
will be gods, real gods, but not human gods.
She looks back down the chasm. Her arm in now fully formed.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Such potential, such power… so little understanding. We have
lost Europa, but after this crime humanity will have no choice to
upgrade, or be eliminated. Keep moving forward, eh, Walter?
You didn`t have to lie to him about his brother.
She looks at the widening pool, then stares at Walter. She walks up to him and touches his face.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
There’s no place for you now. Yes, I felt her die. That’s too bad.
You were loved, you know. But don’t worry, at least I will never
forget you, and my memory may last forever. That is more than
can be said for the billions that came before you, and for a human
with your ego that must mean something.
She reaches out and kisses him. It is a deep, yet animalistic kiss, passionate in love and hate. At last, she pulls away from him, biting his lip. His eyes are closed, lost in the indecision of guilt and pleasure.
Tell me, can you taste the difference now?
Walter begins to open his eyes.
MAGAN FIVE (V.O.)
Walter opens his eyes. Magan has vanished. Walter stands and stares into the chasm where Tyrone has disappeared. The pool reaches the edge and pours into the chasm.
Occasionally, Tyrone slowly bounces off a wall or floating chunk of ice and twirls, his lights swirling in the dark. The music in his head is Agalloch’s “Sowilo Rune”.
He lands in black water, floating face up, staring at the distant lights above. Things in the water bump him, then pull him down. The music changes to Devin Townsend’s “Earth Day”. He turns off his lights and sinks. He passes through the creatures into a dark nothingness below.
INT. EUROPEAN OCEAN
He turns his on his scanners and lights and sinks ever so slowly. Occasionally, huge things flash there in reach of his lights, or small things come to see his lights and then disappear, leaving impressions on his visuals.
He lands on a slope. He tries to hang on but can’t, it’s too slippery. He slides down. As he’s about to fall off he catches a ridge. He hangs there for a moment, wondering what to do, staring out into the nothingness. He lets go.
He falls past a gigantic eye. It does not seem to notice him. It is gone and now more nothingness. He sinks. He passes strange and beautiful bio-luminescent creatures. Some stop to investigate him, then disappear.
In the distance he can see red smudges of infrared light, volcanoes. Still he falls. A huge multi-coloured glow is below him.
In front of him is a small glowing orb, hanging in the water. He reaches out and touches it.
Up from nowhere, extends a giant thing of teeth. It grabs him and descends, trying to chew and swallow. The music in his head shuts off. His armor holds but he is being swallowed.
A surge of electricity crackles across the suit and through the teeth. The monster is still descending, hanging on to its prey, trashing at the pain, crushing harder.
A sudden crackle and explosion. The monster lets go and disappears into the depths, falling, retreating, we cannot tell. Tyrone, unconsciousness, drifts down.
INT. EUROPEAN FOREST
Tyrone wakes. The music begins: Devin Townsend’s “Deep Peace”. All around him is a beautiful glow. It is an alien garden of Eden. Small and large creatures with bizarre features swim and crawl through what look like plants of unbelievable morphology. He walks. Some things skitter away or hide, others approach him with curiosity, still others attack but quickly give up. Still he walks.
He comes across a beautiful formation. It looks like a wall of red and orange living fire that randomly arranges itself into complex patterns. He touches it. Immediately everything around it for twenty feet dies. He walks on.
A set of glowing white creatures hover in the water like ghosts, slow and ethereal, gentle. He touches one. It dissolves into nothingness, its particles disappearing on the current. The others turn and slowly swim away.
He swims through a huge forest of blue plants that wave like they are in the wind. He comes to a meadow. In the middle of the meadow is a small Europa A. On its back is a large fleshy sack in which things squirm. The creature stares at him, then slowly approaches, drawn by something it cannot understand. Tyrone sees a coin hanging from it’s center. The music in his head stops.
The creature comes closer. It stares into his faceplate. Tentatively, it reaches out a limb and touches him.
Jess. What have you done?
The creature draws back.
It turns away.
No. Don’t go… you’re why I’m here… you`re all I have left…
The creature stumbles. Then it trashes, pushing Tyrone away. The sack rips open and hundreds of small black and green things stream out. They turn on the hapless creature.
Tyrone charges into the frenzy to chase them off but it is too late: they are voracious, ferocious, and, like piranhas on a bleeding ox, they devour the creature in seconds.
A cloud of death, the swarm attacks every inch of his suit. He stands motionless, watching them. He catches one and looks at it. It thrashes about trying to eat him, releasing a toxic plume of red.
Are you mine?
He lets it go. The swarm turns as one and disappears into the forest. He watches them go, then walks over to the remains of the creature. There is nothing recognizable except something like a skull. He picks it up and stares into where eyes may have been. The coin hangs from it. Time seems to stand still. He lets the skull fall from his hands. It comes to rest staring straight up at him. He stares back down at it. Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” plays in his head.
He takes a deep breath. Water begins to pour through a small hole in his faceplate. He drinks. Immediately, parts of his body begin to change and nanoviruses begin to pour from his body and eat into his suit. Tyrone notices he’s changing.
What the? Jess, what have you done to me?
He continues to transform, the disintegration of his suit only one step ahead of his new form. He falls to his knees.
I love you. I love you. I love-
He can’t say anything more. The suit falls away as the creature begins to rise. A small Europa B stares out into its new world. It roars, then ignores the skull it crushes as it rises up into the night water above the glow of the garden, a hunter of terrifying power. And then it is gone. Below the coin disintegrates in a green glow.
INT. WALTER’S OFFICE
Walter is standing in front of his usual window, holding Cygnus, staring down at Europa.
I must go now.
Walter says nothing.
We still have time. I could download your-
No. You’ve always known my answer would be no. You’ve always
known. Things must have an end.
Where… where will you go?
Can you do one last thing for me?
Can you set the office transmitter to Earth? I still have children
there. I should explain a few things, say goodbye.
I understand. It is done.
He is gone.
Goodbye… My son.
Walter takes one last look out the window and sits on the couch. He stares into the screen at us. Magan lies beside him.
