One week later, Monday, 9:56 am . . .
Things are happening now. It’s like we’re all driven. Ms. Josephine is here and we explained that Billtruck is now officially part of the team. We are like one big machine, the four of us, and we are moving around with a purpose. We all realize that the clock is ticking before truly horrible things start happening across the world.
If the Evils get a stranglehold, they’ll likely not be pried loose. So we must act, and act fast. Billtruck has tasked Hal with several different strategies for collating data he receives.
Ms. Josephine is the de facto head of ALG’s public face. She’ll be handling the phones, going out on poltergeist calls and all that. If she gets a job booked, then one of us will go with her and sit on the haunted house until the job is done, or we get sidetracked by saving the world.
My job is to basically use my knowledge of Deadside to build up a plan for when we locate some traces of the Evils. This is going to be a hit and miss deal, so I will be the one traveling around with Ricky, hitting the ground and doing field work in-country so to speak. This work is more demanding than it probably sounds.
I’m taking jiu-jitsu lessons four times a week from this Brazilian guy named Carlos. I’m getting taught about kick boxing three mornings a week from this soft-spoken man in Irving, named Allen. This retired cop—who doesn’t want me to mention his name—is teaching me the subtleties of breaking-and-entering, which he calls the art of the B&E. He makes it sound graceful.
I’m also doing a lot of work in the gym, mostly endurance work. All of my lifting is centered around functional strength—manipulating my body through a series of realistic exercises like weighted pull-ups, dips, squats, and other explosive lifting movements. I still wear a long-sleeved shirt, even at the gym because I don’t want people saying stuff behind my back. Ever since last week when we got chased a couple of times, I’ve been a little paranoid.
I’ve been learning to function with my accidental death-vision when it comes on. I can’t turn it on or off, but I’m getting the hang of knowing when it’s about to hit me. I’ve even been getting ready for my driving test. I take the computer exam later on this week, if everything goes as planned, and then I’ll take the actual driving exam as soon as possible. When I’m traveling I need to be able to drive.
Anyway, that about sums up my preparation for all of this. I’m reading a lot, trying not to think about Angela. A few days ago Hal asked me where my girlfriend was, and it about broke my heart. I had to correct him that, No, she wasn’t my girlfriend. And, No, she’s probably not going to be coming by.
And this is really sad because I’m discussing my broken romance with a computer. He’s the only recorded proof that Angela and I ever actually went on a date. And I don’t have the heart to bring up the audio and hear her voice again. That would just tear me to pieces.
Ricky has been helping Billtruck with his work, as well as hunting the less known markets for what he calls ‘materialesdu guerre’. I don’t know exactly what that is, but he’s spending a lot of time going here and there, negotiating with whispers and anonymous bank account numbers. This is all rather cloak-n-dagger, so I probably shouldn’t even be mentioning it.
Ms. Josephine is looking across the room at me. She’s wearing this wonderfully vibrant green dress with bright blue umbrellas all over it. She has a good fashion sense for somebody that hears the cries and taunts of the forsaken dead.
“Jack, I tink we need to talk about your episodes.”
“Dat’s a ‘orrible name for it,” she says as she shakes her head at me. “Fittin’, but ’orrible.”
Well, I tell her, I think my brain may be melting one hemisphere at a time.
She starts laughing, “You are so over dramatic about everythin’. Can’t you just have a gift? Is it always some awful disease or a terrible curse to you?”
“What you got, child, is somethin’ dat we would call da sight of da passin’.”
Right, I said. Death-vision. Same thing.
She smiled, sitting down in front of me and taking both of my hands into hers, slowly turning over my palms. She gazed into my hands—calloused now due to my weight lifting and jiu-jitsu. And she stared deeply into the swirls and folds of my palms. My individual, one of a kind, ocean of tiny ridges, they’re telling her something about me that I’ll never see on my own.
“You’re like a small child, wrapped up in a man’s body. So simple minded, yet you ’ave so much ’idden in dere dat will eventually make its way to da surface. And when it does make its way up, you need to relax an let yourself evolve.”
I’m always evolving, I told her.
Looking down at my left hand she smiled briefly and then her eyes met mine, “You’re missin’ dat girl you just met.”
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
She cocked her head to the side and made little ashamed clicking sounds with her tongue. “I don’t ’ave to see da feet to see da footprints.”
Is everything about me that obvious?
She slowly placed my hands together, “You’re a good man, Jack. But you need to open yourself up to makin’ mistakes and sufferin’. Dat’s ’ow we grow as individuals. Dat’s ‘ow da soul is goin’ learn your true path. You ’ave to be willing to fall down.”
I fall down all the time, I tell her. Everything I do is wrong, or skewed, or socially deviant. I commiserate with the dead. I kill myself, repeatedly. I had an affair with a dead girl. I don’t know what I do that wouldn’t be considered falling down.
“You’re going to learn,” she tells me very slowly as she shakes my hands around, “dat da sweet in life ain’t so sweet without da sour. You can’t ’ave one wit’out da other.”
“So how does this help me with my melting brain?” I ask her. It could be any of a number of deteriorating brain disorders that they failed to diagnose when I was under the care of the R. H. Dedman Memorial Hospital staff.
My grey matter might actually dribble out of my ears and nose. And then what? Do I just let it drip out and shrug, well, there goes long-division?
“Da girl you like so much, she’ll call,” Ms. Josephine says softly.
How can you be so sure? I ask, hoping for an answer that I can use to overwrite my pessimism.
“Because, Jack, you’re one of a kind. And you’re a good judge of character. So if you really liked dis girl, it means she’s special. And if she’s special, she’ll see ‘ow interestin’ you are, and she’ll want to be around you.”
Ignoring her clearly circular argument, I say, “I hope you’re right . . . because she is different.”
The good kind of different.