McDonald’s, Josey & Valley View Ln.
Mid-afternoon . . .
About 30 minutes ago Ricky punched me in the arm and said that we were heading to grub. That’s code for McDonald’s. I’d been printing out maps of the different countries in Central and South America. The reason for all the maps was that Hal kept coming up with missing persons lists from the different ‘dangerous’ countries in the world.
Hal uses several parameters to label a specific country as dangerous. Among them are: Size and effectiveness of local and state police agencies, level of corruption (publicized or otherwise documented), level of religious belief in the population, per capita income and education levels, and hospital quality. These aren’t all of the things Hal looks at, but they are the ones that Billtruck added to the search.
And with the exception of a few Eastern European countries, the lion’s share of dangerous countries were located in Central and South America. I have this gut feeling that I should be learning Spanish.
I’ll have to work my Wernicke’s Area—the area of the brain that places meanings with particular words. I’ve been studying the brain since I woke up in that hospital. Some people know cars, I know brains.
Anyway, Ricky and I are sitting on the hood of his Porsche Cayenne, probably violating the natural laws of the universe by desecrating such a fine automobile. It’s cloudy out, and for whatever reason it isn’t too hot. I’m being bold today, trying Chicken McNuggets, dipping them first in honey, taking a bite, and then dipping the other half in barbecue sauce. I like the combination of sweet, then zesty.
“That’s disgusting, dude,” Ricky says as he shovels fries into his mouth like he just escaped a prison camp.
What’s disgusting? I ask, dunking a half-bitten nugget into the tangy brown sauce.
He shakes his right hand up and down a few times, “Double-dipping after you’ve taken a bite.”
It’s my sauce, why can’t I?
“What if I wanted to dip my fries in your barbecue sauce?” he snorts rhetorically.
I shrug, sliding the small plastic sauce container in his direction. I say, “Go ahead.”
He looks at me like I’m half-tarded—his term—and shakes his head shamefully. I know what he means about being respectful of those around you, even in a fast food restaurant parking lot, but I’m feeling selfish lately. Why hasn’t Angela called me? Even just to scream at me or curse me out? I’d take a mouthful of her insults to hear her voice again.
I look down at my half-eaten nugget and, although it’s tasty, it doesn’t look like any part of a chicken that I’ve ever seen. It’s probably best not to question this kind of cuisine, just eat it and be content.
Ricky takes a sip of his drink and I hear that plasticy suckling sound when the straw is drilling through ice looking for more soda liquid. He holds the cup above him, looking for the nearly invisible line of condensation that will tell him if there’s any point to his incessant suckling.
Then he sets the cup down and says, “Hey, Jack . . . ”
Alright, I acquiesce, I won’t double-dip anymore. From now on it’s one dip, and the whole nugget gets shoved into my pie hole.
“No,” he says, “not that. I was wondering about something you said about Kristen.”
Oh-oh. This could get sticky.
“ . . . I was curious about something you sort of avoided.”
I’m curious about most things, I tell him. Over time you get accustomed to it.
Right now I’m working my Inferior-Parietal Region—where mathematical, visual, and logical reasoning are born. It’s all about circular answers, now.
“What happened to you and Kristen? What really happened?”
He’s working his Broca’s Area—the intellectual core that also provides language syntax.
I shove another nugget in my mouth, buying at least 15 or 20 seconds of slow chewing. I learned this technique from watching some candy bar commercials.
His eyebrows raise questioningly, “Come on, Jack. You need to explain this to me. If we’re hunting this chick, I need to know. And you need to come clean, for your own sake. Why did she cross back over?”
I swallow the chickenesque material in my mouth, “She says I killed her.”
Ricky’s eyebrows furl a bit, “Huh?”
I shrug. Yeah, she said that we were in love, but that I killed her and that’s why she’s so ticked-off at God . . . and me. I stole her life away, she claims. You know how girls can be.
Ricky looks dumbfounded, unable to accept that. “Jack, you don’t strike me as a cold-blooded killer.”
“You’re not the murdering type.”
That’s what I told her. But she wasn’t having any of it. She said we were in love, and I snatched away her young life, and for that she had to do whatever she could to get back to earth. To pick-up where she left off. In doing so she scammed my gullible ass into unfolding the universe or something.
“You are pretty gullible,” he admitted.
In my defense, I tell him, I’m only barely seven-months-old. I’m an easy mark. I have hippocampus and limbic system issues. My temporal lobe, my thalamus . . . all of it’s messed-up. I could probably qualify for disability. Get myself one of those fancy window stickers that lets me park in the handicapped spaces. I’m that screwed-up!
And you know, the more I talk, the more pissed-off I get about all of this. And I’m just tired and cranky enough that it’s easy to let this thing spiral.
“I know, Jack. I know—”
. . . and, I continue snapping, I’m half fucking dead!
He holds his hands up in surrender, “Calm down, dude. I’m not saying you’re—”
I’m basically boiling now, “Don’t tell me to calm down! I’m learning all this impossible shit so that I can hunt down evil that has escaped some nightmare to make this place another nightmare. I see people dying, I talk to angels, I hallucinate shit that would make most people seek counseling, and I don’t have a choice about any of it.
“I’m the most thick-headed moron in the last two thousand years, all because I woke-up in that hospital, accidentally bumped into you, and read that goddamned book.”
Ricky doesn’t say anything. He knows I’m frustrated beyond words about the whole Kristen thing, and that I’m just venting. My doctors would call this aggressive transference and an outburst of deep seeded sub-surface rage. I wouldn’t get pills or anything, but I’d definitely be laying down on the big couch for a while.
I’d be in time-out.
I try and catch my breath, sighing, “ . . . I’m either the most unlucky guy in the world, or the most stupid.” And for about 30 seconds I try and think of something else to say, but my temper has just about run its course. My anger doesn’t have a lot of momentum.
He waits a moment, and when he’s satisfied that I’m finished he says, “ . . . are you done with your little tantrum?”
I take a sip of Dr. Pepper, which I’ve been rationing out based on the number of nuggets and fries I’ve been eating. I then nod, Yes.
“Good,” he says. “So, you’re a killer . . . somewhere in there.” He shrugs, “That’s important. You’ll eventually need to call that strength up when we face these bastards. It won’t be long now, I can kind of feel it.”
I take the last one of my nuggets and hurl it across the parking lot where it bounces off of a small handicapped sign where two spooks were loitering. They look suddenly at the exploded nugget, then up at me.
I’d shoo them away like stray dogs if I didn’t think they were going to mark some body for death.
I turn back to Ricky, “So what’s up with you and your witchdoctor stuff?”
He gets this sinister grin on his face as he grabs my drink and takes a swig, “I’m learning the other side of medicine.”
What other side?
“The dark side.”
Like magic, jungle, voodoo cures? Like a Jedi?
Anything useful to our mission?
“Well,” he says, “I won’t know until we’re forced to actually do something. But maybe.”
The other side of medicine. That’s like eating roots and leaves and bug legs and stuff. The kinds of things that make me gag. I know this will end up in me getting bitten. I just know it.