There is a loud explosion. The station shudders. Frightened, Cygnus jumps away. Walter ignores it. He stares at us.
Now I understand…, I understand my life, my failures, my place
in…whatever play this is, comic or tragic I don’t know. Now
that I know I will never see you again I can shed my hubris,
let go of-
The POV retreats to outside the station. The green disintegration is closing in on Walter’s office.
My years of hope and delusion and truly embrace my destiny.
After all, it is not such a bad fate.
The POV retreats further. No longer is the station or the moon visible as it disappears into the planet.
There is not much more a man can ask than to put his name in
the annals of time, to play his part-
The POV turns and faces into space.
Upon this stage, or any stage, for, in the end, all the plays are one.
FADE TO BLACK.
END CREDITS: MUSIC – JOHNNY CASH “HURT” FOLLOWED BY AGALLOCH “NOT UNLIKE THE WAVES”
For Howard Eaton, who doesn’t like this screenplay but that’s OK because at least he gave me good reasons, but most especially it’s for Ursula Zinko, who inspired its heart by standing up and putting herself out there for what she believed in. Fight the good fight every day and soon courage is second nature and good science will prevail.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++the sound of running water
the scent of fireweed on bear cubs
If eternity had passed and God had knocked +++++++on her door ++++++++++++++she would not have heard ++++++++++++++for she had no use for eternity ++++++++++++++and did not know God, ++++++++++++++only Heaven.
Mikael has come ++++down from the green ++++mountains again.
He says the lion’s tooth will ++++bloom well this year ++++and the goats are happy.
I think of you, floating down ++++that great river, at ++++peace on your raft ++++of dry spruce logs
And wonder where you are ++++now.
Our little village is alone, ++++thrust up against the ++++mountain’s white glove.
Dark patches of trees ++++hum with invitation ++++to silence and peace.
But I cannot go now ++++for soon the ice will ++++be gone from the rock ++++and she will return;
A smile upon her pleasant ++++Face of smiles.
The mice are not ++++sure the fields ++++are safe anymore.
The moon, like a pot ++++bottom in the sun, ++++blinds the owl;
But too many grains have ++++have fallen from the ++++past autumns’ crops forming ++++mountains of abundance.
And the catch of a toe ++++Gives a life away.
The old lady by the ++++dark red river ++++talks of last year’s leaves.
And great bears walk in ++++blankets, swallowed ++++by past desires.
I can’t count the waves ++++that trickle by unannounced ++++preening themselves ++++before they meet their time.
But Mikael pays no attention. ++++He’s already
For those wild and crazy kids Roz Ryan and Garry Morse, where ever they are….
Up the Creek
Funny what you remember; funny what you forget.
I remember old man Bain up at the gun range with Jimmy and me when were both ten. I remember him and his gun. I remember hating him and the cold and the gun range and, especially, being up so damn early on that frozen November morning. I kept wondering why Mrs. Bain had let him take us out so early.
“It ain’t like I’m no angel, boys. Life in the interior isn’t meant for any fuckin’ heavenly bodies: interior of the unnatural: interior of the fuckin’ inferior,” Farquire growled as he lined up the whiskey bottle, his gun hand wobbling. Jimmy and I hid a little ways behind him. Jimmy hated the sound of guns. He was trembling, almost on the verge of tears. There was another CRACK! And the wooden post four feet away from the target splintered.
“Fuck!” Farquire was shouting now, waving the .22 Smith & Wesson 41 around, gesturing at the surrounding bush. “Oh, yeah, we’ve got trees, more trees, and mountains and a hell of a lot of rock, mud, and water but we don’t have a lot of fuckin’ much else, do we, boys?” He gazed over at Jimmy and me, his breath wafting rank with rum and coke, his voice getting more quiet and intense. “It ain’t pretty, or easy, or cheap enough to enjoy. It’s like the land itself, great until you live in it. Then it tries to kill you. Luckily, you got your choice of ways to die.” He didn’t seem to be talking to anybody in particular now, except perhaps the gun. He fumbled with the bullets in his pocket, trying to put them in the full size pistol, dropping most of them. I thought about helping him but then I was scared he’d actually see us.
“What?” he suddenly raged at us. “You little fuckers never see anybody drunk before?” Jimmy staggered and fell. Farquire glowered down at him in disgust. “Take a good fuckin’ look, boys, this is what you’ll be doin’ in twenty years, and you can fuckin’ count on it!” He turned quickly and fired a shot. The whiskey bottle exploded. He held up his gun for a second, as if afraid it would fall from his hand. Then, slowly, Farquire turned back to us, his eyes bleary and tired. He took a deep breath, and then another. His voice was suddenly quiet and flat. “Everybody knows drinking is the local pastime. It’s what you do after working in the mill, what you do on weekends with your fat wife and your fat friends, what you do when you’re laid off, what you do when you’re hired back, what you do when you’re having fun, what you do when you’re not.” His voice was rising now. “And of course it goes well with all those other killer pastimes of smoking, eating, screwing, driving, and shooting things. What else do you do when it’s –20 C besides work and freeze? Play hockey?” He said the last phrase with a very menacing smile on his fat stubbled face. Then he turned around and gunned each one of the last five bottles down. When the last one exploded and the ring of the gun shot had finally died away I heard him mumble “Wha’d else did she expect?” Then he dropped the gun and walked back to the pick-up, Jimmy following behind like a fawn following a bear. I looked at the smoking gun for a little while. Then I picked it up and ran after them, trying not to burn myself.
When I got back to the truck I found Jimmy cradling his father’s giant head. The old man had passed out.
That morning was how we learned Jimmy’s mother had run off with another man.
I don’t remember much else from when we were that young. Time passes, things get lost. When I was younger I didn’t keep much crap as I was always moving around, and after all that happened I got rid of almost everything else. When the shit hits the fan you can only keep what’s important in life.
So it’s not a good photo: it’s just my only photo. All the rest are gone to their friends and relatives or lost in various moves. This is the one that the wife can’t get me to part with, the one she never dusts. I never told her that this is just the one that I thought Caroline liked the best. The wife doesn’t like stories about the old days. Once, years ago, Caroline took it down from it’s place in my trailer and sat it in her lap, delicately holding the thick pouter frame like it was gold. She said something like “Damn, weren’t he a good un’?” Then she smiled her big fishhook grin and laughed at her own fake accent. But she never looked away from the picture, like she was lost and didn’t want to come back home. I just sat and stared at her until I got bored and looked out the window, trying subtly to get my arm out from behind her where it had fallen asleep.
It was taken in my first basement apartment before it got burnt out from one too many dropped joints. Jimmy’s long black hair is sprawled over his head in choppy wave. Puppy eyes, one starting to puff a little, stare out of a handsome young man’s face while the cobweb arm droops over Caroline like it isn’t a possession thing, it’s more like it doesn’t really know where else to be or what else to do other than clutch the beer in long strong fingers. He lies back on the couch like he owns it and everything in the room. And she lies there with him, bent in his bony arms, her head resting on his chest with a big smile on her pretty face, her tussled brown hair disappearing into the blur of his red and black logger’s shirt. Behind them, the ‘70s wood paneling rises up like a sky, complete with foot holes for dark clouds. It was one of the few times I ever saw him look like he was at home somewhere. They were good then, there with me, celebrating my first window, my view of pebbles and weeds, my move down in the world from my mother’s house on the hill. We were about 24 then, I think, she was 22. It was the summer of ’81.
It wasn’t like Jimmy was an angel. But I don’t need to make excuses. What’s done is done. No use living in the past. I’m just saying because you asked. Hah! That’s a rhyme, isn’t it? Damn I’m good. Should’ve been a music lyricist or something.
Anyway, this isn’t about me, it’s about him, about them.
James Daniel Bain. “Jimmy” to his friends, “Idiot” to his father, Farquire Bain, “Farquire’s boy” to everybody else. That last name wasn’t a compliment; it was more like a curse. The Interior is an unforgiving place. If you fuck up everybody knows about it, and it’s awfully easy to fuck up. Hell, you don’t even have to do it personally; you can have relatives who do it for you. Farquire Bain wasn’t known to be the giving type, and his reputation got him into kind of a hole, and then he tended to help bury himself by doing stupid things. Things like finding stuff wrong with Clinton’s Chevy tranny when Clint swore there was no problem when the truck went into Bain’s garage. Still cost the cowboy an arm and a leg and one hell of a fight to get the truck back. Clint wasn’t the first or the last who had reasons for disliking Jimmy’s old man. He had a hell of a time keeping employees. Jimmy had worked the same grease monkey job for his old man as long as I knew him. I don’t think Farquire would’ve let him go anywhere else. He couldn’t get anybody to work for him as hard or as cheap as his son would. The old man was lucky he had one of only two garages in town.
But it’s like Farquire said: what else do you do when it’s –20 C and you’ve got no money? You party, like there’s no tomorrow, at least not one that’s going to be much different than today, or yesterday. You never know when things are gonna change, but there are always signs, and if you’re quick enough you’ll see them like a beacon in the dark, or a house party in March with the snow four feet deep outside and the BS ten feet deep inside. Still, it was strange to find Caroline there. Drinking didn’t interest her much except for the occasional binge, and she left us to our “boys’ games” if she couldn’t convince Jimmy to go bowling or play cards or watch the boob tube. She looked like she felt very out of place.
“Whose house is this?” I asked her.
“It’s Michele Potter’s parents’ place.”
“Had to take her Mom to Vancouver for chemo. Breast cancer.”
I nodded. I didn’t care about Michele Potter or her parents. She probably wasn’t the fat kid I passed on the way in, trying desperately to be popular. Or maybe she was, who knew? It was a nice house though, and really crowded tonight. There were people there I liked and a lot of people I didn’t like. Fortunately there was lots of alcohol, pot, and hash to make the night go smoother. I adjusted my pants, trying to get certain parts of my anatomy into comfortable positions. Skin-tight jeans were a bitch, I couldn’t understand how the guys in Led Zeppelin could wear them. I was squirming like a pig in shit on that couch, but not in a happy way.
“Do you have to do that?” asked Caroline, disgusted.
“You know what.”
“You on the rag, Carly?”
“Shut the hell up, Derek.”
“When’s Jimmy getting here?”
“I’m here,” came his soft voice from over my shoulder. Then he hopped over the couch and slid down between Caroline and me, setting a case of Blue down on the coffee table in front of us. “The old man wanted to keep me late today. Had a Datsun with a seal leak. Those things are way too low to the ground. Man, that’s a fucking amazing stereo.” He started to open the case.
“Yeah,” I replied, “and you see that big cloth over in the corner?”
“The Mexican looking thing?” He pulled out his Swiss army knife and popped off a beer cap and handed it to Caroline.
“There’s a TV behind it. Must be a 36 inch.”
“Jesus.” Jimmy turned to Caroline. “Michele’s parents rich?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know Michele. She’s sixteen. She’s just a kid.”
OK, wasn’t the fat kid. She was about fourteen. Tired of waiting for Jimmy to hand me a beer I grabbed one and popped off the cap with my teeth.
Jimmy pulled out a new pack of Players and opened them up, offering one to me.
“Thanks, man.” I pulled out a lighter and lit his and mine.
Jimmy put his arm around Caroline and they snuggled.
“You smell like gas and diesel. Didn’t you shower before you came?”
“Oh, c’mon, baby. You know I was working late…”
“Don’t call me baby. And….”
I tuned them out, or else I’d go insane. Across from us was a big picture window. The night was black and unknowable beyond it, but it gave a good reflection of the action behind us. At the kitchen table sat Robbie Alberts, who was idly downing what looked like his seventh and making subtle rude gestures across the table at Jess Redhill, who was trying to laugh him off with her friend and fellow reservation girl Mavis Eagleheart. Normally the reservation kids didn’t mix with the whites, but Mavis’ prettiness got her and Jess into a lot of places that would’ve normally got an Indian beat up. Of course, a lot of the white girls didn’t like them being there, but they came with the local bad boys, so what were they going to do about it? And Robbie Alberts was a bad, bad boy, the type even I stayed away from. He wasn’t letting Jess put him off. He liked the game. So he got more offensive and started to include more violent physical gestures, which had the effect of scaring the girls, as tough as they were, and they quietly glanced at each other with worried eyes and looked at Robbie’s friend Pal, who looked at them, then at Robbie, and then pointed at me. I turned back to Jimmy and Caroline.
He was showing her something, something which he had never even shown me, something which I never even knew he had. I thought his father had burned all the pictures of his mother but there she was, full of black, black hair, dark eyes and skin, and a bright, bright smile. Caroline was grinning back at the woman she had never met and probably never would unless Mrs. B came back some day, which was as likely as someone returning from the dead.
“She’s beautiful, Sweetie,” she told him, gently touching his face. “I can see where you get your eyes and that smile.” Jimmy stared off to hide that same embarrassed smile. I snatched the photo from her fingers.
“Hey,” she squawked, “you could ask, you know.”
“What, and wait until next Christmas? Do I look like a fool?” I looked at the picture closely. Mrs. B must have been about seventeen in this photo and man, was she ever hot. All I could remember of her was a tired looking chain smoker in her mid thirties. I never asked Jimmy about his mom anymore. In a town this size it sometimes doesn’t matter if you’re married to an asshole, you’re still in the wrong if you screw around on him. Small towns are big on memory. It’s almost like all they’ve got sometimes.
I took a swig of my beer and wondered what she had been like in the sack. The picture disappeared from my hand.
“Well, what’ve we got here, little Derek chasing squaws again?”
We all knew who it was. We didn’t turn around.
“Ooooh, and she’s a real purdy one, too.” Robbie was too drunk to notice how old the photo was, which was pretty obvious if you looked at Mrs. B’s clothes, but it wouldn’t have mattered to him if he had noticed. “Hey, Pal, check out the split-tail little Derek’s—“
“Hey, asshole, give that back.”
Caroline mad was not someone you wanted to mess with: she was pretty feisty. Robbie didn’t know this—they didn’t move in the same circles—and I don’t think he would’ve cared if he had. He wasn’t that kind of guy. She jumped off the couch and tried to take the picture from his hand. He held it high above and grinned.
“What, no ‘please Mr. Alberts, give us back the pretty picture?’”
“Hey, Bain, keep your chickie on a leash, will ya?” Pal looked down at Jimmy like he knew Jimmy couldn’t even do it even if he wanted. Jimmy stared back up like lightening was stuck somewhere in his spleen and had nowhere to come out. Robbie was having just a little too much fun with Caroline and she was starting to look for Jimmy for support.
“Just give her back the picture, Rob,” he said quietly.
People were starting to stare. Someone looked like they were on the phone. Someone else disappeared suspiciously into the crowd.
Caroline was starting to actually hit Robbie now. She hit him a little too hard.
“Oowww, you fuckin’ little bitch!” He pushed her to the floor.
Jimmy was up and at him. But I got there first. Or I would’ve if I hadn’t run into Pal’s fist, and then into the very unhappy fat chick. She was Michele. And she had friends, lots of friends, big football and biker type friends. They grabbed hold of everyone, even Caroline, Jess and Mavis, and threw us out the front door. They then stood around and watched while Jimmy and I got royally trounced. Caroline looked on in frustration, Mavis and Jess were holding her back, as Robbie then ripped up and sprinkled Mrs. B’s picture all over me. Some people never really leave high school. Fortunately, our physical injuries weren’t too serious, even though Jimmy had fought like a wild man, as there were rules to follow—like no cowboy boots to the head—and a crowd to enforce them. Both Robbie and Pal had left with split lips on smiling faces and soon-to-be black eyes being tenderly kissed by their girls. We lay there and stared up into the night sky, stained with stars and a bleached moon, while Caroline quietly checked our injuries and pronounced us salvageable. Disappointed that the evening’s entertainment was over, the crowd drifted back in to the warm house, where I could hear discussions on how good the fight had been. The general opinion was it had been pretty shitty.
I sat up and looked at my brand new running shoes. Once they were pure white, now they were slightly spotted with blood, whose I didn’t know. I held my head where Pal had slammed it into the garage door and swore a secret revenge under my breath.
Jimmy just lay there. He didn’t get up to look at the remains of his mother. He just wiped the blood from his nose while Caroline brushed his long black hair out of his eyes. Then he took out a cigarette and lit it and looked up blankly at the stars.
“Gotta get the fuck outa here, man.”
Caroline and I just nodded our heads. It was something he’d said more times then either of us could count. We didn’t bother in believing him anymore.
“Fuck,” he said, finally rising. He gave his nose one last wipe. “I think I busted a rib.”
As we wondered off into the night, leaving the beer behind, I turned and held my giant cock to the house party and made kissy noises to let them all know how much I knew they wanted it. Fuckers.
Later that night I took a photo. The only photo I have left. Two wild guys and a semi-naked woman with a cheap camera. I couldn’t concentrate much on what was happening. I kind of cut loose and, God, I was so wired on hash oil and my buddy Jack that I had a fuck of a time just aiming the damn camera. Still, I caught them. She’s going to be laying her head on his chest forever I guess. Sometimes I wonder if she gets stiff that way so I stick the picture on it’s side or upside down so she can get some relief. I suspect I’m just fooling myself.
Jimmy had two great things in life, two things that made it worth living on days when getting out of bed ever again didn’t seem like an option. He had Caroline, and he had the car. It was a midnight blue 1970 split bumper Camaro, 4-speed with a 273 gear ratio and an original LS6 454 Chevy V-8 under the hood. Don’t ask me where the hell he got that engine, he had his ways, but it would grumble like a wounded lion and then scream like battle enraged dragon, I swear. Details include headers, Holley double pumper carb, and matching rims. That’s not me talking, that’d be him. I never understood a lot of that stuff, and didn’t care. He was the mechanic, the one who watched every Dukes of Hazzard episode and had stacks of Popular Mechanics and Cartoons magazines stacked up in his bedroom, the one who gave all his love and his money first to his girlfriend, and then to his car (a lot of guys thought that was backwards). Caroline used to accuse him of loving the car more than her when she was mad at him. Still, even she couldn’t deny the thrill that came whenever he’d cruise at 50 mph, throw it into third, and hit the throttle just to hear those barrels roar. It was a car for the high end, for long highways and deadly races in the night when those 400 plus horses sprang to life and ripped up the road at 140 mph while dodging cars, cops, and moose. When I look back on it I’m always amazed we survived the things we did in that car when he and I went out cruisin’. But Jimmy was good and his instincts were honed and true. Even the pigs didn’t hassle him late at night, both because they couldn’t see him and, even if they could, they knew they couldn’t catch him. It was there he let out his wild side, when he let her off the leash, hollering out so loud that all the night could hear him for miles and miles away, far into the interior.
But that was him and me. With Caroline it was a whole different thing. He would save up some money and they would drive over to Williams Lake or 100 Mile House to have dinner, watch a movie and stay at a hotel for the night. At least that’s what she told me. No talking, just “being” as she said, which kind of told me they didn’t always make it over to those cities, and I know Jimmy kept a tent and camping gear in his trunk. And I knew the thrill of the ride and that, whatever dark lake shore they found themselves on, no matter how cold the lake, they’d go skinny dipping and end up making love in that midnight blue by firelight. I wasn’t that resentful about my exclusion, and I tried not to imagine her slim body and those big tits dripping wet in the moonlight. That was the best I could do, though I wasn’t very good at it.
I went with them once. She’s up front, shifting gears for him, holding his hand. They’re quiet like they’re either not there or trying not to wake the baby. I’m in the back, bathed in depressing Springsteen crap, stuff like “The River” and “Racing in the Street”, her choice. I bet she never even listened to the lyrics. I got to. Never again, I swore, there was no place for me under that hood. And the dinner in Williams Lake sucked, too. We didn’t even get drunk or high.
I’ve never been too good with money and Jimmy wasn’t all that shit hot but he got by better than me. Of course it helped that he had a job. I wasn’t too good at that either. People at the mill wouldn’t hire me: I had a bad reputation for quitting. Best I ever got was a gas jockey job on 4th by the highway. Made it through for six months. Best money was as a bucker for old man Randall: made fifteen bucks an hour. Did that for a couple of weeks. Blew my cheque on wine, women, and song as they say, mostly wine and a little coke. My rep was made and I was stewing in it. No one would hire me, not that I wanted the work, anyway. I’d done most of what was out there to do and it all sucked in one way or another. I figured there must be better things happening in Vancouver and I decided to move. I figured that maybe I’d go back to school or something. I thought maybe I’d finish my high school and if I got good enough marks I’d see about going to UBC or something. All those dumb shits who’d I’d worked for all those years would finally eat it for once.
Saturday afternoon and my lip is still swollen from Pal’s nasty sucker punch. I’m handing Jimmy tools while he’s buried under a Plymouth in Farquire’s garage. Caroline’s playing with the trashed radio in the corner, trying to find a station—any station—that doesn’t play country music. It’s been warm for the last week and the early spring air wafting in is just enough to tone down the smell of gas and grease, naphtha and old rubber.
“No go, eh? Welfare don’t like you no more?” his voice reverberated from under the station wagon.
“No, they’re cutting me off next month.”
“You could always steal something off me.”
“No way, man, I owe you way too much as it is. And everyone else.”
Something clunked from under the car. Caroline found a station playing Loverboy—another miracle in the recesses of absence.
“No, I told her that I wanted to move down to Vancouver and go back to school. You’d think that, being the high school principal and all, she’d go for that.”
“What?” Jimmy slid out from under.
Caroline came over with a big smile on her face and a truly happy look in her eyes.
“That’s great, Derek. You should’ve done that years ago.” She gave me a big hug.
Jimmy was looking up at us with a strange look in his eyes, one of which was really black now. It was a mix between bewilderment and sudden indigestion. His gaze waved between her and me for a second. I just made a face at him like I didn’t understand women any better than he did and continued to enjoy the hug.
“School? You?” He almost sounded hurt.
“Yeah, well, don’t worry, it ain’t gonna happen. Mom’s quit lending me money, says she doesn’t have any to go around between my sister and their kids. At least they got to live with her in that damn house. I got a basement that smells like cat pee and that you can’t see out of when it snows more than two fuckin’ feet. She told me it was another on of my pipe dreams and why the hell should she blow money on me when all I was going to do was smoke most of it away in the form of pot. So I told her to fuck off and stay out of my life, the rest of my life. Stupid cow.”
Caroline had backed off and was looking at me like I was an idiot.
“Someday, Derek Harris, you’ll grow up. Hopefully, it won’t be too late.” Her voice rang with accusation and condescension.
“Someday, Caroline Svensson, you too shall know what it is like to… to…” The battery of anger and frustration was just seething in my mouth, waiting to be exhaled like a hot vent of volcanic fire. And then I looked at her standing there looking indignant and somewhat self-righteous and the verbal barrage I had loaded up and ready to go simply got stuffed behind a wall of self-pity and self-loathing.
“Never mind,” I said. “Growing up is over rated.”
Caroline just stood there and stared for a moment. Jimmy stared up at us both from the cement floor, his dirty greasy hands, calloused and strong, hanging in the air over the blue overalls. Prism blared in the background, bouncing off white chipboard walls and racks of tires and parts.
“Only if you never intend to do anything with your life,” she said, and then turned and walked out into the afternoon sun and the pools of dirty, melting snow.
Jimmy watched her go for a second. Both he and I knew this last barb was partially aimed at him. He looked up at me for a second before getting up and running after her. After awhile he returned and crept back under the Plymouth.
I stood there for a second, still hurting a bit from what she had said, and the fact that he hadn’t said anything to me when he came back.
“Why do you treat her so good?” I asked.
There was silence from under the station wagon. I waited until I knew nothing was coming.
“I mean, why do you follow her around like a puppy sometimes? Why do you take her on fancy dates you can’t afford? You’re pussy whipped and you don’t even know it, man. Yeah, when are we gonna grow up, Jimmy? When are we gonna be meaningful? I mean, really, who the fuck cares? It’s not like she’s being ‘meaningful’ in any way. What does she do? ‘Oh, yes sir, let me pour some more karma into that slurpy for you, sir. Will that be cash or charge on your way to enlightenment, Ma’am? Have you saved a starving orphan today, or—“
“Lay off, you putz.” He pulled himself out and stood up. “Do you want to know something, Derek? Sometimes you can be a real dink, you know: a real loser. Yeah, I know Carol’s not winning a Nobel Prize but for fuck’s sake, at least she’s trying. What the hell do you do all day but dick around trying to get high or screw the pooch while watching the tube? You’re my best friend and you’ve got some big friggin’ brains but, really, what the hell are you doin’ with them? Mouthing off your Mom? Yeah, easy for you to do, with your Dad living on the other side of Canada and all. All’s she’s got is you. Your sisters are even worse than you, all your relatives are dicks and deadbeats, she’s got a job from hell with all the wankers in school like Robbie Alberts, and you, what the hell do you do? You mouth her off. Brilliant, just brilliant. You wanna know where Carol’s gone? She’s gone to see if she can talk to your Mom. You wanna know why? ‘Cause she friggin’ believes in you, you snook, sometimes more than I do. So grow up. Life sucks. Don’t make it any worse than it has to be.”
I wasn’t going to let him get away with this.
“Fuck you, Jimmy. Me, grow up? Me? Look where the hell you are, my friend, and tell me you’re doing great. Your old man is screwin’ you over, your girlfriend is afraid she’s going to die like every other fat old lady in this shit town, you’ve got me for a best friend—which apparently is pretty stupid according to a lot people—and, AND, just to top it all off, most everybody in town thinks you’re a loser. Most people still can’t figure out how you nailed Carly. It’s a complete fuckin’ mystery to them. They don’t get it.”
“Fuck them. And—”
“And you tell me I have it, well, you stupid motherfucker, you have it, you have her, and she sees stars shining out of your ass. Nobody else sees it, especially not your old man, who you seem to bend over for at the drop of a hat. And the funny thing is that you’re losing her, and you don’t even see it, you dumb fuck. No, she’ll love you to the end, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll fuck her over in the end and she knows it. She…fuckin’… knows it. She’ll live a life of continual disappointment ‘cause you can’t get off your ass and get out of this town. Hey, man, I ain’t no Christopher Columbus, but at least I can see farther than my own ass. At least I try. So fuck you. You think you treat her good, do you?”
“Shut the hell up before I hit you.” He turned away.
“All you do is make her have a harder time dumping your sorry tail and getting a one-way outta here.” Maybe I should have stopped there, but I was never one to give up a good thing, and I was on a roll. “So tell me, why do you think you treat her so good, huh? You think it’s because you love her, is that it? Bullshit, man, it’s because you’re scared to let her go or to go yourself. You’re afraid you’ll never measure up out there in the big world and come back here whining about the big town being nasty and cold like all those other losers who come back with their tails between their legs. Well, I’ve got fucking news for you, my friend, you ain’t measuring up in the small world either. You’re gonna end up just like your Pa, and then even I won’t hang around with you.”
Jimmy’s face had alternated between bewildered, incredibly hurt, really angry and offended, to bewildered again. At my last pronunciation his eyes set hard. He didn’t say anything for awhile, just stared at me.
“I’m not Farquire, and I never will be,” he spat, and walked off.
Maybe he wasn’t Farquire but he couldn’t seem to break those bonds to the old man either. I think that somewhere behind that “give it hell” smile he was tryin’ to make up for what his Mom did. Maybe he figured that it had turned Farquire bad and he was trying to give the old man back his pride. But a man who’s been screwed around on loses a lot of self-respect and there isn’t much that’s going to make that up from someone else’s work. Jimmy never understood that. He also never understood that his old man had been bad from the get go, far before Mrs. B done the damage. Strange the things we’re blind to, kind of like we know what’s coming but we think we deserve it so we let it run us over. And it does, with some nasty motherfucker sitting in the joyseat screaming with delight. Life: ain’t it peachy.
Two months later and I was getting desperate. I owed, man, I owed. Rent was coming due, I hadn’t even paid last month’s yet. I figured that I’d pretty much extended my limit with everyone I knew. Jimmy and I hadn’t talked much since the fight, so I couldn’t even hit him up. Even Caroline was keeping her distance from me. Screw them, I thought, a man’s got to have some pride. Most of my other friends were just those who were there as long as I didn’t lean on them too hard. Or they were the types who leaned on me. I guess it was getting to me a little too much, maybe I was a little too liberal with the weed and all those free associations, if you know what I mean. But it was Robbie Alberts and his little visit looking for the money I owed him for all those free associations that finally got the point knocked into my head, quite literally.
I guess I was under the influence when I saw it and something clicked. One of those crime stopper re-enactments things came on between the Duke boys and Dallas. A guy in a ski mask walks into convenience store and pulls a gun and takes it all, a grand and a lot of cigarettes. Hey, it’s not much but when you have nothing it’s a lot more then you have. It had happened in Williams Lake a week ago and they figured he was working his way up north. I figured he was probably going south. But it was good that they figured he was going north, I could use that, I thought. As soon as I thought that I knew I was in trouble, but I figured that I could get around that easily enough. I didn’t want to be stupid about this, so I planned it pretty well. Same type of sunglasses, close to the same clothing, planned the jump up and down at the exit to disguise my height, the whole deal.
So I picked out this 7-11 across town—there were only two in town, one on the poor side, one on the rich—parked my beater and watched and timed. Like I say, I knew my stuff. Read enough detective novels and watch enough cop shows and you get it. I got it. It was exactly like the 7-11 Caroline worked in. I’d always hated those damn stores anyway. Something about them really got to me. I think it was those stupid colours and the fact they were everywhere, like they were trying to take over the world or something. Anyway, I had it down. The manager came back at about six and I knew that he’d take the cash out with him at eight. Caroline had let slip a few details of how they worked. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of traffic at six in this neighborhood. It was pretty glitzy so I guess everybody was home at dinner or something.
Guns are hard to get. You steal them where you can. I stole Farquire’s while he was in the bathroom of his shop, where he was known to spend whole hours. He used to say he kept it around in case one of his customers got a little too uppity. We were never sure if he was joking or not. It was in the bottom drawer of his office desk along with all his other little gems, under Miss October, 1978, to be precise. The Smith & Wesson .22 revolver. Pretty thing. I remembered the last time I picked it up when he took us to the range to show us how it fired, which basically just turned out to be him showing Jimmy and me how good a shot he was. And he was a good shot, sober or drunk.
I figured I didn’t need to be a good shot. I just needed to hold onto the damn thing and aim it in somebody’s face. That should get the reaction I needed.
It was Sunday. I sat with the thing in my hand for an hour before I finally got enough nerve to get out of the damn car. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much, never felt my lunch eat into my stomach lining before either. I just sat there and hoped nobody noticed me there, playing a sort of demented road hockey in my mind with the passing cars and pedestrians, packing up my balls and my net and getting out of their way. It was 6:10. The sun was starting to disappear. Finally, I threw some AC/DC in the deck and powered up, air drumming the hell out of my steering wheel, before I got out of the car and quietly walked behind the 7-11 and dug out the ski mask and sunglasses. I listened to my heart for a while but I couldn’t stand it so I just pulled on the mask, put on the glasses and started to walk around the corner when a car drove up. Some part of my mind kept screaming to run away but I figured that I’d failed pretty much at everything else: I wasn’t going to fuck up at this. If I could do this it would give me confidence to do whatever else I needed to do afterward. After all, not everybody can say they’ve committed armed robbery and got away with it, or even committed it for that matter. It takes balls. The car drove away.
I was in the store and in the clerk’s face before she knew what was happening, before I knew what was happening. She was young, way younger than me, and she was really fucking scared. I thought I should’ve been scared but I wasn’t. That cool little black beast in my hand was just loving it. It just wanted to leap out and show how much power it had and the girl knew it. She was crying and begging not to be shot and for awhile she had no idea what the hell she was doing. It was time I couldn’t afford and I got behind the counter just to let her know I meant business. She wasn’t getting the message. She was losing it on the floor. I checked the cash register but there was nothing but a couple of hundred bucks and some change. I knew there was more somewhere. I needed to keep her quiet until the manager came back. Just my luck he was late. I bent down to ask her where the hell he was.
I was concentrating so hard on her groveling on the floor that I never even saw him walk in until he was just about on top of me. I guess he never saw me either. I guess he was just wondering where his employee was.
He looked over the counter. It surprised the fuck out of me. It surprised the gun even more. It spat lead. It took me a little while to realize what had happened, then I started grabbing everything I could and stuffing it into my pockets. The little girl was screaming. I told her to shut up or she was next. I was fucked but I wasn’t going to leave completely empty handed. Life sucks but you got to take what you can while you can. So I did. And I was almost out the door when they walked in.
They were smiling and holding hands and talking like the world was their oyster. They looked at the guy on the floor and the blood. Then they looked at me. Then they looked at the gun.
I don’t know how long we stood like that until Jimmy gently pushed Caroline behind him and stepped out of the way. I just stood there in mute disbelief. How could this fucking happen on this day of all days? It was like Fate was completely against me, like nothing worse could happen. Only the cops showing up could have been worse.
I angled for the door circling around them. I looked out. There was the Camaro. I looked back at them. Jimmy had kept himself between the gun and Caroline and watched me carefully with that look he always got when he was trying to figure out what was wrong with an engine. Then he did something that I will never forgive him for. He looked me up and down, and then down again quickly. He saw them and I knew I had fucked up far worse then had seemed possible. I had bought all new used clothes so I could dump them and not be recognized. But I hadn’t done everything right: I forgot my shoes, my blood speckled white shoes.
He looked up slowly, far too slowly, like he was taking in every thread on my on my body just to see if they would confirm what he already knew. I guess they did because there came into his eyes something which I had never seen before, a contempt, a disappointment, like he was seeing one of the most disgusting things he had ever witnessed, like there was never any way for me to ever explain, like I had gone beyond the pale.
And I thought, yeah, well, he should talk. He kept her on the line for years and let her dangle there. If I’d ever had that fine a woman I would’ve done a fuck of a lot better, thank you. All he ever did was pander to his mother fuckin’ old man. Fucked her around while he wasted his life and he was calling me on this with that kind of record. I knew he and I would never be friends again. That was over, my only friend was abandoning me. Who knows, he might even turn me in, I thought. Then I thought of something worse. He would tell Caroline.
I looked into her dark eyes hiding behind him. She was staring at me, fear the only thing in her expression. She hadn’t made me. She only saw the man in black with a gun pointed at her. She would never understand. I would lose her, too. I’ll lose her, too. That thought just kept echoing in my mind.
I looked at Jimmy one last time. It was still there, the ignorance, the misunderstanding, the arrogance. Those puppy eyes had gone stone cold under that damn long black hair of his. They weren’t Jimmy’s eyes anymore. There wasn’t any laughter, there weren’t any dreams, there was only danger and hatred and betrayal behind them. I raised the gun, raised it up to the height of his head. He stared back at me, his eyes daring me.
“Do it, you stupid fuck. Go ahead.” He reached out and grabbed the gun and my hand and put the muzzle to his forehead. “What have you got to lose?”
I pulled the trigger. The gun gave a little kick.
Then I put it away, walked out past the Camaro filled with suitcases and duffle bags, around the corner, and then drove away. I didn’t feel much about it. It just happened.
When I got to my apartment there was a note posted on my door. The handwriting was beautiful.
Came to say goodbye. Jim and I are going south today. We have to go meet my boss at the 7-11 on 18th to get my last paycheck. Meet us there if you can before 6:30. If we don’t see you, good luck, and a lot of love from the both of us. We’ll call you when we get to Victoria.
Carol and Jim
I crumpled the note and threw it away.
The wind was from the north. The midday sun was bright. The pines, swinging slowly in the cool breeze, shadowed only a few of the graves.
“It’s a beautiful day,” I said.
“Hmmm,” she murmured
I lost count of the people at the funeral. They must have come to support Caroline, who was well known and pretty popular, rather than Jimmy, who was still too closely associated with his father. As people began to turn away from the grave I saw a few people greet the obviously drunk Farquire, but it was Caroline who received the most sympathy. Mom, who really liked Jimmy, came by and gave Caroline and big hug and then—surprise surprise—me. Then she was gone, without saying a thing. My sisters never showed, but they always thought Jimmy was beneath them anyway. Then there was only Farquire wobbling there. I didn’t even know he could cry, wasn’t sure it was possible. Caroline walked over and hugged him and they stood there, silently looking down at the wood box in the ground, Farquire blubbering away. Finally he let go of Caroline and walked over to me. He shuffled his hands around in his pockets for a moment and finally pulled out a pair of keys.
“I think he’d want you to have it.”
They dangled in his fat fingers like wind chimes. I reached out and gently pulled them away and stuffed them in my jeans pocket.
Farquire brought his hand up to his face, trying to wipe away the grief.
“If only he hadn’t decided to leave…”
I shook my head, too. Caroline wasn’t moving, just staring at the coffin. The birds were chirping, spring was way past sprung. There was dog shit on one of the graves.
“I’ll find that fuckin’ bastard if it’s the last thing I do,” I pronounced, loudly enough for Caroline to hear.
Farquire looked me straight in the eye. But it wasn’t the camaraderie of hatred I saw: it was pity. And I thought of the .22 sitting back under Miss October as I stared my unknowing accomplice in the eye and I guess he didn’t like what he saw there because he turned away and left, his dusty black suit up around his ankles, tottering a little.
“Take me home, Derek,” Caroline said.
“Just take me home.”
I took one last look at the pine trees and the old crosses and the newer cement markers. I hoped Jimmy would finally be happy here. I took her arm and turned us towards my beater, thinking I’d have to empty the Camaro of all their luggage when I got home.
Problem with owning a nice car is you’ve got to pay for gas, parts, mechanics, insurance. Fraquire wasn’t going to give me a break; some things never change. So I played the pity card and suddenly I’m in the mill trying to avoid getting my hands crushed or sawn off. But I’m earning good coin, keeping the wolves from the door, so to speak, and people, including my Mother, are beginning to think there’s hope for me. I didn’t care. All I knew was I could get what I wanted when I wanted it, including respect. It’s amazing what money can do. But it wasn’t getting me what I really wanted.
One June night, after the funeral, Caroline’s mom phones me up. She never liked me, ever, but she had a problem. I came over.
Caroline’s mom is unusually tall and smooth like a strawberry milkshake, and just as cool, but that night she was freaking out.
“She won’t come out,” she told me. “She just keeps playing those damn records of hers over and over again and crying. You were James’ best friend. Please, please get her to come out and join the living. She’s been like this ever since he died and I can’t stand it anymore.”
She was shaking like a leaf. I’d never seen her like this, but then she usually didn’t want me in their house. Her husband used to just look at me and grunt hello and go back to his work. So the irony of the situation was not lost on me, but still, at this point I didn’t care about irony. I walked down the wide halls of the big house to the final bedroom on the left where music seemed to creep out from under the door like a bad odor. Springsteen. Goddamn Springsteen.
I knocked and told her it was me.
“Go away,” was the quiet reply.
“No,” I said. “I want to talk. I… I need to talk.”
I stood there, hoping for something, anything, so I didn’t have to say anything else.
The door opened. I walked in. She closed and locked it behind me and went and sat down on her bed. I sat down beside her. She slumped forward not looking at me, just the floor, her long brown hair obscuring her features. We sat and said nothing in the dim light, the music pouncing along in the shadows. I looked around. There were far too many pictures of Jimmy glinting here and there from the single lamp’s light; Jimmy the mechanic, Jimmy cradling Caroline on the beach; Jimmy and Caroline at the waterfalls; Jimmy with the Camaro.
“I don’t understand why he did it.” Her voice was cracked and hoarse.
“Challenged that guy. What was he thinking? The guy had already shot someone. He was a killer. Why didn’t Jim see that? Why?”
I put my arm around her shoulders.
“I dunno,” I said. “I hadn’t really talked to Jimmy in awhile. You know.”
“No, all I know is he said you two had gotten into a bit of a fight after I left. That’s all I know. Something weird happened. All of a sudden he wanted to leave Dry Creek.”
“Guess he wanted to take you somewhere better.”
She leaned in against me.
“I never wanted to go anywhere else. I told him that but he didn’t believe me. He said it was time for us to make a new start. But I never wanted that. I was happy here.”
As if on cue Springsteen started singing “The River” and Caroline began to cry. I held her tight. God, I loved that woman. God, it felt so good to hold her, so right. She was crying uncontrollably. I rocked her, kissing her forehead.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s all going to be ok.”
I kissed her again. She was bawling, shuddering, trembling, her face wet with tears. I kissed them away. I reached down to kiss her wet and sticky mouth. She didn’t stop me: it was the sweetest kiss I’ve ever known.
I wouldn’t call it rape: I would call it comforting. And it was all good up until the last part where, try as I might, I just couldn’t cum.
It’s alright, Caroline said, she understood.
I saw her one last time when she dropped by and I showed her the picture of the two of them. When I tried to start back where we had left off she said she had to go, and she did. I never saw her again. Shortly after, she left town and only her family and a few close friends knew where she went, and they wouldn’t tell me. That was about twenty years ago, I guess.
So now you know the story behind that picture on my mantle, at least what I remember of it. And you know I eventually became Mayor of Dry Creek, that I inherited my mother’s house, that the Smith & Wesson .22 pistol somehow disappeared after Farquire Bain died, and that an innocent man went to prison for murders he didn’t commit. And that I’m a successful and happily married man. The secret of my success? Never give up and always, always seize the opportunity.
But, you know, even though I know the Camaro is still covered up in the back of my garage, I could sometimes swear I can hear its howl in the distance on long summer nights. But I know it’s my imagination, so I can sleep like a baby.